We hope you’re staying safe and healthy! Band Together is off to a strong start despite navigating these new circumstances. We’ve mostly been having our meetings over Zoom which was an adjustment at first, but hanging out digitally in the comfort of our homes can still be a good time. We are fortunate to have dedicated Band Together members that are willing to stick together no matter what.
In September, we tried to bring back some game day nostalgia with a sub fundraiser that many people participated in! We sold subs to members of the Blue Band to reignite those memories of eating a sub at 9am on a game day. We also had our first few meetings around that time.
October marks 5 years since our THON angel Kayla’s passing. Kayla Nakonechni was a Penn State student— after dancing in THON 2013 she experienced health complications and was later diagnosed with Astrocytoma, a type of brain cancer. She passed away on October 14th, 2015. We were fortunate to have her mother, Jeanne, join us for a meeting to talk about her story and get to know our members. This week, we had our annual “Purple Out” at Blue Band rehearsal where we encouraged people to wear purple and grey in support of Kayla and her family.
Thank you so much for your continued support throughout the years. We are forever grateful for all members of ABBA. Once again, we hope you and your families are staying safe. Even though we won’t be able to see you all at homecoming this year, we always have our Blue Band family.
In July, the ABBA Homecoming committee, with the support of the Board, made the difficult decision to cancel all in-person events as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know at the time that such a disappointing situation would blossom in creativity and opportunity that opened the door to hundreds of passionate Penn Staters and fans of the Blue Band showing their support in so many different ways.
To kick off Homecoming week, our first-ever Blue Band virtual trivia night, hosted by published authors Lew Lazarow and Tom Range, engaged over three dozen participants in an entertaining and informative evening of history.
While we’re all hoping that Homecoming 2021 is a return to normal (or whatever a safe, in-person “new normal” will look like), this year’s events showcased the spirit and innovation that are hallmarks of the Penn State experience and gave countless Blue Band family members the chance to help us create some new traditions together. The Homecoming Committee is grateful for the support and partnership of the College of Arts & Architecture, University Libraries, and the Penn State Alumni Association. But, most importantly, we’re grateful for each ABBA member for being a part of our Homecoming 2020 “virtual” experience.
Traditionally, the Alumni Blue Band Association’s major fundraising event is the revenue raised from sales of football game tickets to the Homecoming game. Because of Covid, coming home wasn’t possible for Blue Band alums this year.
The Virtual 5K to benefit the Blue Band Legacy Fund helped fill that fiscal void.
The event’s $35 donation/entry fee included swag, an event-exclusive t-shirt, and an invitation to an event-only Facebook group. Set to begin homecoming weekend, it provided a way for Blue Band fans to connect virtually through Facebook. The engagement was amazing as a post upon post kept coming from people completing their runs.
It was their race at their pace. They could run the entire 5K, walk, crawl, or do it throughout the week…all for the glory and love of the Blue Band.
In the great Blue Band tradition of being over-achievers, our initial goal to raise $5000 was hit within the first 48 hours of registration opening. In the long run (pun intended), we are pleased to report that 514 people registered for the rookie year Virtual 5K and that we raised $23,435 for the Legacy Fund!
ABBA plans to make this an annual event, perhaps in conjunction with the “Fore the Legacy” golf tournament on ABBA’s “We Are” weekend. Limber up now to be ready to step off in good shape for next year’s 5K!
It used to be that Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns was the go-to resource for teaching children about musical instruments. Now, just on time for Christmas, there is a Penn State Blue Band book that provides the same sort of instruction in a format more relatable to little Nittany Lions.
THE DAY I FOUND THE BLUE BAND is a new children’s book that goes through all of the instruments that make up the band. It explains how they make music and their part in the ensemble. Written by ABBA member Jacqueline Materia Nardone, it is aimed at kids between 3-9 years old.
Both Jacqueline and her husband Thomas Nardone are Blue Band alums. Jacqueline played piccolo from 2001-04, was squad leader and Band Historian her senior year. Thomas was in the snare line.
“When I had my daughter Penelope (two years ago), people gave me a lot of Penn State books and other things,” she says. However, there was nothing for children built around the Blue Band. The band was the heart and soul of the Nardones’ time in Happy Valley. “I was looking for a book to inspire my daughter to learn more about music – and the Blue Band,” she continues.
TDIFTBB is not a baby’s board book but a book of regular pages written in rhythmic rhyme throughout…just the thing to attract young readers. There are photos of each instrument and each is in context with others, whether brass, woodwind or percussion. The illustrator is Rachel Schwarting Novel.
Originally from the Lehigh Valley, Jacqueline was a political science major and then went to law school. The family re-located to State College from New York this year just as Covid became an issue. She actually wrote the book and found her publisher while in New York.
“Even when I was in the Blue Band, people had questions about instruments – like, is the Sousaphone a real instrument?” she recalls. TDIFTBB answers that and all the other questions a youngster might have about the Blue Band and band instruments.
Instead of a Homecoming Parade, an early-morning pre-game practice at Holuba Hall, and a roaringly successful pre-game entrance, the Penn State Alumni Blue Band settled for a Virtual 2020 Homecoming via Zoom.
In keeping with his responsibilities in this Covid-dominated year, Dr. Greg Drane, director of athletic bands, spent his time with alums discussing 2020’s health and safety issues rather than conducting music.
“This year, I’m a safety officer rather than a band director,” he said, noting that he spends little time on the Tower with music and most of his time assuring health guidelines are followed – even to the point of making sure roommates stand six feet apart during practice.
As the Big Ten announced an abbreviated football game schedule, there was good news and bad news for the Blue Band.
On the upside, just before the canceled homecoming weekend, the whole Blue Band was able to go into Beaver Stadium and shoot some video. That footage will likely be screened during the season.
The bad news was that the Big Ten decided there would be no bands at any Big Ten games. Many musicians held out hope that the restriction would be lifted at least for one late-season home game. That would be some reward for their loyalty and stick-to-it attitude. That decision, however, will be made far from State College. “With the short season, that is unlikely,” Dr. Drane said. The Blue Band, however, will be ready if the opportunity comes. Dr. Drane thanked ABBA members for their words of encouragement and for helping advance the Blue Band legacy.
Alums did not get to march at halftime, either. In a normal year, they would have performed in front of a happy crowd of 107,000 knowing their Nittany Lions were about to trounce Iowa. Instead, attendees at the Virtual Homecoming traded stories and memories with past directors Ned C. Deihl and O. Richard Bundy.
The event was nice – but it was a lot like drinking an alcohol-free beer: purported to be the same thing…but it wasn’t.
One tradition was honored. Everyone joined in the Singing Lions and the Homecoming was concluded with the singing of the Alma Mater.
A few ABBA members from the earlier years agreed that the virtual meeting was a lot easier on their legs. And while nobody missed a single yard line, there was agreement and optimism among the 58 Virtual Homecoming attendees that Homecoming 2021 will include both the Blue Band and Alums on the field at Beaver Stadium.
The Alumni Blue Band Association seeks nominations for its Board of Directors. The Board is comprised of 15 alumni members. Five seats up for election in December. The three-year terms will run from January 2021 through December 2023.
Interested ABBA members are encouraged to self-nominate or to nominate a friend. Board members need not be in the State College area as our Board meetings have included virtual attendance since well before COVID-19 restrictions. Current Board members reside in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and Delaware. We particularly need ABBA members who graduated in the last 10 years to step up as that era is currently under-represented. ABBA could use fresh ideas and needs to get more younger members involved in ABBA operations.
To run for a seat, submit a candidate statement to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 4, 2020. The statement should include:
Years at Penn State, Degree(s), Other Degrees, Licenses, etc. as appropriate.
Years in the Band, Instrument, Groups (Marching, Pep Band, POTL, etc.).
Experience in Blue Band and Alumni Band participation, leadership, and relevant experience in similar organizations.
A brief statement as to why you want to be on the Board, how do you envision yourself contributing to ABBA and the current Penn State Athletic Bands program.
Your statement will be published on the ballot sent to all eligible members. This is a private election so only voting members will see your statement, not the general public. If you have questions, please contact me at email@example.com or by phone at 410-370-8153.
By CURT HARLER At Blue Band practices this Fall, Blue Band Director Dr. Greg Drane has not conducted a song. Not one.
“True — I haven’t conducted a single tune,” he acknowledges. That is because, in these strange times, his primary role as Director is not using a baton but as the Band’s Safety Officer. He spends practices up on the tower making sure that all Covid-19 guidelines are met and followed.
That does not mean the Blue Band is not prepared to perform. Far from it. Whether the Big 10 resumes some sort of football season or another opportunity arises, Dr. Drane’s mission is to assure the Blue Band will be in fine musical fettle.
“If something does happen, we are prepared,” Dr. Drane promises. “All of our plans have been submitted to Athletics and we are ready to pull the trigger if something changes.”
Meantime, the Blue Band has gone old-school with practices. Things would look strange to ABBA members. For starters, all Blue Band members meet at a place off the practice field and then break into sectionals. For another, practice has been called off more than once due to the threat of rain. But it is mainly Covid-19 that is messing with tradition.
Thanks to support from ABBA, all of the current Blue Band members received draw-string backpacks filled with sanitizer, face mask and similar items. No, Dr. Drane says, there are no mouthpiece holes in those face masks. Therefore we have had special masks made with a hole for the mouthpiece which students use while playing.
All of this enforced separation has had an impact on the Blue Band’s sound. “We’ve taken maybe 15 to 20 percent off our sound,” he worries. To make up the difference, they are working on things like articulation to build a presence.
“We’re going to be tight,” Dr. Drane promises. “We’re going for that Chicago sound.”
Should the status quo continue, ABBA members can anticipate the possibility of virtual Blue Band programs. “That could be extremely big,” Dr. Drane says. There may be performances using the same technology platform that the athletic department utilized for its family dinner.
“Whatever happens, we’re hoping for the best,” Dr. Drane says optimistically. “We’ll be ready to go!”
Fifth-year senior Keith Griffith of Spring Mills, PA was fired up to do the drum major flip in front of 100,000 screaming fans. It is definitely the spotlight event for the Penn State Blue Band’s drum majors. Then, like so many other events, Penn State football was put on hold. The Blue Band’s season went topsy-turvy.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am disappointed,” Keith says. But he remains optimistic. “I’m super excited for the opportunity. Yes, this year will be difficult. But it is still Blue Band and still a great group of musicians, marchers, and leaders.”
Like many other members of the Blue Band, Griffith is looking to the Alumni Blue Band Association for help and inspiration.
“Obviously, having a super-strong alumni base – both across Penn State and especially the Blue Band Alums – is a major help. Any support ABBA can provide will be super-appreciated,” Keith continues.
As August winds down, block auditions proceeded as if nothing was too far out of the ordinary. “What the Blue Band will look like and what will happen is changing day by day,” Griffith says. His sister Ashley, on the drumline, is another member of the Blue Band whose on-field experience is up in the air.
Yes, Keith is disappointed that he may not get the opportunity to showcase his flip in front of 110,000 people at a white-out game. Practicing the flip in one’s back yard is not the same thing. Still, he plans to get comfortable with the flip and his other moves in front of the 300 members of the 2020 Blue Band and work from there. “I will stay in shape. When I’m called upon to do the flip, I will be ready,” he states.
Griffith points out that Blue Band is so much more than simply football. He is a fifth-year senior in the Honors Program for Engineering Science. While he is majoring in engineering, his long-term goal is to get a medical degree and focus on neuro-biology or neuro-surgery. Since engineering is focused on problem-solving, he figures it will be a great boost to his medical career.
A trumpet player by trade, Griffith took over from Jack Frisbie as drum major. Griffith did a co-op a year ago and so required more time to finish his degree. As a bonus his fifth year provided a golden opportunity to gain an extra year with the Blue Band.
Now, his goal is to provide hope to people in the Penn State community despite the trying times. “People will look to the Blue Band for something to hold onto,” he believes. Knowing the alums are behind them will help. “We’ll be doing our best,” he promises.
Sometimes, small things grow into big deals. Such was the case for Dr. Ned C. Deihl, director emeritus of the Penn State Blue Band. Without Ned Deihl, for example, the Penn State Blue Band would not have its trademark “Floating Lions” presentation. He created it for a pregame show in 1965 and it remains nearly identical in execution (although not in number of marchers) today. It was first performed on November 20, 1965, at an away game versus Pitt.
Just how does one come up with an iconic idea like that? The key, it seems, is having little toy figurines to play with and a kitchen table to serve as a field.
“I’d seen the lighted ticker and floating announcement sign at Times Square in New York,” he recalls of his inspiration. “That is what I had in mind.”
Blue Band Director Jim Dunlop had put him in charge of developing a new pre-game routine and gave him free rein. Ned was determined to get away from the low-key East Coast band look and do something big, something spectacular. At the time, the Blue Band marched out in a block playing a classic march – not even a school song.
Originally, the Floating Lions pulled out of the end zone. “It only went one way and was not too effective,” he says. “Coming from midfield with contrary motion was much more dramatic.” Ned had no computers to help him with the design. In fact, throughout his career, he never designed a drill on a computer although his assistants did.
“I put little figurines on the kitchen table and then had to finagle to match the marching to the music,” he explains.
As the years went by, Ned spent many more hours redesigning the drill for larger and larger bands. But its essence is unchanged.
“The Blue Band is so large now we probably can spell out ‘Nittany Lions’,” he chuckles. “Maybe that’s something the Alumni Blue Band can put together with an hour or two practice!”
It was in July 1976 that Dr. Deihl became only the fourth director ever of the Blue Band (preceded by Tommy Thompson, Hum Fishburn and Jim Dunlop). Dr. Deihl stepped up after Dr. Dunlop died of a heart attack in 1975 at age 64 while at a band camp in Salt Lake City. After a short stint as acting director, Ned became director.
“The first game after Jim Dunlop died was something,” he recalls. The directorship became the gem in a long music career.
Dr. Deihl grew up near Mansfield, Ohio where his high school band was such small potatoes that they did not always have a band director. He started conducting and was permanently bitten by the music bug. Although he started his college career at the prestigious Miami University of Ohio, he soon switched to Indiana University in Bloomington where the music program was much stronger. He earned his degree, taught music for a bit and was drafted into the Army where he played clarinet and led the 9th Division band and choir. At that point, he knew he needed more academic credentials and went to the University of Michigan for a master’s degree in music under William Revelli. In a way, his early academic path presaged Penn State’s joining the Big Ten. Deihl saw himself as a short-timer at Penn State…get a Ph.D. and move on. When he earned his doctorate in 1962, Dr. Dunlop offered him a post as an assistant director based in part on his Big Ten experience.
Whether you were in the band in the 1960s or last year, you can be grateful for another one of Ned’s innovations: charts. In years past, drills were tacked up on a wall and all musicians had to write down their positions for each number. He started making charts for everyone (this was well before the current era of computerized layouts).
On the other hand, you have Dr. Deihl to thank for adding a strong emphasis on marching to the Blue Band’s requirement for musicianship. You can thank (or blame!) him for bringing the high-stepping “chair step” to the Blue Band. One’s thighs ache just thinking about it. He replaced 6-to-5 marching and instituted the 8-to-5 protocol partly because it better matches 4/4 music but mainly for the look.
Not all upperclassmen (and it was all men then) liked the changes. But he stuck to his guns. “It was pretty vigorous,” he says of the early days of fast, high-stepping. “Today’s Band still picks up their knees – just not as high. But the key is getting the knee high enough to point the toes.”
Ned increased the size of the Blue Band as Beaver Stadium grew. A bigger band is more capable of filling an ever-larger stadium with sound.
It will be difficult for many alums to believe that Dr. Deihl retired in 1996 – nearly a quarter of a century ago. While he rarely attends football games, he has been back to lead the Alumni Band at Homecoming without fail. Among his other honors are being named to the American Bandmasters’ Association (ABA), membership in Phi Mu Alpha and Pi Kappa Lambda, and the Citation of Excellence from the ABA. He has been a guest conductor at many events, perhaps topped by his stepping up for the U.S. Army Band as guest conductor.
Ned and his wife Janet are working on their 60th year of marriage. Her happiest days just may be those several when he is off on the golf course. Recent personal highlights include watching his grand-daughter Danielle Deihl march these past four years with the Blue Band. He’s looking forward to having his grandson Derek Deihl make the band this year on sax.
Call him “El Presidente,” just plain Brett, or maybe the Blue Band’s Tiger Woods. Brett Butler, current ABBA President, is as passionate about golf as he is about music. And he has found a great nexus for his two loves.
If you watched the Blue Band in the years 2005-2007, you certainly saw Brett march. As K-7, he was the tunnel lead for his junior, senior and extra fall term at Penn State.
“It’s scary but wonderful,” he says of being one of two lead trumpets out of the tunnel. “You are the first person out to the sea of white. It overwhelms you. And you go, knowing you have 300-plus friends behind you. It is very emotional. You will never experience anything like that anywhere else!”
He graduated from Penn State in December 2007 with a degree in industrial engineering. Having changed from nuclear engineering, he needed an extra term to graduate and so got an extra year in the Blue Band. He got his MBA through the Penn State World Campus in 2012-14.
As President of ABBA, Butler’s focus has been on alumni engagement and technology advancement. There, he points proudly to multiple successes.
“Engagement across the generations is so important,” he notes. Recent grads expect the latest in technology to stay connected with ABBA. Past generations want to be in the loop. Technology makes that happen.
Golf is another area where Butler sees an opportunity to keep alums connected and involved.
While acknowledging that the annual Homecoming parade and performance are the heart and soul of ABBA, he notes that the weekend happens in a whirlwind. “Homecoming moves so fast. There are snippets of connection here, snippets there. Most of us have too little time to interact with old friends and to meet new ones,” he says.
Golf, he hopes, is one answer to the challenge of helping ABBA members relate. Indeed, the annual golf tournament has proved a success, both financially and socially. The latter is key. “You move slower, interact, talk to people,” Brett notes. “It helps bond us continue to grow and to stay connected.”
Butler loves to golf and has a 7.5 handicap (that’s good – don’t bet against him!). Not only does he see golf as a way to strengthen Blue Band ties but it brings him closer to his father. In early June right after golf play reopened, Brett and his dad played both the Blue and the White courses on consecutive days. “They were in great shape,” he says.
He still hopes ABBA will pull off the annual Fore the Blue Band Golf Tournament. He talked to Penn State course officials and they, too, indicated they are hopeful – even if the format is a bit different than normal.
A graduate of West York High School, Brett Butler really didn’t think about college band until he was accepted at Penn State. His dad wanted him to attend the York Campus for a year or two so he could ease into the college experience. Both of Butler’s parents and his older sister are Penn State grads. His dad is a football season ticket holder. So Brett was well aware of the Blue Band spectacle.
At some point, Brett decided he wanted to continue with music as part of his college experience. “I’m still not sure if it was motivational or not, but Dad said if I practiced hard and made the Blue Band, I could stay at University Park,” he recalls. He made the band as a freshman. He loved it and got more deeply involved. As vice president during his senior year and then president in his final year with the Blue Band, he got his first exposure to ABBA as an ex-officio, non-voting student member of the Board. He was impressed with what he saw.
Brett was not elected to the ABBA Board the first time he ran but he tried again and was elected in 2010. After a short hiatus, he stood again for election, taking over as ABBA President for the current 2019-21 term.
In “real life,” Brett lives in Southern York County and works for a firm that builds heavy equipment for the U.S. Navy that goes into its submarines. “That’s about as specific as I can get living in the defense industry,” he says.
He also is involved with his old high school band as Assistant Marching Band Director. Brett started working with the Marching Band as a volunteer and accepted the part-time gig after a few seasons.
It keeps him aware of young musicians. As a result, another of Brett’s ABBA goals is to increase involvement with recent Blue Band graduates. “It is critical to reach those new graduating classes and to keep them involved, to hear their fresh ideas, to listen to their recent experiences as Blue Band members.”
No matter the graduation date, Brett says being on the ABBA Board is an amazing experience. “Be an active participant,” he tells new Board members. “Being part of a volunteer organization is more than resume-building, more than a title.”
As president, he acknowledges that every volunteer group has limitations. Still, he says, ABBA has made amazing strides through the years. He can think of no better place to give back to an organization that gives so much to its members.
“In ABBA, we are so fortunate to have people who want to do something and commit the time and effort to the Band,” he concludes.