THE BATTLE WITHIN THE BAND
The N.C. Central University Marching Sound Machine is looking to drastically increase its number of musicians. Offer more recruitment incentives. Regain funding for away-game travel.
Within the marching band’s fiscal 2013-14 budget, the money it uses for instrument repair and band supplies has been cut by more than half two years, now at $50,000 for the entire year. The band also has received no athletics funding this year, which was at $45,000 last year, halting travel to away football games.
Jorim Reid, who is the director of NCCU’s band program, said waves of budget cuts resulting from the recession have impacted school bands across the nation, creating a “band recession.”
“We’re fortunate that this year isn’t a heavy travel year,” Reid said. “… I don’t know what could happen. Right now, someone could easily raise some money for us to travel.”
A need for a university-wide fundraising effort for the band program has been stressed by Dennis Ellis, a NCCU 1977 alumnus and advisory board chairman of the Sound Machine Booster Club.
After James Ammons left the university, NCCU’s chancellor from 2001 to 2007 and an avid band supporter, and after the NCCU marching band attended the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., in 2011, the band budget began to decrease, Ellis said.
The university has never been a “super-band school,” he said, and it’s time to get NCCU alum and supporters in the habit of giving back.
“They’re out there practicing as hard as they can,” Ellis said of NCCU marching band students. “It kind of breaks your heart when the support isn’t there and they’re giving all that they can.
“When morale goes down from thinking that you’re the stepchild of the university instead of the inspirational force of the university, that takes a lot out of a lot of folks and they don’t work as hard anymore,” he added.
Last year, the Booster Club met with NCCU administrators to discuss the future of the marching band program. He said after those discussions, there was no effort by the administration to kick-start a fundraising campaign.
“We just felt there was no cooperation,” Ellis said.
But now that there’s a new chancellor at NCCU, he said, the current administration can reevaluate fundraising efforts for the program.
As one of the largest historically black universities in North Carolina, “we should have one of the better bands,” Ellis said. “We should be able to compete more closely with our archrival down in Greensboro,” North Carolina A&T State University.
NCCU’s Marching Sound Machine is currently at 140 members. North Carolina A&T’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine is at about 175 students this semester.
But looking at financial strength, N.C. A&T’s band budget is at $397,000 for fiscal 2013-14, with about $125,000 distributed in band scholarships.
NCCU’s band budget trumps that, with $434,906 allocated for fiscal 2013-14, with $200,000 of that reserved for band scholarships, according to information provided by both universities.
In a phone conversation with The Herald-Sun, NCCU College of Arts and Sciences Dean Carlton Wilson and NCCU music department chair Ralph Barrett both said the band program, which includes marching band, symphonic band, the choir, jazz groups and music education, will focus on creating financial partnerships with alumni and the Durham community.
The administration, including new chancellor Debra Saunders-White, supports every student activity on campus, including the marching band, they said.
“What we are experiencing here within our music program is not uncommon for any other program,” Barrett said. “The inability of the band to travel really becomes a function of athletics and not of music.”
“We have to learn to live within a tighter budget,” Barrett added. “You have to do more with less and that’s part of what has to happen here.”
Ellis, the advisory board chairman of the Booster Club, echoed that viewpoint, saying the band director has had to maintain quality with fewer resources.
“It’s not the band director’s fault,” Ellis said. “I’m amazed. For years I’ve just been amazed at what he does with so little. He’s an excellent arranger. He arranges for what he has.”
Reid said the band is down about 30 members, with the brass section being the most impacted, but that number could fluctuate and they could gain more people by the end of October, as students get involved later in the semester.
Only 6 percent of the band is comprised of music majors, and many have to juggle band practice with work and school schedules, Reid said. He would like to add quality and diversity to the band by not only recruiting more throughout the state, but all over the world.
“We would like to rebuild the band program to the place we were headed, as far as the numbers and strength,” he said.
He would like to see the Sound Machine reach 350 members – the size of his ideal band. Those numbers would rival other big bands in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, such as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
In terms of instrument repair, about 25 of the band’s instruments are in need of replacement parts or yearly maintenance right now. For example, the repair cost for four of NCCU’s tubas is reaching $1,800.
But Reid said he won’t have students in his band selling candy or fruit as fundraisers. He’d rather have them focus on their studies, and fundraising efforts are a responsibility on him and the university.
“Whatever the circumstances, the need is definitely there, but we can’t let the need stop the music,” he said.