Marching Band Begins Its 'Three-A-Days'

K-State Marching Band gears up for the 2011 football season

Aug. 13, 2011

By Mark Janssen - K-State Sports Extra

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Frank Tracz goes by the title of "Director of ... ," but in the athletic arena he calls as a partial home, the term "Head Coach of ..." would be just as fitting.

Just listen to the words of Tracz, who is set to enter his 19th season as Director of Bands at Kansas State University. Doesn't he sound like a coach?

• "We recruit non-stop. We have summer camps, and we go around the state looking for kids who have a musical talent, but also a good work-ethic."

• "We like to find that kid that has messed up hair, dirty finger nails and scraped up knees. We want kids who are used to working. Marching band is not rocket science - your right foot follows the left, followed by another right - but it does take work ethic and discipline."

• Like coach Bill Snyder wants with his football team, Tracz said of his marching band, "We want to play/march with spirit, enthusiasm and precision. We will be disciplined. We're going to look the part with how we wear our uniform, no ear-rings, no facial hair and we don't tolerate smoking or use of alcohol."

Also, Tracz gets the best sound for dollar spent than any team in the league. The Texas band of 400 is said to have a budget of $400,000, compared to Kansas State's band of 300-plus with a budget of "around $200,000." But Tracz quickly adds, "I think we're very competitive with every band in the league."

Again, Tracz brings out the competitive coach talk.

As the Wildcat football team is in the midst of two-a-days, K-State's marching band is currently in three-a-days known as Band Camp Week. Rehearsals run from 8:30 a.m. until noon and from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., plus outside marching from 6:30 to 9:30 in the evening in preparation for the season-opening pregame and halftime show for the Eastern Kentucky game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

And, there's the same adjustment for brass, woodwinds and percussionists - as for receivers, linemen and quarterbacks - in making the leap from prep Friday night play to that on Saturdays in the college ranks.

"Our band members have an adjustment because we're much more physical and active in our marching," said Tracz.

Tracz says the on-field entertainment of the marching band is aimed at the blind man and the deaf man: "What the blind man can't see, he needs to be entertained by what he hears, and what the deaf man can't hear, he needs to be entertained by what he sees."

Outside of that, the definition of the purpose of Kansas State's marching band depends on whom one talks with.

Tracz explains, "If you talk to those in the music department, we are here to teach our kids to be teachers. If you ask the university administration, we're the biggest PR group on campus with our 300-strong all wearing `KSU' on our chests. If you talk to athletics, we're here for spirit and firing up the crowd with the fight song or Wabash. And with the alumni association, we're a liaison to past students.

Tracz, a native of Brooklyn, Ohio, that sits just west of Cleveland, adds, "Depending on what day it is, we cater to a lot of needs, making it a total music educational experience."

Part of the experience is traveling to postseason bowl games like last year's 31-hour bus journey through blizzard conditions to New York City for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

"It takes some special people to travel that far on a bus in those conditions and end up pushing that bus the last block in a blizzard to the Brooklyn Marriott," said Tracz, who was recognized this past year as recipient of the Tau Beta Sigma National Band Honorary Sorority's Paula Crider Award, which goes annually to America's top band leaders.

At each marching destination, it's the hope of the band to experience the headlining attractions of the area, and to entertain at those venues ... if possible.

"We play for food, or for entry," laughed Tracz. "We got free tickets to Disney World if we agreed to play at their parade that night. On the other side, we got free tickets to the San Diego Zoo if we promised to leave our instruments on the bus. They were afraid all the noise would scare the animals."

Including bandsmen, Classy Cats, cheerleaders, the color guard and twirlers, Tracz said that this year's band will grow from 315 a year ago to "360-plus" in 2011.

Tracz has a depth chart that Snyder could only wish for with his 34 piccolos, 40 clarinets, 31 alto sax players, 18 tenors, 16 french horns, 50 trumpets, 40 trombones, 13 baritones, 26 tubas, 40 percussionists, 26 Classy Cats, 22 members of the color guard, two twirlers, three drum majors, plus the cheer squad.

Along with the $300,000 investment in uniforms, K-State also rents nearly $500,000 in instruments to the members of the band with each of the brass horns being silver in color.

"It looks sharp and goes with purple and white," said the 55-year-old Tracz, who said he borrowed the idea from Ohio State where he once played a snare drum.

Unusual is the fact that only 24 percent of the marching band members are music majors, while 23 percent study engineering. Roughly 90 percent of the band members are from the Sunflower State.

Band members are given the option of taking marching band for one-hour credit and paying for the class, or being in the band for no credit with no charge.

The 62 section leaders and assistant section leaders are voted on by the band members and are on modest scholarships.  In part, the funding comes from $300,000 that has been raised through the Adopt-A-Band Member program, which benefited 60 junior and senior band members last year known as the Marching Band Scholars. Tracz hopes that number grows to 100 for 2011.

By busing to the Pinstripe Bowl last year, the athletic department credited the marching band with $100,000, which went into an endowment program that Tracz envisions growing to $2 to $3 million so each member of the marching band will be on scholarship.

Just like a coach, come game day, the performance of the team/band is somewhat out of the hands of Coach Snyder, or Director Tracz.

Tracz says, "Game day is a buzz for me. I tell the kids that it's my day to feel 18 years old again. Practices are fun, but it's the game day that really excites me even though by then the performance is out of my hands.

"I tell the kids, `I'm going to have fun today. If you don't want to, then stay out of my way'," said Tracz, who boasts that he once played in the Sugar Bowl when Ohio State, coached by Woody Hayes, played Paul "Bear" Bryant's Alabama Crimson Tide.

The day for a marching band member is longer than for the players of Snyder. It starts five hours prior to kickoff and concludes roughly eight hours later when instruments are packed away back at McCain Auditorium.

Then, like Snyder does at the Vanier Complex, Tracz's coaching team starts the task of watching the video of their 11-minute pregame and 15-minute halftime routines.

"Honestly, our section leaders are much tougher on the performance than I am," said Tracz, who is assistant by Don Linn, plus graduate assistants Andrew Feyes, Ryan Laney, Lauran Assad, Sarah Bernard-Stevens, Greg Coffey and Patrick Sullivan.

Tracz said that K-State's first show this fall will be a "Big Band Show" featuring Buddy Rich's Channel One Suite, Benny Goodman's Swing, Swing Swing, and Count Basie's April In Paris.

"Those are some good blowing tunes," said Tracz, who said the band would also play at Kansas on Oct. 22. "We're going to have a 75-member drum line of some high school students joining our line for the Swing, Swing, Swing. That's really going to be exciting."

Along with the marching band, also associated with athletics are the Cat Band for men's and women's basketball, the Volleyball Cat Band, plus the Pub Crawl Band that tours Aggieville on the Friday night prior to home games.

With each, Tracz says, "We're here to add spirit an enthusiasm. I couldn't be more pleased with the relationship we have with Coach Snyder and the entire athletic department. This is what it truly should be, but I also know of many bands that don't have the appreciation and respect that we receive at Kansas State."

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