Op-Ed: The only team that plays outside the lines
November 8, 2018
I set out to write a profile on the Pep Band to accomplish my goal of writing for all four sections of The Santa Clara. Since we covered the Dance Team in week four, I thought it was only fair that we also give exposure to the official band of Santa Clara Athletics.
As a cellist in the university orchestra, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to seek out some like-minded music ensemble players like myself. Using my connections, I was able to schedule an interview with seniors Kyle Ip and Lily Padula, the Pep Band’s interim co-presidents, as the current co-presidents are both studying abroad.
I asked them to describe the responsibilities of an interim president.
“Pretty much the same as a regular president,” Padula said. She and Ip explained that they schedule appearances at games, coordinate with the Athletics Department, organize events and make sure members attend games. The Pep Band also supports the university at other campus functions such as Grand Reunion and Preview Day.
“We’re actually pretty unique because most other pep bands aren’t student-run,” Ip said. “We have people we report to in the Athletics Department, but other than that I think they give us a lot of freedom.”
According to Padula and Ip, their schedule changed this year so now they will not be playing basketball games until winter quarter. However, they are currently playing during the volleyball and soccer season.
I learned the Pep Band, comprised of about 15 students, are actively recruiting members—even those who may have no musical talent.
“We try to be really inclusive, even if you don’t play an instrument,” Padula said. They welcome classic band instruments such as French horn, trumpet, saxophone, flute, clarinet as well as drums, triangle and cowbell.
They invited me to attend the Women’s Volleyball game against Portland, where the Pep Band would be performing. I excitedly accepted and arrived at the Leavey Center that Thursday during the first break after the second set. The Band had already been there for about an hour and a half.
I was surprised that only five members were present, including Ip and Padula. The instruments included a french horn, tuba, saxophone, trumpet, cowbell, bass drum and drum set. I learned that it’s tough to get all of the members together on a Thursday night, especially for a game that isn’t basketball.
Then, the members started discussing what song to play on the next time-out. Apparently, the song selections are more structured during basketball season—because they have to coordinate with the dance team—but volleyball has flexibility.
They finally landed on “Smoke on the Water,” and then looked over at me and asked if I wanted to play cowbell. It was George Plimpton-idolizing, wannabe immersive journalist’s dream. I was given a striped rugby polo to slip on over my shirt, and during the next time-out joined in on the fun.
Ding ding ding ding ding ding. I felt like Gene Frenkle, Will Ferrell’s overzealous cowbell-clanging character in the classic 2000 SNL sketch. Once the excitement was out of the way, I decided to turn my attention to the game itself.
Let me preface this by saying I am not a sporty girl. I think my mile time in fifth grade was about 13 minutes—I was able to drop this to sub-seven exactly once by some fluke during sophomore year of high school. I ran cross country for four years and track for three (purely for social reasons) but never was really interested in sports with balls.
This all changed last Thursday night. For the first time in my life, I was actually watching what was happening on the court and not daydreaming about nachos (okay, I did try to buy some but the snack stand was closed) or flexing my seats on the ‘gram (this is also a lie, I blatantly posted a Boomerang on my story captioned “sco cos” complete with spinning horse gifs).
Nonetheless, I found myself actually engaged in the game and breathless as the Pep Band cheered “S…C…U” when the volleyballers bump, set, spiked the ball over the net. The six individual players on the court turned into a coordinated, whirring machine, and the camaraderie of the band members off the court was just as tangible.
I asked senior French horn player Kristin Anderson if members have to be interested in sports in order to join Pep Band. “I don’t think so,” she said. “People just want a more relaxed environment to play their instrument. We’ve definitely had people that didn’t strike me as sports fans.”
Padula, who plays the tuba, agrees. She did band in middle school and high school, and participated in the university orchestra and wind symphony at Santa Clara for her first two years.
“I knew I didn’t want to give up music, but I wanted something more low-key,” she said.
She elaborated by saying in Pep Band, it’s more common to have musicians that aren’t involved in other university ensembles.
“It’s a pretty interesting experience to play in the Pep Band at a game,” Ip explained. “It’s a lot different from being a regular spectator.”
I also was able to learn a little Pep Band history, spurred on by the painted image of a red hat on the drum set. Bands have existed at Santa Clara for the past century, but they’ve had different names, traditions and musical styles. Alumni fondly recall the Red Hat Band of the ‘50s and ‘60s with their red-and-white striped vests and red bowler hats. However, what is currently known as the Santa Clara Pep Band was established in 2005 with more than 40 members in the later part of the decade.
Perhaps the Santa Clara Athletics website said it best: despite their varying geographic, educational and musical backgrounds, members simply share an enjoyment of music and cheering on fellow Broncos. This reporter, for one, was inspired by Pep Band enough to go to a basketball game come winter quarter. But only if I get to play the cowbell.
Contact Erin Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.