Marching Band Director William Pease

I had the extreme privilege of being able to sit down and talk about the Western Michigan University Bronco Marching Band with William Pease. Talking to Bill was a great time as he was anxious to talk about the band and the upcoming season, as well as sharing a few glimpses of what to expect this season and in the Centennial year.

Bill actually got the conversation going as I walked through the door and showed his excitement for the upcoming football season.

Bill opened up the conversation, talking about Internet sites such as Broncos Illustrated and the Bronco Marching Band web site.

Bill: I don't go to the site half the time because I don't either know about them #1, or I'll be just so busy. I am not much of a computer guy. The kids do a lot of the computer work.

The kids who run the Bronco Marching Band web site do a great job. Anyone can get on there and find out anything they want to about the band; the schedule, CD's, the members have their own private message boards, and there is a public message board. Anytime President Floyd gives us a paper or something and writes something about the band, writes me a letter or something, I usually give it to them and they will post it on the site.

John: I know we're 10 times better than Michigan's Marching Band.

Bill: I will let you say that. We got a lot of great comments from their fans. It was great, I think we do our thing, they do their thing, that's fine. I don't know if we are better or worse, I just know our kids perform with a lot of energy and passion, and their kids probably do too.

It's just we want to be a representation of Western. We don't have to worry about honestly competing with other bands, because that's not what we do. We just want to make it better for our team and for the fans to make it easier to cheer for Western. So when we go to away games people know, not just the fans.

John: I was in the band at Paw Paw when I was in high school

Bill: We got some kids from Lawton in the band. That's what I enjoy in doing my job. We get kids from Lawton, Parchment, Galesburg-Augusta, Coopersville, Wayland, Martin, I mean it's amazing our band is made up of 80%, maybe more than that, of kids from very small schools where our trumpet section is bigger than a whole band.

I don't cut anybody. Everybody is a starter. We all play out there. I don't kick anybody off because of weight or ability. Their attitude is all that matters. They want to work; do the work to make sure they are ready to go on gameday, then they are fine. We try to make it successful for everybody.

We're trying to do more things between the plays and just to keep everybody, the excitement, and the cheers going.

John: Are there any plans in the works to help liven up the entire stadium such as dividing the band up into smaller groups after half time and have these groups go to different sections?

Bill: We talked about that. The thing with that is if we cut it in a quarter, it's along ways across from the side and I have thought about it. To get them to play at the same time would almost be impossible. It would be a timing nightmare, especially with the echo. We don't hear it when it goes and bounces off the other side and comes back it's like a 2 or 3 second delay. When we are doing cheers we're ahead of what's really happening by about 2 or 3 seconds.

People have asked me, can we get us mic'd or loud. What they are saying is they can hear us on the opposite side, but the endzones cannot hear us.

John: With the Seelye Center in place, have you checked the acoustics on that to see how that is going to affect the performance?

Bill: We are going to get in there before the season starts and we're thinking it will keep everything in tighter. I'm hoping it will make a difference. I think it will keep the crowd noise in better.

We actually sit about 25 feet (front row of the band) all the way up to maybe 100 fee up (above the players). Our sound is actually above about an 1/8th of the fans. The sound does not go down, it's really going to go up. If I went down to our bench during the game, I can't hear the band, and our band is loud. You cannot hear the band; it's because the field is so sunk down that the people that are sitting on the tens, on the student side, don't hear the cheers.

John: I know there are band members that don't want to give up their good seats. With the new Seelye Center in, this is a two-part thing, there was a local high school band and you guys kind of went back and forth but there was no coordination at who was going to play during stops during the game. With the Seelye Center, there is enough room in those bleachers, when you bring in another band to join you it could be a coordinated effort. But if the Bronco Marching Band is actually in that endzone where the Seelye Center is, everybody in the stadium could be able to hear the band more.

Bill: I don't take care of the seats and that is not my determination. I am just using what has been there. The band has been there for years and years and years in the middle. Now it might be bigger, the band, sure. I have no determination to where the band is sitting, that's not my decision. I don't have any information on that; I am just going where I am told to go. I can't make that decision. When we put people in the corner like that, it's never for a big game.

This year, three bands are coming in; Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo's bands are. That's going to be real interesting, because they will be playing probably the same time we will be. I'm excited to have other bands in there because it will make it even more of an atmosphere because the bands will be going back and forth.

I do think what happened when that high school band came in, we sent some of our players over to play with them. We actually divided our band up in half and half go over to one side and half go to our side. That was okay too, but the only problem with that is they just didn't know our stuff, very well.

It will come in time, but we tried it last year as an experiment. I think it pulled off pretty good for a first time. It wasn't what I wanted it to be, because we're losing power from the middle of the section, that's the problem. We're losing a lot of volume.

When we play the fight song one way, then play the fight song the other way, that's why the pregame is so long as it is, because we're trying to perform to both sides equally. I've had comments from people who sits in the endzone that say we need to here you perform to us more. I'm like okay. Then someone called from the other endzone "I want you to perform to us more." No matter what, someone is not going to be happy, but I'm try to please every side. I try to please the student side too. Our jazzier type numbers or things that are more up-to-date are to their side. We try to do all the concert type numbers to the student side. Because they like to get their face blown off and like to have it up-tempo.

John: You think the press box side doesn't like that?

Bill: But they don't nearly come out of their seats like the students do. We are going to play the Blue's Brothers to the press box side in the first game. We're going to the Blue's Brothers and that's pretty up-tempo. We're going to do the Moulin Rouge and that's very tough. I think that's kind of what we're getting. We are trying to do up-beat stuff, but I would say we kind of lean to the student side, getting them more involved, because the others are there, they will clap. We have been doing the patriotic stuff to the press box side.

No matter which way you play, 50% is upset with you. They're really not mad. But, no matter what I do, which way I go, 50% is upset. But, if you watch most of our shows the first tune is to the press box, the next tune is to the students, and almost always when we do three tunes its to the press box. So they are always getting more than the students get. No matter what, someone is going to say, "hey, you didn't give me enough."

The endzone guy calls me and says "I'm down here every year and you have never done one number to me." When we did the Temptations thing we were from the endzone, the guy was like "you finally did it."

I think it is a concern of mine and I do believe in this, and I haven't figured it out totally, because if we do divide the band in half it won't sound the same honestly, it won't have the same impact. I need to have 500 honestly to divide the band in half to constantly play to both sides. That's the ultimate, if I can ever do that, and keep the same power, everybody would be happy.

John: So where are we at right now?

Bill: We're a little over 3. We should be 310 to 320, probably 320.

John: So we're actually over about 20 more than we had last year?

Bill: It's been doing that every year, 20-25 more every year. I'm not so concerned now about the numbers. I think I probably could have gotten close to 350 and 360 this year. With that is a financial burden, more and more and more. Not only that, I worry about just getting numbers and losing the quality issue. We're building the quality and numbers and that's important.

I've got some things planned. We are going to do a big Veteran's thing this year on the November 9th game. We are going to have some service groups out on the field with us.

I am trying to be concerned about what the fans like. Matter of fact, I ask the students all the time, especially the ones that are around here, what's the hottest tunes that the students would get a kick out of us playing in the stands. We do try to keep up with that, what people are listening to. I'm trying to hit a rap tune every once in a while in the stands. I am trying to hit more of a, for the older fans, maybe some traditional line. I want to try to appeal to everyone.

We're starting to get to the point now where we can start being a little more creative about what we're doing. We are throwing in some new tunes this year. We're doing the Austin Powers in the stands.

John: Speaking of doing music in the stands, if you check out the message boards, one of the biggest questions is, why "Hey, Baby" was taken out of the repertoire.

Bill: I know, I know, we have had patrons call and say, "got to have that back, got to have that back." We were just trying to do, it had nothing to do with the tune, we were trying to get away from doing no stand tunes a couple of years ago to now were playing constantly. People want to get their tunes played. I know that's a tune that some people like to hear and we are going to try to get that back in the stand book again. It's just not in the stand book this past year, but we're redoing our stand book every year. I think that will be back in there.

John: Is there any chance you are going to pull any of the old school songs, before Go Western, out of the archives?

Bill: We won't be pulling them out this year, but we are working on one for the Centennial. It won't be added in this year, but it will be added in for the Centennial. It's called, "On Western Michigan." That will be coming back in 2003.

On Western Michigan,
See our colors gleam.
Our foes will never stand,
When they meet our team.
Fight, fight, fight,
Forward Western men.
Men that bring us fame,
March right on to victory.
We'll win this game.

Bill: We are trying to bring back old stuff. "Hot Time" is old, "Go Western" is old, the fanfare piece is old, but this is the only other one I have found that will fit into our pre-game. What we will eventually do, the band to march on, the Western Fanfare, Go Western, instead of doing Go Western, it will be Go Western and then it's On Western Michigan, then Hot Time then Gal then the Fight Song, so they will all fit together. We've already got things pretty much mapped out for this year. If we do debut it at all, this year, it will be at homecoming. But we are going to put it in for 2003.

There is something called a WMU Rhapsody, it has a lot of the fight songs in it, it's called the Concert Band Version, wouldn't be appropriate for the pre-game because it's more of a concert band sound. But, it would be appropriate for 2003, for the Centennial we'll be doing. That whole show will be Western everything.

John: Speaking of pre-game and half-time and stuff. There has been some talk about the dead time in between the time the band heads down to the field for half-time and for the end of the game, where they think that those times are actually the times that really help to fire the fans up. Have you guys talked about that?

Bill: We tried to play; we played down there a couple of times last year. I think we brought the drum line out of the endzone once or twice and played like cheers and things. A lot of that has to do with, were not really sure and were checking on this about from a penalized standpoint because their so close to the field and so close to the players, especially from the other team. It would be very distracting to blow in their heads like that. It might be only 3 minutes on the clock, but sometimes it can be 30 minutes. We know, for example if they score down there, sometimes we're so spread out all the way around the whole thing, it's impossible for us to play. That's on my mind to try to fix this year.

I think that's a good idea with that dead time in there. That's something we want to try to take care of. I do notice that.

Somebody said also from getting from pre-game up into the stands after it's over. We just fight just to barely get up into the stands. It's so hard for us to get into the stands. Getting out of the stands is not bad, it's getting into the stands at the beginning of the game on big games like the Tech game's going to be ridiculous and so is the CommUniverCity night.

John: Wouldn't there be any way you guys could work with the event staff?

Bill: It's tough because there is only two ways up there. Two little aisles to get 300 people up there is tough. They know we're coming and they try to hold the fans back, the police do, but it's, we know that is a problem. But, they are hustling. They are really moving to get up in there, cause soon as we get up in there, I try to get us playing right away, whether the team comes out or not. That also is a dead time.

John: In regards to the full band, which game(s) is the band traveling to?

Bill: Just Michigan.

John: Is the pep band going to be at all the other games?

Bill: That is not a decision I make.

John: Is there anything in the works to honor our visiting teams, by playing their fight song?

Bill: We talked about that, instead of the 2nd verse of Go Western, too. That's another idea of putting this in here. I've got a certain amount of time in pre-game. For example, somebody said can you bring back even another old song like this On Western Michigan. I have a certain amount of time and usually I am short 15 seconds. To do all the traditional songs, that if you watch the pre-game really they go, they don't stop much. It's go, go, go, go and to perform to both sides, it's really just a matter of what's the priorities. Obviously the priorities is to play our stuff. Now, do I think it is a good idea to play the other team's (fight song)? I do. It's a little bit more work to learn the new songs all the time, but I think we could do it.

We really haven't had the time in pre-game to do it. I'm supposed to be off the field, by a certain time, and I have to go with that time. It's a matter of timing.

John: Two years ago you were looking at taking a similar position at Oklahoma, but later withdrew your name from consideration. Can you explain why you chose to stay on at Western Michigan?

Bill: They weren't going to make the decision for a couple weeks longer. I think they were down to 5. I was one of the final 5 people. They called me about it and we had talked a little bit about it. They said, "well we're going to decide in a couple of weeks." This was like in late February or March. I said, "I don't know if that is going to be enough time. That's too much time, I have to get going here. I have been planning things here. I don't think it's fair for the students here if I leave at the last second." It didn't really bother me.

It bothered me that people found out that I applied for the job. Only because I did not want people to think I didn't like it here, because I love it here. I was doing it for some financial reasons, and that was it. I am glad now that I am not there. I really like it here, because I can call on the phone and talk to Gary (Coach Darnell), a football coach of a 1-A school. I can call the Athletic Director and talk to Dave and I can talk to Kathy. I know them personally, they know my students, and care about the band, and that means a lot to me. I don't know when I will leave, but when I leave it will be for my own personal family's well being, meaning financially it would be to help my kids go to college.

This is a gold mine; it's a special place. Where else can I go in the country? The President loves the band that right there is huge.

The one thing I don't like about Western, the one thing…the weather. That's the only thing I wish I could change is the weather during football season. When it gets below 50 I am like in a ski cap. If they domed the stadium in that would make it a lot easier for me. I like the 70-degree weather. Anything below 50 I am in a heavy jacket.

John: What are your long-range goals for the band and for yourself?

Bill: For the band, I want to be more entertaining. I want us to be in the same conversation with bands such as Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and those type of bands. That the fans, are excited about what were doing. Also, from a recruiting standpoint the kids are dying to be in the band. High school kids, when they come here, they are coming here to be in the university, but they are also picking the school because the band is good. Really good bands that's what happens. A Michigan State band is really really good they're good. Ohio State is good, Notre Dame is good, and the kid might say, "hey, I have a choice of these two schools, but you know what, they have a better marching band so I really want to go there because I want to be involved with it."

Some goals, it to pack the stadium. I want to see us get to a bowl game. I want to see us get more national recognition. How can I do that when I am not out there tackling anybody? I keep telling Gary I have eligibility, but he won't play me. Without getting out the and getting the uniform on is just to make it just one helluva place to watch a football game, exciting and to have people just be like, "I want to come back again, again, and again."

For me personally, it's the same thing. The band's goals are my personal goals too. I want people, that when they leave here to say if they were in the band that it was a special time in their life. The band has always been good here and it will be good because of the people. Long range goals for me personally is to keep going in the direction we're going, to see how good we really can be. To develop better student leaders, we have great student leaders, but just help them be better people, because that makes me better. That whole ripple effect.

John: Do you have a suggestion on how to keep the students in the stands after the first half?

Bill: I think if they did a giveaway. Kids like that stuff. Some type of promotional thing where they gave some drawing away. I think Coca-Cola Vision will help, when they get activities up there for them to watch and get involved with, things like that. If you get too much marketing then it doesn't become a college football game anymore. That's the whole thing of it. I think giveaways always help. If I see something out there that's better I am try to make it work for Western.

John: Where would you rank the Bronco Marching Band?

Bill: I don't know. I can't give you an answer. Ranking the students, they are in the top 10%, maybe the top 5%. We have great students. I think were getting there. I don't know if I can give you an easy answer. Were excited about Northern Illinois, Toledo and Eastern Michigan coming in here.

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