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10 Questions with Gregory Drane

You may know him as the guy with the awesome hair at the football games, but to Penn State, Greg Drane is the Assistant Director of Athletic Bands. We caught up with Drane for 10 questions on his job and our favorite college marching band.

Onward State: How competitive is it to make the Blue Band?

Gregory Drane: It’s pretty competitive to get in. On average there are usually around 200 or so freshmen auditioning for the Blue Band.  We take approximately 80-100 members. Depending on the section and proportion wise, if you play a brass instrument your probability of making the band goes up for numbers sake. But for instruments like the piccolo we only take 10-12 and we have 20-30 audition. It gets very competitive for the piccolo and the percussion.

OS: What were your biggest challenges going into this season?

GD: Our biggest challenges this year and every year is recruiting and making sure we have enough people to fill the spots. It fluctuates year to year.  Some cases you may get 50 people auditioning for 10 spots and other years you may get six people audition for eight.

OS: When do you start preparing for each season?

GD: We don’t start till approximately a week before school, a lot of people think we are practicing all summer but it’s only a week. We have an audition day and then the very next day we select everyone, and we probably get 3 to 4 days and we rehearse three times a day for those rehearsals prior to the start of school.

OS: Is there any time off between football and basketball season?

GD: Hahaha NO. There is no time off and that is the toughest part of the fall in November. Because there is football and women’s volleyball going on and then women and men’s basketball start right up in November.  So we’re playing for all four sports at the same time. And then this year, were going to add some select hockey games to our performance schedule. We’re looking at that strategically.

OS: You are also the leader for the volleyball band, how does that energy in Rec Hall compare to Beaver Stadium?

GD: It’s a total different game and a total different atmosphere. The thing about volleyball that I love so much is there is the team, the announcer, and the band and nothing else. So the band completely controls the atmosphere. The volleyball band has 150 members and they stand the whole game. For quite some time we were the band and the student section, so we played a duel role in there. That is one of the most purist collegiate atmospheres that we have on campus. I thoroughly enjoy it and the students appreciate all of the opportunities that they get to play and that is a big part of the energy in that space.

OS: Does the piped in music at football games get annoying at times when you guys are trying to play?

GD: I am the band conductor. Any time there is going to be more opportunities for the band to play I am all for that. But I think that is one of the unique things about Penn State — that we have the sound booth playing and the band. It’s different but in most cases we make it work.

OS: There has been more involvement by the band to try to reach out to the students for song selections each week. Does the band have all of those songs prepared before they are sent out to the students?

GD: No they don’t. We use rehearsal time on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s game. In some cases we hope it is something that we have prepared, but in these past couple of weeks it is not. So we carve out time in rehearsal to make sure that we are adequately prepared for that.

OS: So it only takes the band one day to prepare a new song?

GD: That is the beauty of having such a talented group. We are able to accomplish that. There are not many groups out there who can accomplish that.

OS: If you screw up on a sports team, you are punished with some test of physical endurance. What happens if someone screws up during a Blue Band performance?

GD: You  don’t get punished. We try to provided an atmosphere where we know you are going to make mistakes, but we try to make sure the atmosphere is one where they are going to attempt to play everything. We don’t want a situation where students are so afraid to step outside of the lines. Mistakes are going to happen, we are human, but there is no punishment for mistakes in a show.

OS: If you were a dinosaur, which would you be and why?

GD: I would have to say a Raptor. I attack my challenges with veracity and intensity and I know sometimes I can be overwhelming to some. But I am always eager and I want to figure out how to be the best at everything I try to do.

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