A bigger, better band for Southeast

Saturday, September 8, 2007
Sophomores Mike Yaworski, left, Chelsie Colyer and Nathan Litchfield practiced Friday with the Southeast Missouri State University Marching Band behind Brandt Music Hall in preparation for the Redhawks football home opener today. (Kit Doyle)

See Southeast Missouri State University's marching band play

Barry Bernhardt is enthusiastic when it comes to music, which is probably what got him into teaching the art. But ask the director of Southeast Missouri State University's bands about this year's Golden Eagles Marching Band and be prepared to listen to him gush.

"The growth has been real exciting," Bernhardt says with gusto as he sits in his office at Brandt Hall, waiting for the appointed 3:30 p.m. Golden Eagles practice time Friday. "We'll be putting on the field probably one of the biggest bands that I've had here in my 17 years. If things keep going where they're going, next year we should be in the 200 range."

This year Bernhardt's prized Golden Eagles have undergone a radical transformation, increasing their numbers to nearly 150 members after experiencing a slow decline over the past few years that put the band at 72 members in 2006. Today the new, improved Golden Eagles, with what Bernhardt calls a "fatter, more mature" sound, will play their first major public showcase of the school year, performing at the Redhawks football home opener against Southwest Baptist.

Weeks of work have led up to this day, starting with the marching band camp that preceded school, in which band members spent 14 hours per day getting ready for the semester, learning their drills and conditioning themselves not unlike the football team. Bernhardt hopes that work will pay off big today, with his Golden Eagles helping to give the game atmosphere a true college feel, with a band large enough to do the job well, instead of just doing it adequately.

Southeast Missouri State University's marching band has doubled in size this year. The band had its final practice behind Brandt Music Hall Friday before today's home opener at Houck Stadium. (Kit Doyle)

"We had good bands in the past, with quality musicians," Bernhardt says. "We just didn't have enough of them."

Increasing the size of the band has been a priority for Bernhardt for several years as he watched the Golden Eagles numbers dip far below 200, the level the director said is appropriate for a school like Southeast.

This year, a solution was found and agreed upon by the administration: Offer students more incentives, and they will find their way to the Golden Eagles. Where all band members last year only received $150 apiece per year, now first-year band members get $500, second-year members get $650, third-year members get $750 and fourth-year members get $1,000. In addition, any band member who was a member of an all-state band, choir or orchestra in high school gets $1,000, no matter what year they're in.

The money will be a great recruiting tool when the band plays this year's Greater St. Louis Marching Band Festival on Oct. 27, a gathering of high school bands from St. Louis that will also be the Golden Eagles' largest public performance of 2007.

Senior saxophonist Billy Schatz was in the band before the extra cash. Schatz said having the extra money -- he's getting $1,000 this year -- helps, even though the money wasn't necessary for him to be in the band. But he's glad to see the boost in numbers provided by the extra financial resources.

James Wagaman sweated under the weight of the tuba and the humidity during practice Friday.

"Hopefully it's going to give us a better presence," Schatz said Friday afternoon as the band prepared to practice in a gravel lot behind Brandt. "We were just really small last year."

Drum line leader Jonathan Bernhardt, Barry's son, said his drum section -- important in keeping the upbeat feel of the music at the forefront -- used to be drowned out by the horns. Not anymore.

Junior mellophone player Sarah Dumey says the incentives have helped bring in new, fresh faces to the band, helping the group replace the large amount of upperclassmen who moved on after last year.

Many of the marching band students are what Bernhardt calls "bandos," students who aren't music majors who like to be in the band for their own reasons -- either for a love of performance or a feeling of being part of something, or both. The scholarship money has really given those students extra incentive to join, Bernhardt said.

"I've known those band kids are here. It's just trying to attract them," Bernhardt said.

Of course, with doubling the size of the band comes extra cost associated with purchasing instruments and modifying the university's current stock of about 200 uniforms. Bernhardt said he doesn't have a ready tally of the total extra cost, but he and the administration say it's an investment that will pay off big as more students are attracted to the university.

Offering the extra money was a move that got a clear stamp of approval from university president Dr. Ken Dobbins, Bernhardt said.

Dr. Chris Goeke, chair of the department of music, said the investment is worth it to help bolster the university music ensemble that gets loads of public exposure.

"It's an incredible boost for the whole department," Goeke said.

Doubling the size of the band will also create a boost today when Southeast football takes the field, said Southeast sports information director Ron Hines. Marching bands are an important part of college football culture, and one that sets the sports apart from its professional counterparts.

"There's nothing like the excitement of college football, and part of that excitement is the bands," Hines said.

Bernhardt's halftime shows never disappoint -- he's an experienced director who writes halftime shows for major college bowl games. But Hines said now that Bernhardt has the numbers he wants, audiences should "expect some great things out of the Golden Eagles."


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