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Trey Harris

Director of Athletic Bands, Western Michigan University

Trey Harris has never marched in a band, but he leads one of the largest marching bands in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), with the sole goal of making the rival sports teams’ jobs harder.

After the pre-game concert, we march to Waldo Stadium, where 23 minutes before kickoff the band does a nine-and-a-half-minute performance. Then we run onto the field and play “WMU Fanfare” — which was written 30 years ago — and “Go Western,” “WMU Cheer,” “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” “Fight Song,” “WMU Alma Mater,” and the national anthem. We stay on the field as a tunnel for the team to runthrough and as soon as the game starts we’re in the stands to play.

“If everything that we play is designed to get the crowd involved in the game, then there is a crowd of 25,000 people that are actively trying to make the rival team have a more difficult day,” says Harris.

How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up in Texas and went into the Marine Corps to experience some life and to move outside of my bubble. I served four years. It was an amazing experience. Upon discharge, I decided to pursue a music degree at Michigan State University because I had never lived in the Midwest. I fell in love with that program. I finished my music education degree and moved to Kansas City to be with my now wife, Marja Kerney, where I earned a master’s degree in conducting.

I taught public middle and high school for the next five years. This is where I really learned how to teach and developed my philosophy for education and music education. I decided to pursue a doctorate in music education at Florida State and worked a lot with the athletic bands there. I immediately jumped into my career as a collegiate athletic band director. I spent two years as the assistant athletic band director at Kennesaw State University, outside of Atlanta. Then, in 2019, I was incredibly honored to be offered the position at WMU.

Why is having a marching band important?

When music first came around millennia ago, it was largely a communal activity, designed to be functional and participatory, not like how music is now, where we largely just listen and have the music presented to us. The music itself doesn’t necessarily serve a specific purpose, other than it’s a soundtrack to what’s going on in life. Athletic bands are the opposite of that. If we are doing our job, we play music that the crowd can respond to and participate in. We added a couple songs to our repertoire last year, such as “Go Broncos” and “Distraction,” that are designed to have the crowd scream or jump rather than just sit and have the music wash over them. And if that happens, the idea of home-field advantage for a sports team takes on a new meaning. If the music heard at the stadium does not have that functional, communal, participatory style, it weakens the idea of a home-field advantage.

How has the band grown and how does size have an impact?

Like a lot of programs in 2020 (during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic), the band membership dropped in size from 270 members the year before to about 180 to 190. In 2021, we had 208 members, and last season we were up to 250. We tend to be the largest marching band in our conference. The amount of sound, the quantity, volume and decibel level and also the visual impact that we create on the field is greatly impacted by our size.

What does a game day look like?

It’s a long day, but a great day. People that only experience the Bronco Marching Band inside the stadium might think that that’s all we do, but our typical game day starts six and a half hours before kickoff. We warm up and have a short rehearsal, hopefully in Waldo Stadium. Then we relocate to another campus location and give a 30- to 40-minute pre-game concert for the people that follow us (such as band parents, alumni and our general fans). We post all of this information on our social media.

After the pre-game concert, we march to Waldo Stadium, where 23 minutes before kickoff the band does a nine-and-a-half-minute performance. Then we run onto the field and play “WMU Fanfare” — which was written 30 years ago — and “Go Western,” “WMU Cheer,” “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” “Fight Song,” “WMU Alma Mater,” and the national anthem. We stay on the field as a tunnel for the team to run through and as soon as the game starts we’re in the stands to play.

We perform a halftime show and a post-game concert after the game. After that, the band takes over the field to do a post-post-game concert and play a bunch of tunes that mean a lot to them and just celebrate with one another.

On average, how many pieces will the band learn in a season?

It’s a big number. Everything that the Bronco Marching Band plays is by memory. We never have a flip folder or PDF of music in front of us. We do 15 to 18 songs for halftime shows, seven more for pre-game, probably 15 more which we play in the stands, and then anything we add for special events. That’s more than 40 songs in a season.

Do you have anything you want people to know?

Honestly, the Bronco Marching Band is far more interesting and important than the person who sits in my office. It’s the responsibility of the person in my office to continue the standard of excellence, grow the tradition and the impact of the band. Directors will come and go, but, it’s the students in the group and the alumni that are far more important than the person in my chair.

— Interview by Kalloli Bhatt, edited for length and clarity

Kalloli Bhatt

Kalloli is a Western Michigan University student majoring in journalism and a former Encore intern.

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