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10 Questions With Blue Band President Stephen Payne

The Blue Band elected Stephen Payne as its new president earlier this week. We caught up with the junior trombonist from York, Pa. to discuss all things band and life.

Onward State: The Blue Band is obviously unique in its structure and purpose, so not many people probably know the answer to this. What does the Blue Band president do?

Stephen Payne: The Band Band President, first and foremost, acts as the chief liaison between the staff and the student members. The Blue Band President works with a team of other officers to ensure the best possible experience for members of the band. The President performs a variety of roles throughout the season and even in the offseason to enhance the band. It is certainly an added bonus to work closely with Dr. Bundy, the Blue Band’s longtime director. 

OS: How did your involvement in the Blue Band start?
SP: I’ve been coming to Penn State football games since middle school, and a required stop on gameday was always seeing the Blue Band at TailGreat in the Bryce Jordan Center two hours before kickoff.  Of course, there’s nothing like seeing the Blue Band perform the trademark “Floating Lions” drill before the game. Coming from high school, there’s definitely a big difference in the way the Blue Band is respected; I wanted to be a part of that. I tried out in August of my freshman year, and after a long day of marching and playing, Dr. Bundy read my name from his list, and I’ve had a blast ever since.

OS: What do you plan on doing differently from your predecessor, Ryan Simpson?
SP: I think Ryan did a great job this season, so I’d like to continue some of his initiatives and keep the Blue Band moving forward.

OS: What’s your favorite song that you’ve played for the Blue Band during your three years (fight song and otherwise)?
SP: Wow, that’s a tough one, but I’d have to say “El Toro Caliente,” a part of our “Fast and Furious” show this season. Playing “El Toro Caliente” at Ohio State’s “Skull Session,” their equivalent of our TailGreat, this past season was one of my favorite performances in my 3 seasons. 

OS: Everyone loves the Blue Band, but there will occasionally be criticism related to song selections (students aren’t exactly the biggest fans of the Doobie Brothers, I’d guess). What goes into picking the songs for each game, and is there a song in particular you’re hoping to implement next year?
SP: Song selection is incredibly difficult. The band tries to strike a balance between playing school fight songs and top hits of yesterday and today. The downside of performing for 108,000 people is that not everyone is going to love every song we play. While some students may not love the Doobie Brothers, it was many of our parent’s favorite halftime shows of the year. In the stands we play a lot more music from today. While we’d love to play the most current music as possible, certain copyright restrictions control some of our song selection. I think this year’s Homecoming theme (“Generations Evolve, Traditions Remain”) really explains our process in song selection. We try to meet the needs of the various generations of fans, but we know our grand tradition, our pregame show, will–hopefully–remain unchanged for generations.

OS: A video of Ohio State’s marching band went viral this year with some insane formations during a halftime show. Everyone loves the “Floating Lion,” but are there any plans to do something like that here?
SP: I think Ohio State worked really hard this season, and I’m glad fans are talking about collegiate marching bands. The Blue Band has performed similar style shows in the past, including in 2009, so it’s been done here at Penn State, too.

OS: Most fans believe the Blue Band is integral to the game day experience at Beaver Stadium. There was much ado a few years ago about the proportion of Blue Band playing time compared to “piped in” music (Guido D’Elia infamously said the Blue Band plays 7 times more than piped in music). Do you think that’s still an issue?
SP: Our focus is to play the best we can at every opportunity we can to support the team. When we get our opportunities to play, we’ll take them. To me, one of the greatest parts of college football is the bands; they add so much to the experience. To answer your question, it’s not an issue I’m focused on in the least.

OS: If you could have lunch with three Penn Staters, past or present, who would they be and why?
SP: I have to go with Evan Pugh, George Atherton, and Joe Paterno. I love learning about Penn State’s history, and I believe all three of these men made Penn State what it is today more than any one else. There’s no question about that. Evan Pugh is probably top on my list because I think he was an extraordinary visionary. He became the first President of Penn State in his 30’s and died at 36 while, legend has it, he was writing a letter to the legislature opposing attempts to split the land-grant funds among other institutions in Pennsylvania. What a guy! Next, George Atherton earns his seat because he truly brought Penn State back from the brink of ruin thanks to all those guys our streets are named after did such a poor job. (I’m looking at you, Allen, McKee, Burrowes, et. al.) Finally, Joe Paterno gets a seat at my lunch table because of the impact he made on so many people here–players and otherwise. His quote “You’re never as good as you think you are when you win and never as bad as you think you are when you lose,” sticks with me everyday.

OS: Judging by your Twitter account, you really like volleyball. Is it safe to stay Stephen Payne is a #OneTeam kind of guy?
SP: Well, I’m glad I get to talk about volleyball, because Russ Rose was certainly an honorable mention for my lunch. I think what Coach Rose has done with his teams is remarkable considering the tremendous parity in the game. I have high hopes for them this post-season. Anyway, we have an outstanding athletic program here, and I love seeing Penn State win. You can ask any of my friends about how I’m always streaming or watching some sort of Penn State sporting event.

OS: If you were a dinosaur, which would you be and why?
SP: Okay, so I’m going with a Cryolophosaurus, because the dinosaur is nicknamed the “Elvisaurus” for its head that looks like Elvis’s haircut. How can you top that?

About the Author

Sarah Desiderio

Senior. Print Journalism Major, English and Sociology Minors. I'm smarter than the average 9 year old and funnier than most plants.


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