It's been almost 50 years since Western athletic teams have had a faculty-led pep band cheering them on from the stands, but this year, the Viking Band stepped in to fill the void.
“We've heard a lot of people say, ‘oh, I didn't realize we had a pep band,'” said Brad Hendry, the director of the Viking Band.
The Viking Band played Western's first home football game on Sept. 22. Before that, pep bands led by Western students had come and gone.
“The cool thing about the band right now is it has university funding and oversight from the faculty, but it's a student-run band,” director of bands Dr. Christopher Bianco said.
Bianco started as director of bands at Western last year. Bianco oversees the Viking Band, as well as the wind symphony, symphonic band, and chamber ensembles.
“From the moment I arrived on campus,” Bianco said. “It was made very clear to me by the president of the university and people at the Athletics Department that they would like to see a pep band at the games to support the student athletes. And I think we need that too.”
It was about a year before the Viking Band became a reality. Bianco submitted proposals to faculty at the Athletics Department and the College of Fine and Performing Arts, and the Viking Band received funding from the Western Washington University Foundation, Bianco said.
With the financial backing it needed, the Viking Band was able to purchase all new marching drums, as well as some sousaphones, baritones, and mellophones. Students were allowed to register online to join the pep band.
“I was losing sleep thinking ‘oh my gosh, I hope we get 50 people,'” Bianco said.
Instead, 99 students registered online to join the band, exceeding Bianco's expectations by far, he said. Rehearsals started on Sept. 20.
The band rehearsed five times for a total of about 12 hours in just two days, Hendry said. In that time, the band learned 12 songs, as well as accompanying dance moves. The band played the first home football game of the season at Civic Stadium on Sept. 22.
Between 80 and 90 students are in the band now, Bianco said.
The bands' uniform is simple and functional: khaki pants, blue fleece jackets and baseball caps, Hendry said.
“It's pretty casual, but I think it looks pretty sharp,” Hendry said. “Students like that it's not the traditional marching band uniform.”
Hendry, who is pursuing a masters degree in instrumental conducting at Western, directs the band. During his first year at Western in 1997, Hendry joined a student-led pep band consisting of only about a dozen people. Over the years, the band grew to between 30 and 40 members, but finally dissolved around 2002 or 2003, Hendry said.
As director, Hendry selects the bands' repertoire of songs, which includes “Hang on Sloopy,” “Gimme Some Lovin,'” “Disco Inferno,” and “Back in Black.”
Hendry said he hopes the Viking Band will evolve into a marching band in the next three or four years. In the mean time, the band walks around the parking lot outside Civic Stadium before games and plays for tailgate parties, Hendry said. The band also dances in the stands.
“At one point we pump our tubas in the air in beat,” sousaphone player John Heyde said. “We've been talking about incorporating ‘the salmon' into our routine.”
“The salmon” is a dance move involving wiggling ones body like a fish, Heyde said.
The band is funded by grants from the Western Foundation this year, but Bianco said he hopes the band will have an annual budget soon.
Although it is too late to join the band this year, students who are interested in playing next year can sign up in the spring. Anyone is welcome to join, Bianco said.
“Often, students who come to college think that if they're not music majors, they can't participate in music,” Bianco said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Viking Band also provides another way for the community to appreciate Western's music department, Bianco said.
“It gets us more involved in the everyday fabric and texture of campus life,” Bianco said.
Heyde said he gets to do more than direct.
“I get to support my school, help motivate the crowd, and hang out with my friends,” Heyde said. “Three good things all in one.”