Important THON info from Band Together

Dear ABBA,

As you may know, THON 2021 is quickly approaching and we are extremely excited despite it looking a little different this year. We have a lot of information to share with you all and lots of ways to keep everyone involved and engaged despite THON being completely virtual this year. This letter will include information on the THON Alumni Reunion Series, how to send Dancer Mail to our dancers for THON weekend to keep them motivated, how to attend THON virtually and some of the activities you can do, Alumni Fundraising Day, and information about Band Together’s three dancers for THON 2021.

THON Alumni Reunion Series:

There are four live streams for THON member alumni happening on the THON Facebook page linked here. Some of them have passed already but we wanted to let you know about these because they’re a good way to reminisce on your time and effort spent on THON and your support For The Kids. The dates and times are listed below and each date correlates to a certain THON era:

  • January 21st @7 PM: 2015-2021
  • January 28th @7 PM: 2005-2014
  • February 4th @7 PM: 1990-2004
  • February 11th @7 PM: 1973-1989

Dance Mail Instructions:

Have you ever wanted to send a letter to Band Together’s THON dancers? Here’s your chance. Since this year’s dancers will be dancing from home, there is no limit for dancer mail. That being said, here are the instructions to send our dancers letters (if you would like to send a package, please email Thank you in advance for any mail you send them, it’s always very motivational to see people supporting you in any way available.

Dancer mail call: The THON office will be accepting dancer mail February 1st-16th. The last day to postmark letters is February 12th. If you want to send our dancers (Lizzie Giacobe #161A, Elizabeth Bagley #161B, and Matt Bowers #161C) letters, you can do so by sending it to this address:

Penn State Dance Marathon (mail call)

Attn: Dancer Name and number (161 A, B, or C)

227D Hetzel Union Building

University Park, PA 16802


Attending THON 2021 Virtually:

As you may expect, THON 2021 is being held virtually this year with a mixture of livestreams from different viewpoints in the BJC. It hasn’t been posted yet, but sometime right before THON, a Viewer Guide will be posted on the THON website to encourage attendees to interact with the livestream. All the information you need to know about watching THON 2021 should be included there, be sure to check it out before THON kicks off on February 19th.

Throughout THON weekend there will be multiple performances consisting of singers, bands, and entertainment performances. Each year THON tends to get a bigger name to attend THON and perform so keep an eye out for them! As always, THON will be having regular family-related content including the kid’s talent show and family hour, where families share their story with pediatric cancer.

Alumni Fundraising Day:

On February 11th, THON is hosting an Alumni Fundraising Day where $20,000 worth of matching funds will be available to match donations. There isn’t too much information out about this yet but THON will be recording the graduation years of each donation from alumni and reporting which group of alumni was most engaged as a little competition. 

Here is the link to our Donor Drive to make electronic contributions. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and even if you can’t donate because of this year’s circumstances,we still value the time you took to read this letter and your effort in staying engaged with us this year. We understand it’s been a hard year for many and we are so grateful for everything ABBA does to support us. 

And now onto some information from our three dancers chosen this year:

Hi everyone! My name is Lizzie Giacobe and I am a sophomore studying Microbiology. I play clarinet in the Blue Band and serve as one of two Family Relations chairs for Band Together. I have been involved with Band Together since my first semester at Penn State. I am very excited to dance this year. I know that it is not the same, but I think it is important to keep dancing because there are kids with cancer that still have to keep fighting even though we are in the middle of a global pandemic. I am dancing for a cure and for our organization’s THON families, the Nakonechnis, Schmehls, and the Stonesifers. They are strong, positive, and brave and I hope to reflect that when dancing in THON this year.

My name is Matt Bowers and I am a senior studying Wildlife and Fisheries Science. I play clarinet in the Blue Band and have been a part of Band Together since freshman year. I am beyond excited to dance for THON this year! I’m dancing because I want to help show people that a global pandemic can’t stop us from fighting to end pediatric cancer. Even though THON is virtual this year, it is a symbol of hope during a very dark time around the world. I am honored to represent our three THON families while being a part of an entirely different THON experience!


Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth Bagley, and I’m a sophomore studying Human Development and Family Studies. I play piccolo in the Pride of the Lions pep band, and have been a member of Band Together since my first semester at PSU. I currently serve as one of the two Family Relations chairs for our organization. I’m so excited to dance this year! Three of my family members have fought cancer and I’m looking forward to dancing to show our three families that they’re not alone. THON is such a wonderful experience and I’m so excited to be involved despite it looking different this year!


As always, we would love to thank you for continuing to support Band Together and our efforts to fight against childhood cancer. Without ABBA, we would not be able to make nearly the impact that we do and it’s all thanks to you. We hope to keep you all updated in whatever ways we can as we approach THON 2021.

Go State, Beat Cancer,

Band Together



Everyone knows the Blue Band excels in music and marching. Now, the University has certified the Blue Band’s academic excellence. For Fall term 2020, the 300 members of the Blue Band achieved a collective 3.59 GPA.

The figure includes all of the grades earned across a wide variety of majors by the Band’s musicians, silks, and student staff.

“Over 50 percent of the kids made the dean’s list,” says an amazed and gratified Dr. Gregory A. Drane, director of athletic bands. 

Back in 2016, he set a long-term goal of a 3.5 GPA for the Blue Band. At that time, the Band’s GPA was a respectable 3.27. Little by little, grades improved.

“When I set that 3.5-GPA goal, people told me I was crazy,” Greg says. 

“I really got on the students this year,” he continues. “I told them there were no football games or other performances. There were no excuses.”

The students came through with a triple-forte academic performance and a flip to top it off.

One of the long-term campus rumors about the Blue Band is that the time demanded of Band members wreaks havoc on academics. Joining the Blue Band, the rumor mill claimed, was a sure way to kiss your grades good-bye. 

In addition to being another amazing Blue Band accomplishment, earning its collective 3.59 average should put that canard to rest.



     Nearly $25,000 was raised for the Blue Band on Giving Tuesday this year. The $17,000 pledged online was short of the anticipated goal; however, another $8000 was raised beyond the on-line portal so the final total was slightly lower than last year’s…not bad in a Covid year.

Still, it remains a puzzle to many ABBA members as to why the Blue Band must solicit funds for instruments or teaching materials when, for example, the chemistry department does not have its professors asking for money each time they need new beakers or test tubes.

Much of any Blue Band director’s time is devoted to fundraising. Those who see the Band as a music organization might be surprised that most of the Blue Band’s revenue comes from the Athletics Department. The College of Arts & Architecture gives the Blue Band less than 0.03% of the Blue Band’s annual operating expenses. That is not a typo. The college’s allotment barely pays for photocopying for a month. It is less than half of what alums contributed in a single day.

Along with football and basketball, the Blue Band is arguably amongst the highest-profile student organizations at Penn State. Everyone loves Blue Band performances – whether at halftime, in a parade or as a pep band.

While the Giving Tuesday donations were somewhat short of the Blue Band’s goal, the total number of contributors nearly matched hoped-for participation. Because of the way the University’s matching-fund system is set up, participation – even a donation of only $5 or $10 – counts heavily on getting matching money. Last year, the Blue Band qualified for matching funds. Since the final accounting is not complete, it is uncertain how much, if any, matching money the Blue Band will get for 2020.

Acknowledging that many people face tight budgets as a result of Covid-19, there was no major push to solicit donations. Still, ABBA members responded as they always do. Money raised on Giving Tuesday went to the LEGACY Fund Endowment, which is a major pillar (along with named scholarships and the Diversity fund recently established by Harry Burns) supporting Blue Band diversity recruitment activities and students.



A new tradition was started this year with the Blue Band. Called “Why-To Wednesdays,” the program was built around ABBA members sharing thoughts on why students should participate in the Blue Band and what participation will mean to them after graduation. Given the lack of opportunity to perform on the field, some students may have questioned their involvement. Why-To Wednesdays gave the students a longer-term view.

“The program was a roaring success,” reports Dr. Greg Drane, director of athletic bands. “The support from ABBA meant a lot to Blue Band members.”

Face it – participation in the marching Blue Band is a physically tough, musically challenging, time-eating endeavor. Few other activities require as much commitment on the part of student participants. In a year when Blue Band members never got to burst through the tunnel or perform a live halftime show, it became vital that members hear positive things about their involvement with and commitment to the Blue Band.

The messages sent by Blue Band alums were shared on Wednesdays after practice. The Drum Major would read a couple of comments. Video clips posted by ABBA members were circulated internally.

After practice each Wednesday, Blue Band members would gather around in what was almost a classroom setting to hear tributes from those who had marched before them.

“It became a solemn moment,” Greg says of the readings.



There will be 70 new trumpets and six new Sousaphones when the Blue Band takes the field next year.

“Conn-Selmer made us a deal we couldn’t turn down,” says Dr. Greg Drane, director of athletic bands. Despite some cajoling, he declined to detail the discount the company offered the Blue Band. Suffice it to say, it was big.

The 70 Bach Stradivarius-190S37 Bb trumpets with a .459” medium-large bore were produced at the company’s Cleveland/Eastlake shop. Conn-Selmer had laid off 113 employees in April due to Covid-19.

“Coming out of Covid, they were eager to get their facility up and running again,” Greg explains. The chance to upgrade the trumpet line at a bargain price could not be ignored.

Funds for the purchase came largely from the LEGACY Fund Endowment built by ABBA contributions.

THON message from Band Together

To our ABBA family,

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.

purple out


As of right now, we have our organization DonorDrive set up! Donordrive is an easy, digital way to support THON by making direct donations. If you are interested in donating, you can visit the Band Together DonorDrive at

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.


Sarah Parko and Ally Ward



By Mark and Carol Poblete

Homecoming Committee Co-Chairs

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.

In lieu of our traditional Friday night post-parade reception at the O. Richard Bundy Blue Band Building, nearly five dozen ABBA members gathered via Zoom to reminisce, celebrate, and raise the song. Click to read more.

Finally, extending beyond Homecoming week, over 500 runners, walkers, and even a few twirlers took to the roads and trails in their neighborhood as part of the inaugural “For the Legacy” virtual 5K (click to read more), raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Blue Band Legacy Fund and providing a much-needed morale boost for the students of this year’s band. It was a truly global demonstration of the incredible passion that the Blue Band inspires in each of us.

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.


By Julia Stack

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.


Curt runs with instruments
Curt totes some instruments on his virtual 5K.

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!



Children's book cover

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.

Blue Band Members
Author Jacqueline Nardone is second from the right in this squad photo. With her are Sarah Husband Ely, Sean Merritt and Melissa Papa McGuire.

“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 available after November 3 for $16.95 through SBS in State College, on Amazon, on Facebook at or from Mascot on the web at

child reading book
Penelope Nardone is deep into her mom’s book about the Blue Band.

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.