When Jon Waters was hired as Heidelberg’s new assistant professor of music education and director of bands, he didn’t know if he’d be directing a marching band.
“With my background, I was hesitant to bring it up originally,” he said. “There wasn’t a culture built around having a marching band on campus.”
As the former Ohio State University marching band director, Waters had the experience. But was it something Heidelberg was ready for?
“We wanted students to be excited about marching again,” said Dr. Carol Dusdieker, associate dean of the School of Music & Theatre. Heidelberg once had a vibrant and engaging marching band presence on campus, but she admits that in the recent past, the band wasn’t given the care and support it needed.
“It was not a priority so it slowly faded away,” she said. “It became a pep band.”
Dusdieker and others realized that both current and prospective students were looking for a marching band experience, so in their search for a new director of bands, the search committee wanted to get the right person on board to make that happen.
Jon Waters was their answer.
“We were fortunate to get Jon,” Dusdieker said. “He overcame obstacles with a force of will that was exciting.”
In Waters’ initial conversations with Heidelberg administration, they talked about the logistics, fundraising and recruiting needed to start a marching band, and decided a five-year plan was reasonable. But Waters admits to being an impatient person. Five years was too long to wait.
“I wondered what we could do that would be marching band-like this first year,” he said.
What started as that single idea snowballed into an amazing marching band season.
“The main goal of the band is to represent the excitement of Heidelberg, the pride of Heidelberg,” said Dusdieker. “We wanted to add to the atmosphere around game day that matched the energy of the football team on the field.”
“I knew I wanted to do something faster than expected,” Waters said. “My main driving force was that I owed it to the students who were putting in the time. They needed to have a true marching band experience.”
Building a marching band takes time and that was in short supply. Waters was fighting a battle of scarcity of resources: recruiting enough students, procuring enough instruments and providing enough rehearsal time for the students to succeed. Because the idea was so last minute, there wasn’t much room to add in rehearsal time. The band only had two rehearsals each week – one outdoor marching practice and one indoor to work on music.
“To be able to do what we did with two rehearsals every week was remarkable,” Waters said. “I was pleasantly surprised by the effort the students put into this.”
That effort came from the excitement around the new band.
International studies and business major Paul Reese, ’20, didn’t come to Heidelberg for music. But the baritone player from Sherrills Ford, N.C., joined the marching band when he got to campus.
“I knew I wanted to stay involved with music, and when I heard that Jon Waters was directing the marching band, I knew I had to be a part of it,” Reese said.
As word spread, the band grew from 25 during band camp to over 40 by the end of the season. Waters encouraged any interested student, regardless of experience, to join the band. Having to accommodate students of varying skill levels and experience, Waters was careful with the level of music and the complexity of the marching formations. He thought it was more important to focus on building a culture of value around having a band rather than the skill level.
“It’s always an uphill battle trying to build something new,” Waters said. “Yet I didn’t want students to feel undue pressure.”
But the students wanted this experience.
Megan Gwirtz, ’20, has been marching since the seventh grade. She’s a music education major from Crestline, Ohio, and a marching band experience is important to her.
“I want to lead and inspire my students to do what I’m doing here,” she said. “Which is to love music.”
While the students had a clear love for music and for Heidelberg, Waters needed to direct that passion within the new program.
“I needed to give them something to believe,” he said. “Something that showed quality and made an impression.”
Waters put his own spin on the season with new arrangements of the fight song and alma mater. He also moved the band into the stands and asked that the football team be on the field for the national anthem.
Every new initiative takes time to get off the ground. The newly formed group needed some time to iron out the kinks. “It was difficult in the beginning to all get on the same page, but it turned into a group you were proud to be a part of,” Reese said.
A Band Emerges
There were many new and exciting moments throughout the fall. Heidelberg football played their first night game, which the marching band took advantage of with a fireworks show. They also started new traditions like leading the football team down Greenfield Street to the victory bell.
It was halfway through the season when Waters had a realization.
“We were doing everything a marching band does. We did it all,” he said. “I was amazed.”
Doing it all included marching in a block formation to the stadium, performing a
pre-game show, the national anthem, a half-time show and bleacher cheers and chants. The excitement and pride of the students was evident.
“Jon has a passion for music and a passion for education. It’s contagious for students and his colleagues,” Dusdieker said.
That passion and enthusiasm is what many students credit for making this fall marching season a success. Alexis Cook, ’18, has been in the athletic band for three years. “We’d never done anything like this before,” she said. “Mr. Waters’ enthusiasm made us want to do our best.”
Their best was excellent. The pieces came together. Heidelberg had a marching band.
For Waters, it’s always been about the students.
“I told them from the onset, it’s not my expertise on the field, it’s not my
background or what I’ve done before in my career. It’s going to be their personal and emotional investment in this group that makes us a success.”
There are still challenges ahead for the band. In order to grow they’ll need more instruments, uniforms and improved facilities. Waters plans to increase the band each year by recruiting prospective students, but he’s looking for more than marching ability.
“We can teach them to march and play, that’s easy,” he said. “Getting them here, getting them involved and to buy into the program and to own it … once you have that, the sky’s the limit.”
Being a part of a marching band can mean a lot for a student’s experience. It is a source of pride, a place to grow and an experience they’ll always remember.
“This band will do so much more for this campus and for these students than just music. It teaches leadership, comradery, hard work, organization and sportsmanship. They will come out a better person,” Waters said.
With clear support from the administration and the School of Music & Theatre, Heidelberg’s marching band will be able to expand and flourish, continuing to adapt to student needs and expectations. It really is all about the students, and with one year down, they’re excited to continue the momentum.
“We’ll be more organized next year,” Cook said. “We’ll be able to better polish the shows and get feedback about the music. Everyone wants to come back. The only direction is up!”
Up and forward. March on.
A special financial initiative to support the many needs of bands at Heidelberg, including uniforms, instruments and music, is under way. For detailed information, contact Jim Minehart, executive director of major gifts and planned giving, at email@example.com or 419.448.2060.
The band is merely a vehicle to my end goal of building people. I'm just lucky to have a wonderful medium through music, to build those people.