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Greg Drane Prepares To ‘Raise The Song’ As The Blue Band’s Sixth Director

Months of planning and hours of rehearsal go into every band performance. While people are cheering, laughing, and relishing a taste of the upcoming fall in Beaver Stadium this Saturday — Greg Drane will be overlooking the field, carefully paying attention to the action, and ready to conduct on a moment’s notice. 

On July 1, Drane will officially take over for the legendary Dr. O Richard Bundy as the director of athletic bands. The response to Drane’s selection as overwhelmingly positive. After hearing firsthand about his passion for the”Blue Band family” and his plans for the future, it’s easy to understand why.

The Makings Of A Music Man

Drane’s musical career began when as a budding teenager in Miami, Fla., the sixth grader decided to try his hand at the saxophone.

“I picked it because it was cool and sexy and Kenny G played it,” he said. “I thought I could be cool like him with long flowing hair, which I did have for a while.”

Six years later, he left his hometown for Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. As an undergrad, he was a member of the school’s renowned marching band and earned two bachelor’s degrees in music education and musical performance for the saxophone.

Although his first musical love was that sexy brass instrument, Drane’s musical inclination is not limited to the saxophone, as Penn State has been lucky enough to learn throughout his time in State College.

The Band’s Right Hand Man

When Dr. Bundy announced his retirement as the director of the Blue Band, the university conducted a nationwide search to find a replacement to take over the renowned program. After months of interviews, the search revealed the best person for the job was already in the program.

A talented musician and marching band aficionado, Drane moved to State College 13 years ago to earn his master’s degree in music education. He hasn’t left since, and more than a decade later he’s poised to take over as the program’s director. However, Drane did not come to Penn State with long-term plans to stay.

“Like so many other Penn State students, I thought I was going to get my degree and leave,” he said. “And then somehow, when it’s time to leave, you’re trying to find a way to stay connected to this university.”

Drane volunteered with the band and worked as Dr. Bundy’s graduate assistant for three years while he finished his master’s. When he completed his degree in 2005, Drane was hired as the assistant director of athletic bands.

“That was quite an honor for me because he [Dr. Bundy] didn’t have an official assistant before that,” Drane said.

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Photo courtesy of Annemarie Mountz

During his time at Penn State, Drane has primarily worked on drill design and arrangements for the Blue Band. Remember the incredible THON halftime performance? That was Drane. A creative genius and respected leader within the band, Drane is a stickler for excellence when it comes to everything — even uniforms.

“I have a certain standard so I’ve taken the role of policing that standard,” he said. “As strict as I am, and I’m very strict about the uniforms, sometimes I’ll just come over and be like ‘Let me get that for you, come here, give me a hug, alright let me fix you up.’ There are different times where we need that.”

Although he applied for the job as a tenured member of the band, Drane didn’t get any special treatment during the hiring process. His marching band prowess coupled with his musical and creative talents made him a frontrunner for the position.

“Being the internal candidate, there was a lot of perception like ‘Oh he’s on the inside, they know him,'” Drane said. “But it was quite the opposite. They asked and demanded of me the same things they did of everyone else.”

As the assistant director, Drane explained there were some liberties he was afforded. For example, he could go in to Bundy and voice his complaints. “I understand now I won’t have anyone to complain to. That requires a different set of leadership skills,” he said.

Drane knew it would be important to display his talents in other areas, and looked at the hiring process as a chance to show the selection committee those skills.

“They knew me as Greg Drane the assistant band director, and I know that’s going to be different than Greg Drane the band director,” he said.

In that top leadership position, it’s important to make everybody want to be a part of that team, Drane explained. When he was an assistant director he had his lane, and was responsible for that lane. While his new position within the band will require Drane to take on more responsibility and oversee the entire band, members are confident he’s the right man for the job.

Blue Band President Patrick Burke was “absolutely thrilled” to learn Drane was selected as the next director.

“He has such a strong vision for our program and understands our potential to grow and achieve as a program and as a family,” Burke said.

A Man With A Plan

Drane still has a couple months before he takes over as the official director. He’ll have the summer to prepare for the rush of football season, but wouldn’t suggest what surprises may be in store.

“Why do people always ask what tricks I have up my sleeve,” he chuckled.

One thing he knows for certain is that he wants more student involvement in show decisions. He explained that show development is a lengthy process that requires everyone joining together in a creative space. While he hasn’t finalized the details yet, he plans to get a number of band students working on that communal process.

The Blue Band officers recently had their first meeting with Drane, and began working to set a strong foundation for the upcoming season.

“There’s so much to be done in the offseason in regards to recruiting and preparing for next season’s five back-to-back home games that it’s crucial for us to start working now,” Burke said. “I’m really excited to say that our first meeting was extremely successful and that we were really able to talk about our goals for the upcoming season and how we can continue the Blue Band’s storied tradition of excellence.” 

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The Blue Band Officers first meeting with Drane. Image courtesy of @PSUBlueBand.

Right now, Drane is focused on the logistical aspects of the job that are equally important to the band and its future. He is assembling his staff, and reached out to all current workers in an effort to meet with them in the coming weeks. While Drane hopes everyone plans to remain on board, he won’t take it personally if they pursue a different path. If that’s the case, he wants to take the time to thank them for everything they’ve done for the band.

“I’ve been here with them for the past 13 years and I’ve seen their service, and they’ve all been such a valuable asset to this program,” he said.

Drane also wants to discuss how things will change with those who choose to stay.

“I’m a different person than Dr. Bundy. I know I can’t be him, so I’m not going to even try,” he said. “I can only be me. And hopefully they’re comfortable with the vision and goals I have for the program.”

Looking forward, Drane plans to expand both the reach of the band, and the “Blue Band family.”

“I know how much this organization means to Penn Staters, and so many people who have come through here. Even if they weren’t in the band, they appreciated the band and what we’ve done,” he said. “But I feel like more people should know about that. One of my goals is to make sure we are visible to many more people.”

“I want our presence to be known and felt in every corner of this state and to continue our reach from that, because I think that’s important, and I think these students deserve that.”

The Blue Band Family

Drane said when he came to Penn State, the athletic bands program was mainly just the Blue Band, and they did everything. Since then, they’ve added a volleyball and basketball pep band and there are now almost 500 students involved in the Penn State athletic bands program.

[pullquote]”We always say ‘the band’ and we think of it as this one unit of interchangeable parts but it’s not. They’re students, they’re people. And it’s my job as their leader to fulfill their needs.”[/pullquote]

“[Drane] really understands our history and traditions, and will be able to create new opportunities for our program through innovative initiatives and creative ideas,” Burke said. 

Drane stressed the importance of the members of the band. As a former college marching band member himself, he understands the demands of being a full-time student and band member. He noted that many students come from all different majors and are donating their talents to Penn State. And Drane wants to make sure they feel valued and are continually thanked for that service.

“That’s a part of who I am and my role with this band,” he said.

In his 13 years with the band, Drane has watched it get better every year. Going forward, he wants to continue that tradition of excellence, while expanding the reach of the program.

“We’ve been able to grow our family here and I want to continue to grow that family outward,” he continued. “My estimate is that when people hear or see this band and realize how great they are, they will want to be a part of that. And I want to give them a chance to be a part of that.”

In addition to his job with the Blue Band, Drane is a PhD student, a husband, and a dad. He laughed and said the last few years have been particularly busy — but it’s clearly nothing he can’t handle. And the Blue Band family isn’t the only one that’s excited about it’s new director: Drane’s wife and son are equally thrilled. His three-year-old son Deuce thinks he’s in the Blue Band already.

“He’s quite the band mascot. He’s become a mini YouTube sensation, at least among the band members,” Drane said.

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Drane’s son Deuce tells people he’s in the Blue Band. Photo courtesy of Greg Drane.

While the support from family and friends has been overwhelming, for Drane, it’s an honor to be entrusted with such a huge responsibility.

“I get to serve in this role,” he said. “I don’t see it as ‘Oh, I’m the high and mighty band director.’ I get to serve these students and this university.”

The End Of An Era

Drane’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his passion for both the band and the university is obvious. You can hear the excitement in his voice when he talks about the future of the band. However, the transition into his new role is not an easy one.

“The fact that my mentor will no longer be a few steps away is very bittersweet,” he said. “But I’m also very proud of him. He gets to walk out, on top, and celebrated.”

drane and bundy
Photo courtesy of Greg Drane

“I owe him my career. He helped me get started when I came in with no experience whatsoever and he hired me as his assistant, so for that I’ll always be professionally grateful,” Drane said.

In his years working with Bundy, Drane dreamed of what it would be like to direct such a prestigious organization. Now that his dream is a reality, Drane will take with him the many years of tutelage under his mentor.

“I learned very quickly from Dr. Bundy that the work that I do today probably isn’t go to show up until four years from now,” he said. “And that’s okay. I know that this is going to pay dividends.”

Drane compared the band to a bank account. “Eventually the money starts making more money,” he said. “You keep putting the work in and those small increments are fine because they’re going to add up.”

Although his mentor won’t be down the hall after the end of June, Drane learned from watching Bundy for all these years the important difference between long term-success and short-term fixes.

“It’s about planting the seeds for success, and when that becomes the standard you look to improve elsewhere,” he said.

****

If he never picked up the saxophone as a sixth grader, Drane would still be doing something musical.

“I could see myself barefoot in Key West singing in some small bar with only 10 people as the lead singer of a Bob Marley cover band.” He smiled, and toyed with the idea before adding, “Yep, that’d be me.”

Drane said it wasn’t until a couple days after he was announced as the director that it really sunk in.

“I realized I’m the sixth director of the Penn State Blue Band. That’s huge,” he said. “I always tell people, this is a special place. And I’m so happy that I get to be a part of this for a little longer, that’s something I really cherish.”

Featured Image: Annemarie Mountz

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