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Oct. 28, 2016
When Northwest Missouri State University’s Bearcat Marching Band travels down Fourth Street during Saturday’s Homecoming parade – and is, no doubt, cheered on by thousands of Bearcat supporters – it will be the largest in the institution’s history.
More than 170 students make up this year’s band – up from about 135 a year ago.
The band’s membership was hovering around 120 when Director of Athletic Bands Dr. Katy Strickland arrived at Northwest for the fall of 2013, and she attributes the growth to the positive energy the band exudes.
Outreach activities have helped – from its growing social media following to a performance in front of a packed house at a Park Hill high school band contest last year. Performing in front of more than 16,000 fans at last year’s NCAA Division II National Championship football game didn’t hurt either.
“I think it has everything to do with the students in general,” Strickland said. “I really don’t think you can go a lot of places where a student section stays in their seats for the halftime show, sings with the band, stands up and dances. Sometimes they chant our name when we come off of the field. The Shirtless Bearcats have ‘BMB’ painted on their shoulders. There’s this kind of connection where we love to make them happy and they like what we do.”
Strickland chose Northwest after 13 years of teaching high school band in rural southern Louisiana and earning her doctorate degree at Louisiana State University. Her credentials include degrees in music education and experience conducting and teaching marching band, concert band and percussion, in addition to being a percussionist herself.
“When I was looking for jobs, this one came up and they said they were looking for somebody in music education, band and percussion,” Strickland said. “So I was like, ‘Well, okay, I’ll try it out.’ I came up here and it was a really nice experience and it sounded like the perfect fit for me. … I moved way farther north than I’ve ever lived my entire life and figured out what cold weather is like.”
Strickland had not heard of Northwest previously and was unaware of its recent championship football history. Ironically, she learned later that her uncle attended Northwest and met his wife at Maryville’s First United Methodist Church.
“My first year here, we won the national championship, which was wonderful but thoroughly overwhelming because in the playoff games it was like 17 degrees and I didn’t know about trumpets freezing,” Strickland said. “The valves freeze and they freeze to their faces and the slides freeze. I had no idea what was going on. It was a learning experience, but it was fun. It was exciting.”
Strickland came to Northwest with a mindset to provide some stability for the Bearcat Marching Band, whose membership had declined, and add her expertise to a music program already known for producing quality educators.
Strickland has followed through on those goals. As she and leaders of Northwest’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts watched the band’s enrollment numbers increase last summer, they became nervous the band may not have enough uniforms and equipment.
In the last year, the BMB has grown in nearly every area. The trumpet section grew from 15 to 22. The drumline grew from 14 to 23 and had to buy more drums to accommodate them. The Color Guard nearly doubled in size to 24 members and had to purchase more flags. Nearly every academic major is represented in the band – from nanoscale science and chemistry to elementary education and audio production.
Fans also are noticing the band sounds better.
“It’s got a fuller, thicker sound, and we don’t have to rely on a small group of people all the time who have worked so hard and not taken a breath, and they just wear themselves ragged,” Strickland said. “We have backup now and that’s nice.”
The BMB’s season begins with its camp one week before classes start. During the fall, the band rehearses for an hour and five minutes every weekday afternoon, in addition to weekly sectional rehearsals.
On home football game days, the commitment is longer. The band begins rehearsing by 9 a.m., breaks for lunch and then performs for fans at the Hy-Vee Bearcat Zone tailgate prior to kickoff. They entertain the Bearcat Stadium crowd throughout the game and often play in the bleachers well after the game is finished.
“We try not to make it excessive, because these kids aren’t here to get a degree in marching band,” Strickland says.
But participation in the BMB teaches students important leadership skills in addition to the value of team-building and establishing strong bonds. Strickland has observed section leaders offer help to band members who are struggling academically. The saxophone section leader invited all 22 members in the section to his home for pizza.
“The BMB has a family atmosphere like I have never experienced before,” said Sarah Voisard, a senior chemistry major from Faucett, Missouri, who leads the trumpet section. “Everyone is working toward a common goal and wants to do the best they can in order to contribute to the ensemble. There is an extremely strong sense of teamwork in every practice and performance, even with such a diverse population. I have made countless friendships that I would have never made without being in the BMB.”
This fall, the BMB extended its reach to southern Louisiana to assist high school band members whose instruments and equipment were ruined by a devastating flood. After receiving reports of the extensive damage from friends and colleagues in St. Amant, Louisiana, Strickland appealed to BMB members to assist.
“They formed a committee and sat down, and I just sat in the room and watched it go,” Strickland said.
In collaboration with Northwest’s Sigma Society, students sold T-shirts, organized a pancake feed and partnered for a night with a local fast food restaurant to raise nearly $3,000 for the St. Amant High School band program.
“This fundraiser was so meaningful to all of us because it was one band reaching out to another band,” said Jessica Buckley, the captain of the Bearcat Marching Band Color Guard and president of Sigma Society. “As members of a college band, we all know what those high school students would be missing without their band program. For so many students, band is a way to escape, to have fun, to do what they love and to meet really cool people. With their band instruments destroyed by the flooding, those kids lost all of that. We wanted to do whatever we could to make sure they could get that back.”
The BMB’s growth and success is drawing assistance from others, too. Northwest alumni and friends Ron Houston and Dennis Dau recently pledged $25,000 for each of the next five years to support the band program’s ongoing needs. Both Houston, a Hopkins, Missouri, businessman, and Dau, who spent 20 years conducting the Maryville High School Marching Spoofhounds, are major supporters of Northwest’s fine and performing arts programs.
“We’re very impressed with the job Katy Strickland has done with the Bearcat Marching Band. It’s wonderful with the numbers up like they are,” Houston said, recognizing that additional funding is needed to help support the growth. “We sure don’t want them to have that as an obstacle to sustainability and growth.”
Their gift has already helped the BMB purchase new rain coats and additional flags for its color guard. Strickland says it will help the band pay for other necessities as well as some accessories to enhance future BMB performances.
Added Dau, “She has increased the numbers in the band and I know that monies never increase along with that. We decided so that the students have a good experience and they’re not without anything – be it instruments, music, uniforms, flags or even a meal. We wanted to help out and make that a good experience for the students who come here and do a good job with the Bearcat Marching Band.
“We’re very proud of the Bearcat Marching Band. Having been in the music industry, I know how much work they put into it.”
To make a gift in support of the Bearcat Marching Band or the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, or for more information about the Northwest Foundation, contact the Office of University Advancement at 660.562.1248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
email@example.com | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900
Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468