Panther Marching Band: The real deal

From early February, when the University of Northern Iowa Panther Marching Band student leadership team brainstorms on show ideas, scribbling madly on a whiteboard, to the opening strains of the music at the first pregame show of the football season, it's a long journey.

Panther Marching Band
UNI's Panther Marching Band performs in the UNI-Dome.

The journey, from the idea stage to finished performance, is one that Danny Galyen, director of the Panther Marching Band and conductor of UNI's Symphonic Band, has taken several times.

UNI's marching band performs four half-time shows per season and one pregame show. For the 2011 season, the band grew to 240 members, an increase from 2007. In 2012, the marching band increased even more to more than 250 members. Galyen attributes most of the growth to word of mouth; students in the band have related their positive experience to other students.

"Marching band may be the only opportunity students have to keep playing their instruments if they are not music majors," said Galyen.

The planning process for a season begins in February of the preceding academic year, when auditions are held for the 35-member student leadership team. The team makes general suggestions for the season's performances. Each show is built around a theme that showcases six or seven songs if popular music is used.

Once the theme and music have been selected, permission has to be secured to use copyrighted music, and the music has to be specially arranged during the summer to accommodate the composition of the marching band.

With arrangements for the musical number completed, the next step is to design a drill formation. Here, modern technology is a real asset. Using a software program, Galyen can create a drill for each song. Not only does the software show him and the band members an animated version of how the drill will appear on the field, it also provides diagrams, in which each student is represented by a number, that show where in the formation a band member is supposed to be at a particular time.

UNI band members arrive on campus for a one-week band camp the week before fall semester begins. During the grueling 14-hour days of practice, the students become a close-knit team. Each half-time show is performed only once, which means that the band must learn the music and drills for a single performance. Unlike many university bands, UNI's marching band members memorize the music.

"UNI students are very committed to building a strong program, and they're willing to make sacrifices to make the program good," said Galyen.

During the performances, Galyen observes from the bleachers or from the field, confident that the UNI Marching Band won't disappoint him or the fans. And judging from the response of the fans – most of whom stay in their seats during half time and often sing along – his confidence is well placed.

For more information about UNI's Panther Marching Band, visit http://www.uni.edu/music/marchingband/index.html.