Band marches to one beat
On Wednesday afternoons, students walking to class can hear the sound of a metronome ticking on Burdick Field as the marching band waits the final seconds before practicing the next 100 counts of a song.
In between these five-second sections, Director of the Band John Miliauskas asks the marchers if they are making themselves better with each repetition, or are they “just existing on planet earth?”
Miliauskas, affectionately called “Mr. M” by students, prefers that the band practice these short intervals of time rather than practicing a whole song at once.
“We try to practice having even step size [to] develop muscle memory,” he said. “If you’re a basketball player, you’re not just scrimmaging. You’re practicing just dribbling or just passing.”
This year, Miliauskas has the task of managing the largest band Towson has ever fielded.
Up from about 75 students when Miliauskas took the position as the first-ever full time director in 2004, 240 students are now a part of the marching band.
“It’s basically the same process of teaching, but you have to manage the logistics,” he said. “Getting more equipment and communication changes were the biggest thing.”
A large number of students in the marching band does not mean there isn’t a sense of family among the members.
Drum Major Trevor Hedrick said this year the band gave out hand-made necklaces made out of plastic beads to each member.
Each necklace is primarily white, but each member has a gold bead for each year they’ve been a part of marching band, and different students have different colored beads on the left side depending upon what they’ve done.
For example, as a drum major, Hedrick has a purple bead, while section leaders have a clear bead.
“In the past, only some people have worn them. But this year it seems to have really caught on and everyone has been wearing them,” Hedrick said.
Some sections have even formed their own sense of family outside of the band as whole.
The drumline has a non-Greek fraternity called Tau Alpha Phi [TAP.]
“From what I understand, the drumline wasn’t so close and to promote unity within the drumline we started the fraternity,” drumline section leader Michael Ryan said. “It’s a local fraternity, it’s not a national fraternity. Basically anyone who’s in front ensemble, or the battery, is in the fraternity of TAP.”
After practices on Fridays, Miliauskas said the drumline will often practice later than the rest of the band on their own, which Ryan says is in order to make sure the drumline’s performance is free of errors.
“Our instruments are much more exposed, so not only can you see if we’re not doing something, if we drop out of a part, if we mess something up, you also hear it, it’s very prevalent,” Ryan said.
Being so close to his band mates and spending the extra time practicing has cultivated the sense of a family within the band, Ryan said.
“I love the family atmosphere, the band as a whole. It’s just, everyone takes care of each other,” he said. “We’re always hanging out, I’m always hanging out with drumline people and we’re always drumming.”
Although the drumline takes on the extra hours of practice at the end of the week, Miliauskas said he tries to give the band less practice time than the average collegiate band.
For example, the James Madison University band practices roughly 90 minutes every day, according to Miliauskas.
But Towson only practices for 90 minutes on Monday and Wednesday and for three hours on Fridays.
On Saturday game days, there is usually about two hours of rehearsal time prior to the game.
“It’s not just about the time you put in, it’s about what you put into the time,” Miliauskas said.
Unlike the other schools that Miliauskas compared Towson’s rehearsal time to, Towson also does not change their performance every week.
Instead, one 15-minute show is created over the summer and is worked on all season.
“I think we put more substance into our work than most bands do,” he said. “We’re not going to the Orange Bowl or the Rose Bowl any time soon, but it’s the style and work ethic we have that I think bring people to this band.”
Off the football field, Hedrick and the rest of the student leaders who are a part of the band have to spend a lot of time preparing for the week and even the month ahead.
Most recently, the band traveled to South Western High School in Hanover, Pa. as a special guest at a high school competition.
The band had to sleep on the floor of the gym at Southwestern, just to take a bus to Allentown, Pa. the next morning for a collegiate band showcase.
“It’s early on in the season but [the trip was] really a capstone experience for us,” Hedrick said. “We have to drive through band camp to get to there, and we worked for endless hours just for five minutes of playing [at Southwestern], but it was five minutes of fun and excitement.”
On a regular week, Hedrick said he puts in roughly 35 hours to marching band, although it only counts as a one-credit course on his transcript.
As a music education major, Hedrick said being a drum major is much more than just performing on the field for him.
“The band as a whole, this year, is something special,” he said. “There’s a different air around the band than in the past. We’re so much bigger this year. It’s brought on a lot of challenges, but it’s also brought on a lot of opportunities.”
– Devorah Roberts contributed to this story