Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Marching Owls Tune Up for Season Two

Last fall the Marching Owls took the field as Florida Atlantic University’s first-ever marching band. Although the group had only weeks to assemble and rehearse, come football season the show went on.

Dr. George Sparks, director of bands, established the group last year. “I wanted to start a marching band the first year we had football, in 2001,” he says. But to build a band takes money and support which Sparks didn’t have in the beginning. “It’s very expensive to start a band,” Sparks says. “The administration has to want to find a way to fund it.”

Once he had gained approval and a $60,000 budget last year from the FAU Foundation for the Marching Owls, he needed members. Sparks visited local high schools and spread the word across FAU’s campus.

“There was enough of a desire from our students, so it was an easy sell to get them to join,” Sparks says. “I went to the high schools and worked with the bands and let them know what we’ve got at FAU.”

Freshman Wendy Setzer played flute in the band last fall. “I found out during orientation that they were starting a marching band,” she says. “I love music, so I joined.”

By the time Sparks had assembled his 85 band members, they had two weeks to get ready for the first football game, where they played a single song. “I think we only had three rehearsals,” Sparks recalls.

Angela Couture, who graduated last December, served as the band’s first drum major. “We could have practiced more, but there’s no rule book on how to start a marching band,” she says. “So we winged it.”

Last year’s Marching Owls band comprised 65 musicians and 20 color guard members, of which approximately half were music majors. “Some of them were people who just wanted to play,” Sparks says. “I like to have students from other disciplines. When they come together, it’s good for them.”

Michael Pflug, a junior, is a commercial music major. “Lots of people on campus play instruments but they don’t want to get involved with band,” he says. “They really should, though. It’s a great experience.”

Sparks appointed FAU alumnus Ray Donato as assistant band director and percussion instructor. “I’ve known Dr. Sparks for years,” Donato says. “Since getting my master’s degree, I’ve taught percussion at high schools. When Dr. Sparks told me they were starting a marching band, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Donato also was affected by the lack of money and time last season. “We didn’t have our drums until three days before the first game,” he says. “We had to practice on the floor, the walls and on boxes.”

When the Marching Owls debuted at the FAU vs. Bethune-Cookman College football game, they were dressed in bright flowered T-shirts, khaki pants and straw hats bearing the FAU logo.

“A traditional band uniform costs about $200 and it takes at least six months to get them in,” Sparks explains.

Since fans loved the impromptu uniforms last year, Sparks has devised a plan to keep the non-traditional uniforms. “This year, we’re going to have custom-designed tropical shirts with owls on them,” he says. “We’re going to market them to the public, which I believe is the first time a marching band has done that.”

Despite the Marching Owls’ quick assembly and nontraditional uniforms, they managed to impress observers with their musical talents. Florida Leader Magazine named them Florida’s “Best New Group” for the 2002-2003 year.

“We only saw one or two other marching bands last year,” drum major Couture says. “As far as marching ability, we had some work to do but musically we were on the same level as them.”

In its halftime shows, the Marching Owls played rock and jazz, including “House of the Rising Sun.”

“We decided to keep whatever we play light and fun,” Sparks says.

The group also performed at FAU basketball games as a pep band. “We played throughout the game for the dancers, cheerleaders, and just by ourselves,” Sparks says. “We were extremely popular with the players.”

With the 2003 football season approaching, Sparks is once again recruiting prospective band members. “We’re auditioning for everything — we need all kinds of players,” he says. “We hope we’ll have more time to prepare this year, and I’d really like to have band camp, which we couldn’t afford last year.”

If it gets the green light, band camp will take place the week before the fall term begins. “It will probably be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with lunch and dinner breaks,” he says. “The whole marching show will be ready to go by the first game.”

During the fall term, practices are held for two hours twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. “We practice during band class and after school,” Pflug says. “It doesn’t usually interfere with anything.”

Sparks also plans to take the band to some away games. “Last year we only did home games,” he says. “This year we might travel to the University of Central Florida and Florida International University, which is the biggest game for us.”

Donato’s main goal for the Marching Owls this year is expansion. “We just want to get bigger,” he says. “A lot of kids want to go to a college with a marching program. Now that FAU has one, we’re becoming high-profile like Florida State University and the University of Florida. Kids will want to come here instead.”

Sparks wants to have extra funds to lure those students. “I would like to see the band in the area of 100 on the field this coming year,” he says. “We hope to have some sort of scholarship program for those who join the band, depending on budget.

The band instructors predict that most of the students who joined the Marching Owls last fall will return this year.

“Being in the FAU marching band was so fun,” Couture says. “You get to work with awesome people.”

Since her graduation, Couture has become a non-degree-seeking student, and says she may come back to the band this year. “It gives you a sense of pride to be part of this group,” she says. “It’s hard to get so many people to work toward the same goal, but it’s a very unifying experience. It’s a lot of teamwork and I made a bunch of friends.”

With a new uniform, more members and band camp in the works, Sparks is looking forward to a successful season with the Marching Owls. If you play an instrument and are interested in taking center stage at FAU football and basketball games and traveling to other colleges, Sparks believes you’ll fit right in.

“I want students to know that university bands are completely different from high school bands,” he says. “We try to have a good time, entertain the audience and make FAU a better place to be.”

How to become an FAU Marching Owl:

* Call George Sparks at 561-297-3822 or email him at [email protected] to make an appointment for an audition. Appointments will be available through the first week of the fall term.

* At the audition, be prepared to play a couple of practice pieces or a piece you performed with your high school band. Marching experience is not necessary.

* Make some room in your fall schedule to allow for the extra time and work the Marching Owls will require.

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