On Saturday, January 27, the newly restored Albion College Pep Band played for a total of four hours at the men’s and women’s basketball games. Songs like “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Gimme Some Lovin,” “Uptown Funk” and “Sweet Caroline” blasted the two teams to wins of 100-81 and 104-29, respectively.
In 2004, the Pep Band, which plays during basketball games to keep the audience excited, was dissolved due to budget cuts from the athletic department. The January 27 games were the second time the Pep Band has played since it got back together this semester.
Dr. Samuel McIlhagga, Albion College Band Director, credits the band’s restoration entirely to Alex Keck, a junior trombonist from Frisco, Texas.
“We’ve tried on different occasions to bring it back, but it didn’t happen,” said McIlhagga. “Alex was pumped about it, and got everyone else [in concert band] really excited about doing it, so here we are.”
The Pep Band was still around when McIlhagga first came to Albion in 2003. According to McIlhagga, the band played at home basketball games and was funded by the athletic department. The students were even paid as student workers.
With college-wide budget cuts, the money for Pep Band eventually went away altogether.
“It became really difficult to get people to commit to doing it voluntarily, and it fizzled out. I tried to get students to do it, but I just couldn’t get enough people. A Pep Band with four kids in the stands isn’t exciting,” said McIlhagga.
McIlhagga said the challenge will be balancing Pep Band’s duties so that the students don’t feel overburdened.
“When you see Pep Bands at big schools like Michigan and Michigan State, what you don’t realize is that they have, behind the scenes, 100, 200 students who participate, so they don’t all play at every game or for every sport. Whereas at Albion, because we’re small, everybody is doing everything.”
A decade ago, all of the students in the Pep Band were paid each game they performed. Now, all of the students in Pep Band are volunteers. With a $500 donation from Albion College President Mauri Ditzler, they were able to get t-shirts for uniforms.
Keck is modest about getting the band back together.
“I pushed for it because I thought it would be a lot of fun and everyone else got into it, too. A bunch of us wanted to expand our musical ensembles, and there’s not too much opportunity in the music department. So we decided if we could just get together as a group, we could ‘unofficially’ do it as long as we got approval.”
Expanding Albion’s musical ensembles wasn’t the only reason Keck was interested in bringing the Pep Band back. His father is an Albion alumni who graduated in 1996 when the former Pep Band was just getting started.
Keck said that his father being in the Pep Band was a unique opportunity for him. His father gave Alex tips on how to start up the Pep Band.
He said the students wanted to bring the Pep Band back even if they weren’t being paid because it was fun, although payment would be nice.
Plans are in place to have the Pep Band turned into a student organization, which would allow them to tap into Student Senate funds in order to purchase new music, get new uniforms and repair damaged instruments.
Currently, the band rehearses one to two times a week, depending on the number of upcoming games. They show up an hour before to warm up and practice.
Ryan Powell, a junior from Ann Arbor and alto saxophone player in the Pep Band, says that he got caught up in the excitement when Alex asked him to join and put together a Facebook group. He would like to see some compensation, though.
“It was said that we might get paid and that was part of the reason I joined. It would be nice because it is time consuming, but either way, it’s a great time,” said Powell.
As for the songs the band plays, Alex says they try to choose songs based on what they think the crowd is feeling. The cheerleaders especially love pieces like “Hey Baby” and “Sweet Caroline,” but the Pep Band tries to play songs they think the crowd will enjoy.
The athletic department is excited to welcome the Pep Band back to Albion.
“I am anxious to work with them to become a permanent part of the games at Kresge for years to come,” said Athletic Director Matthew Arend. “Since President Ditzler’s arrival at Albion College, having the Pep Band at home basketball games has been a topic he and I have discussed many times. I am thrilled that Dr. McIlhagga and Alex Keck have worked so hard to make it a reality.”
The Pep Band has other sports in mind, too. Currently, the Pep Band only performs during basketball games but would like to expand to volleyball and baseball in the future.
Photo by Kellie Brown