Author: Rebecca Burley

FROM ALTERNATE TO PRESIDENT: Tom Range Looks at His Blue Band Years

BY CURT HARLER

Tom Range’s mark is everywhere on the Alumni Blue Band’s history. In fact, he wrote the book – literally – on the Blue Band. Twice. He was the conductor of the alumni pep band in the Philadelphia area until he moved to Centre Hall a year ago where he now runs the Keller House Bed & Breakfast. A math major at Penn State and retired math and computer science teacher by trade, Tom still is active in ABBA and conducts pep bands as needed.

Thomas E. Range II is loved by everyone – with one huge exception! Each Homecoming, during the playing of Hey, Baby at the annual Hintz Center Alumni Association event, every woman for the past two decades has turned down his pleading “Will you be my girl?” in favor of a hug from the Nittany Lion.

Franco Harris leads pep band
Sometimes conducting the pep band at the Hintz Family Ice Cream social is placed in the hands of a guest conductor. Here Franco Harris conducts the pep band in 2007.

Such is the (editor’s comment: deserved) fate of a Sousaphone player. However, Sousaphone is not Range’s forte. “Cello is my major instrument,” he says. The sousaphone was an afterthought when, at Pennsbury High School, he took up the horn. Since both instruments are bass clef and cellists use the left hand to change notes, he admits to still getting confused about whether to finger with his right or left hand.

His conducting style at ABBA events shows a similar orientation. Most band conductors use both hands to count time so it is obvious across a wide field. Orchestral conductors conduct with their right hand and cue with their left. Tom learned music theory and conducting in high school while focusing on cello. He even considered majoring in music or getting a dual degree. He stuck with math. And his orchestral conducting style stuck with him.

His high school ties got him involved with the Blue Band. He started classes in the summer session and ran into Bill “Flash” Flood, a drummer, upper-class dorm mate, and Pennsbury grad. “He kept riding me to try out for the Blue Band,” Tom recalls. Back then, Dr. Bundy was the assistant and was not yet “doctor.” Range borrowed a Sousaphone and every day practiced at Chambers Building. He made the band as an alternate that first year. He got further involved as a manager. Range started senior year as G-2 but, when the rank leader had to quit, stepped up to G-1. Range still remembers the day when then-graduate assistant Brad Townsend (who was an excellent Sousaphonist and had been Blue Band president) asked him to walk with him before practice and told him he wanted Tom to be G-1. Tom said he felt his Sousaphone talent was lacking for such an honor, but Brad insisted one didn’t have to be the best musician, just a good leader. Tom had already run for President of the Blue Band and won the election.

In Range’s student years, the Blue Band was privileged to see two National Championship games – the Lions’ loss to Oklahoma and glorious victory over Miami. However, he does have the dubious honor of being band president during Joe Paterno’s first losing season.

Undoubtedly, Range’s single largest contribution to the Blue Band is the histories he has co-written. With the fellow Pennsbury alum Sean Smith (Mellophone, 1990), Tom co-authored “The Penn State Blue Band: A Century of Pride and Precision” in 1999. Smith and Range met in tenth grade, marched together, and later roomed together at Penn State.

In 1997, ABBA faced reorganization. Previously, alumni events including homecoming were arranged on a semi-formal basis by alums living in the State College area. Folks like State College High Band Director Rich Victor, Dick Ammon, John Prendergast, and John Kovolchik carried the burden year after year. Dr. Bundy wanted to reorganize the alums into something more formal and less backbreaking on a couple of folks.

ABBA was (and still is) the largest alumni Affiliate Program Group at Penn State. Tom served as the second president of the newly formed ABBA as the group left the past century and grew into the current one. Russell Bloom was the first president in 1998.

band performs at basketball game
The Alumni Blue Band plays for the 76ers games.
pep band plays at park
One of the most anticipated pep band gigs every year is Penn State Day at Knoebel’s. Unfortunately, this year’s day has been canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About this time, Range became aware that the 100th birthday of the Blue Band was coming up. While rocking his baby daughter Megan to sleep one night, he got to thinking that the centennial would be a great time to publish a history. Perhaps sleep-addled, he then thought, “How awesome would it be if I did the history of the Blue Band!” He woke up and bounced the idea off of Smith. Smith called him back an hour later and proposed they do the project together. They spent two years doing interviews, library research, getting images, and pitching the project to the Penn State Press.

In the early 2000s after the book came out, the Blue Band Building went up and the Band grew in size. The scope of the changes made it obvious an update was needed. So Range wrote “Into the Game” with Lewis Lazarow — a 10-year update.

Lazarow was a great collaborator. An AP English teacher at the time and now an English Professor at Penn State, he was the perfect replacement for Sean, who was taking classes at the time to become a Pastor. Sean is currently in the Mansfield, PA area as Pastor for the Roseville United Methodist Church.

pep band in tshirts
One of the first pep bands Tom organized was a trip for 10 to the Penn State–Notre Dame game in 2006. A highlight was playing for the pep rally in the Chicago House of Blues the night before. Tom is at far right, playing the bass drum. Lew Lazarow and Sean Smith are the mellophone players at far left.

Right now, Lazarow and Range are working on a 125th-anniversary project that should publish in 2024. It is a big undertaking but one that keeps him focused on the Blue Band.

Now that he lives near State College he says, “I hope to get back on the ABBA Board of Directors.” He looks forward to helping cement the relationship between the Blue Band and ABBA. He wants to keep conducting the pep bands, too.

Who knows? Maybe one day an alumna will smile favorably on him as he conducts Hey, Baby from a kneeling position! Nah…

BILL ROTE HAS AN EXQUISITE CLARINET FOR EVERY OCCASION

BY CURT HARLER

man holding clarinets

ABBA member William Rote of Doylestown, PA has nine clarinets in his closet. And he plays them all. Plus, he has an assortment of barrels and bells to more accurately adjust pitch and alter the color of his sound.

Keep in mind that Bill played 39 gigs, indoors and out, last year. He needs a back-up instrument with him when doing solo work and doesn’t use his wooden clarinets for outdoor gigs.

His horns are not garage sale curios. His go-to clarinets are two sets of Buffet Crampon grenadilla R-13 Bb and A. That’s four clarinets, right there. But that’s only a start.

clarinets in cases
Among Bill Rote’s clarinets are, back row: Buffet R13 grenadilla Bb & A – two sets
Left front: MoBa cocobolo Bb & A
Right front: Schwenk & Seggelke grenadilla Bb & Aa
Standing: Backun Aipha (“plastic”) Bb clarinet

He has a set of MoBa Bb and A horns, handmade for him in Cocobolo wood by Morrie Backun, a craftsman in Vancouver, Canada. Fans of the Philadelphia Orchestra will recognize Ricardo Morales as the group’s principal clarinet (check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNBSN8Z5wb8). Morales too plays the $10,000 MoBa, known in woodwind circles as the Stradivarius of the clarinet world.

But wait – there’s more! Perhaps the pride of Rote’s collection is the set of German-made Grenadilla wood Bb and A clarinets, handmade for him by Schwenk & Seggelke in Bamberg. Bill feels the German wood selection, technology, and craftsmanship that went into creating these clarinets make them the pride of his collection. He sees these as replacements for his aging Buffets. The sound and quality are exquisite. The horns are keyed on the Boehm system, not the unique German one. Jochen Seggelke earned a Ph.D. in acoustics and his passion is the improvement of musical instruments. This horn is the epitome of his clarinet work. Click https://www.schwenk-und-seggelke.de/_en/index.php.

Those of you who still fondly remember your beginner Bundy horn can take solace in knowing Bill has a plastic clarinet, too. “To play outside when the weather is bad,” he explains, apologetically.

Bill is a fixture at ABBA events with performances at the Hintz Alumni Center and Homecoming at the top of his list. He participates in pep band events in Harrisburg and Philly and enjoys a couple of events each year at the Great Valley campus.

Although he bleeds blue-and-white, Bill plays with the Delaware Valley University Symphonic Band. While DelVal has lots of ag, business, and science majors, there is no music and arts degree program at the school. The chorale, band, and string ensembles are comprised of students, faculty, and community members. Bill has been a principal chair for 20 years and performs six or seven concerts annually, plus graduation. Graduation is not his favorite. “You play the same few measures of Pomp and Circumstance over and over until all the faculty and graduates walk in!” he groans. However, he has no problem playing Touchdown FOS repeatedly!

Closest to his heart is the music he makes with his church (Doylestown Presbyterian). To hear Bill play is MoBa cocobolo A clarinet in church, ping https://youtu.be/qTQUpuqVaco and forward to 16:30. And lest you think time has passed by this 1960 chemical engineering graduate, this year — with Easter disrupted by the Covid panic — Bill and the other musicians recorded their parts separately on iPhones and iPads. Each instrument was brought together remotely. Listeners saw every musician in a separate block on the screen and heard the beautiful sound of a virtual concert.

alumni playing clarinet
Bill Rote treasures his lovely MoBa cocobolo A clarinet.

“We all recorded our parts at different times, different days,” Bill explains. He had an earbud in his left ear to hear the organ version and could hear himself playing with his right ear while creating his video on the iPad. The performance went off flawlessly.

Several of his gigs are paid engagements, including the Palisades Community Chorus and the Gilbert & Sullivan troupe that performs all 14 G&S works in rotation. Each Christmas, he loves accompanying a team of top-end professional vocalists in the Messiah.

Bill started his Blue Band career as a second clarinet after graduating from Bellefonte High in 1956. The next year he was first desk, first clarinet in the concert band. Dr. Jim Dunlop was the director of both. Rote recalls Jim Dunlop as “a taskmaster” who demanded the best.

Coupled with commitments in a local dance band, Bill recalls, “I was about to flunk out.” Chemical engineering wasn’t a slam-dunk. Dr. Dunlop went off on him when Bill approached the director about reducing his Blue Band commitment. But it ended well.

Today, while Bill Rote still looks back fondly on his Penn State years he is more likely to look ahead…to his next concert, his next pep band, and to deciding which clarinet he will choose to carry the melody.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s now DOCTOR Gregory Drane!

BY CURT HARLER

Photo of screen with title of Dr. Gregory's Drane's research
Dr. Gregory A. Drane successfully defended his dissertation last month.

As of today, you can call Blue Band Director Greg Drane by his full title: Dr. Gregory A. Drane. On February 21, he successfully defended his dissertation for a Ph.D. in Music Education. Given the Coronavirus issues, just when he will get to flip his tassel is uncertain. But he officially is Dr. Drane.

His dissertation was on “An Oral History of the Navy Band B-1: The First All-Black Navy Band of World War II.” Dr. Dick Bundy, professor emeritus, was his advisor.

Greg earned undergrad degrees in music education and music performance (saxophone) from Bethune-Cookman University. He already has a master’s degree in music ed from Penn State. He became the sixth director of the Blue Band in July 2015 after serving as assistant director since 2005. Like many other ABBA members, he is a Phi Mu Alpha.

His most recent triumph was leading the Blue Band through a great Cotton Bowl experience. “It was awesome. We had a great time!” Greg says. This despite a shortage of planes that forced both the Band and the football team to fly home right after the game rather than enjoy some extra R&R.

Did he sweat more over-  his dissertation or the Cotton Bowl performance? “I was shaking in my boots,” he laughs. “Because of Christmas, we only had time for two rehearsals before the game.” Usually, the Band gets four runs before a show. “The kids came through! I am so proud of the students,” he says.

Congratulations are due – both on a super Cotton Bowl performance and on the newly minted Dr. Drane’s academic achievements!

KATHY BAMAT LOOKS BACK AT 38 YEARS OF SILKS

By CURT HARLER

It is not true that Kathy Smith Bamat served as the Band Front Coordinator and Blue Band Silk Instructor since “forever.” However, she took the position in 1982…an amazing total of 38 years before retiring this year. During that time, she worked with several directors, including Ned C. Diehl, Dick Bundy, and Greg Drane. When she started, Dr. Bundy was a graduate assistant.

“I just love the memories and friendships of everyone from the staff to the instrumentalists, the silks and the majorette line,” Kathy says.

Before working with the Blue Band, she worked with many local high school bands, including Penn’s Valley and Bald Eagle. She did some work at Juniata Valley and Bellefonte camps. At the time she was hired, the Blue Band’s silk line was student-run. “They didn’t have anyone to do it professionally,” Kathy recalls. Dr. Diehl offered her the job. She initially refused because she was intimidated – and the students soon realized it.

“The kids, talent-wise, were way over my head,” Kathy says. As a result, there was some resistance on the students’ parts to her leadership. That changed quickly. Kathy marched with the Westshoremen Senior Drum and Bugle Corps for six summers, first getting involved in the Corps to gain the experience she could apply at Penn State.

Even as the decades passed, it wasn’t all sunshine. One Orange Bowl the buses got lost going to the parade. Half the instruments were on the flag bus and half of her marchers were on the other buses. She recalls Dr. Bundy running to collect the late buses and the whole Blue Band stepping off the bus and stepping off in parade formation immediately thereafter.

Another year –the height of the Urban Cowboy craze — saw her pleading with students to stay away from mechanical bull riding lest they get hurt before an event.

Or, the 2009 Rose Bowl when the feature twirler’s uniform split wide open as they marched the long, long parade route. “That’s why I always carry safety pins in my pocket,” Kathy chuckles.

Her fondest memory is seeing her grandchildren go through the Blue Band program. Granddaughter Karah Mothersbaugh was in the majorette line a couple of years ago and grandson Zackery is just graduating as a trumpet.

Kathy waves goodbye to the crowd at Beaver Stadium

For now, retirement means travel, pool time at her Florida condo, Kindle books, crocheting, and leisurely bicycle rides. But in her mind, she always will anticipate those four whistle blasts that called her team to action so many times in the past.

GLOCKES TO RETIRE EN ENSEMBLE

By CURT HARLER

Long-time fixtures in music at Penn State, both Dennis and Jayne Glocke will retire at the end of the Spring term. They are familiar to many ABBA members who performed under their batons. Dennis, director of concert bands, has been at Penn State since 1996. Jayne, who conducts Oriana Singers, Campus Choir for non-music majors, on-line classes, and the summer honors program has been at PSU for almost as long.

Dennis Glocke Photo

Dennis, whose instruments are piano and clarinet, will conduct the Symphonic Band as his final concert on the last Thursday of April. Jayne and Dennis both retire the day after, the final day of the Spring term.

Prior to coming to Penn State, Dennis was associate director of bands at the University of Michigan, director of bands at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and a band director in the Oconomowoc, WI public schools. He got his Bachelor’s Degree at Wisconsin and his M.Mus. at Northwestern.

Jayne Glocke photo

Jayne earned both her undergraduate and masters degrees in choral conducting and choral literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She conducts the Honors Music Institute, Penn State’s summer workshop for talented high school musicians. Oriana Singers is a treble choir composed of 60 women representing a wide variety of majors. The group’s repertoire includes music for treble voices from the 16th to the 21st century: madrigals, motets, part-songs, folk songs, musical theatre, and music by female composers.

“I loved my time at Penn State,” Dennis says. He thinks fondly of instances that were not high-profile…like student rehearsals that clicked or collaborations with colleagues. Higher profile events like traveling to Italy in 2005 with the Wind Ensemble as the first American band to perform for the Corno d’Oro stand out. More recently, Dennis worked with a number of Penn State Honors Music Institute alumni performing in the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) 2018 All-National Honor Band in Orlando, FL. The nation’s most elite high school musicians vie for the opportunity to rehearse and perform in the ensemble, first competing at local levels to become eligible.

“Being invited to conduct the NAfMe All-National Honor Band was one of the greatest honors of my career,” Dennis says. “The talent, dedication, and commitment of these young musicians was extraordinary.”

Jayne and Dennis have travel and grand-parenting in their near futures. With children in State College, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, they have plenty of places to go. Their grandchild is due to arrive in Happy Valley in April – a wonderful retirement gift for both.