Introducing Blue Band 2013

The Penn State Blue Band has performed at every major bowl game in the United States. The 2013-14 season is the 114th year for the award-winning group.

When the breeze gets crisp and leaves begin to crunch underfoot, Saturdays in Happy Valley are big days for Penn State junior Jennifer Chelko. As a majorette in the Blue Band, she has embraced her role on the squad while keeping a close eye on her academics.

Outside of Blue Band, Chelko dedicates her time to the sciences, for which she's had a passion since junior high. She heard about the Toxicology program in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences from her brother, a recent Penn State graduate who also studied in the college.

Jennifer Chelko, a Blue Band majorette, spinning a baton while in full dress.

The time of her life

Jennifer Chelko loves having the opportunity to share in Penn State's traditions and show her support for the University. “Being a majorette here is one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” said the Sarver, Pennsylvania, native.

Image: Penn State

“Walking out onto the field in Beaver Stadium in front of tens of thousands of Penn State fans is unbelievable. It gives me chills just thinking about it.”—Jennifer Chelko

A balancing act

Balancing life as a majorette and a science major has been a learning process for Chelko, who noted that majorettes often get together to study and help each other whenever they can.

For Chelko and all Penn State Marching Blue Band members, getting ahead on their workload is crucial to succeeding as students, and succeed they do. Grade-point averages are high and academic achievements are numerous, which is a tribute to the philosophy of Blue Band director O. Richard Bundy, professor of music education, who believes that the band experience goes hand-in-hand with the overall education of the students. In addition to directing the band, Dr. Bundy teaches courses in conducting, marching band technique, instrumental music, and band literature.

For his Blue Band students, the trick is learning to balance time for study, rehearsals, and performances. On the band’s website, an elaborate, tongue-in-cheek analysis of student time demands sums up the question of how much time must be devoted to the band: “ … most people can plan for, and find the time for, those things important to them.”

“Even though this is the thirty-fourth year of my involvement with the annual ‘rebirth’ of the Blue Band, it's still very exciting to see the students mold into a cohesive unit.”—Dr. Bundy

The annual Blue Band rebirth

To Dr. Bundy and his students, spending time representing the University to the public in a positive way is of utmost importance—and they love doing it. With one football performance at the season opener August 31 in MetLife Stadium under the Blue Band’s belt, Dr. Bundy, who joined the University Park music faculty in 1983 and took over the Blue Band in 1996, is ready to take on the remainder of this season’s schedule with gusto.

A new drum major has been chosen for this year. “Christopher Siergiej earned the honor of becoming the next ‘flipper’ during auditions held at the end of spring semester,” Dr. Bundy said, referring to the jump and “flip” that the drum major does during the march downfield as the band enters the stadium before each football game. Siergiej, a senior majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science, is in his fourth year as a Blue Band member.

Dr. Bundy congratulated the band’s award-winning feature twirler, Matt Freeman, for reaching his senior season with the band. Freeman, who became feature twirler for the Blue Band in his freshman year, is a senior majoring in Marketing and minoring in Management Information Systems in the Smeal College of Business.

Not your average college band!

Not your average college band!

The Blue Band has performed in more than 40 bowl games, became the first marching band to perform at a fashion show when 100 students marched down the catwalk at the 2005 Marc Jacobs event during Fashion Week in New York City, and appeared in photo spreads for Vogue and W magazines that same year. 

Image: Penn State

“The Penn State Bands Program includes a wide range of concert and athletic bands. There is a band performance ensemble for anyone at Penn State who wants to continue to pursue musical performance interests.”—Dr. Bundy

Game day connection

Always up for innovation, the band is involved in a new project, in conjunction with Intercollegiate Athletics, that involves an email poll of students each week for their votes as to music they would like to hear performed by the Blue Band during that week’s home football game.

“It's an interesting idea that will hopefully give the student body an even stronger connection with the game-day atmosphere,” Dr. Bundy said. “Even though our halftime shows are planned several months in advance, we certainly hope that those shows will include music that will be enjoyed by a wide age range, including students.”

Besides wanting the audience to relate to the music the band plays, Dr. Bundy wants all students who are interested in performing in a band to understand that other groups besides the Marching Blue Band are available to them.

“I encourage more University Park students to get involved with the Penn State Bands program,” he said. “While we have fairly large turnouts for auditions each year, I also know there are many more students at Penn State who have played an instrument in band but who do not audition,” adding that the band needs more low-brass musicians, especially anyone who plays a sousaphone.

“The Penn State Bands Program includes a wide range of concert and athletic bands—and not all ensembles require an audition,” Dr. Bundy said. “We are especially proud that there is a band performance ensemble for anyone at Penn State who wants to continue to pursue musical performance interests.”

Information about Jennifer Chelko is based on a news release by Jeff Mulhollem, writer/editor, College of Agricultural Sciences.

A Rich Tradition

The first band for Penn State grew from a six-member drum and bugle corps in 1899, adding other instruments in the ensuing years, growing to the current mix of woodwinds, brass, and percussion, as well as majorettes, silks, and the drum major and feature twirler.

In 1923, the a few new blue uniforms were purchased to start replacing the brown military-style uniforms in use. Blue uniforms were issued on the basis of ability and rank. Photos from 1924 show a select group of blue-uniformed members in a block “S” formation surrounded by a large number of brown-uniformed band members. This select group became known as the “Blue Band” and represented Penn State as its official traveling band.

Lots more band history is detailed on the Blue Band website, including the premiere in 1965 of the well-known Floating Lions Drill, the move to the Blue Band Building in 2004, and in 2005, a huge achievement, when the Blue Band was awarded the prestigious Sudler Trophy, a national award administered by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. Dr. Bundy has said the award is to marching bands what the Motion Picture Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award is to actors. It is prestigious, meaningful recognition of the long-term success of the Blue Band.