Be the next scholar-musician. Find out about special band scholarships, stipends and perks offered by schools across the country.
By Eddie Carden
Now that you’ve finished applying for college, it’s time to figure out one thing: How are you going to pay for it? Luckily for marching band members, music can be the answer. It’s a common misperception that schools only offer scholarships to music majors, but in actuality non-majors can get in on the money too. Many marching bands offer incentives, ranging from stipends to full-tuition scholarships. So if you think you’re out of options to help pay for college, think again. Many marching bands nationwide have money to help students out with their expenses—you just need to know where to look.
Paid to Have Fun
Many students looking at colleges know immediately that they hope to join a marching band, which often can narrow the list of prospective schools quickly. The choice to investigate a school’s marching band program can be an important one, and you may find that a school offers stipends for members or scholarships by audition.
“When I was looking at a school, I just wanted a school that had a marching band,” says Jamie Karnetsky, who received a $200 stipend for her first year in the University of South Florida (USF) Herd of Thunder Marching Band. “It’s like a job basically. You’re getting paid to have fun.”
Karnetsky found out about the marching band’s stipends when she looked into the USF band website. Her stipend is set to increase for next year as all members in their second year and above receive $500 for participating each season. The band program, founded in 1999 (just two years after the university fielded its first football team), offers the stipends to members in hopes that the marching band will continue to grow.
“I heard about the marching band at USF, and I was also looking into the education programs,” says Karnetsky, who plays the piccolo. “Even if there wasn’t a stipend, though, I would’ve joined the marching band.”
Similarly, the Fresno State Bulldog Marching Band, which restarted in 1993 after being shut down by budget cuts, uses stipends to attract talented new members to fill its ranks. The band advertises the stipend at area high schools and on its website. “Stipends are available to anyone in the band,” says Director of Athletic Bands Tim Anderson. “It’s a good thing. It helps us attract students. It helps us bring students to Fresno State in general.”
Last year, about half of the band’s 270 members received some sort of financial stipend. “We go from $100, and our elite musicians who play in our touring bands receive $2,200,” Anderson says.
Meet Oregon’s Elite
There are certain special positions in marching bands that often receive extra attention, and often money: drum major, feature twirler and dance team member. Purdue University’s Golden Girl gets full tuition payments. The Ohio State University drum major gets a free ride. But how often do you hear of a rank-and-file member in a major college band getting a full-tuition scholarship?
Meet the University of Oregon’s Green Garter Band. Twelve talented musicians from the Oregon Marching Band are chosen each year to participate in this elite group, which could be termed the band’s “special forces.” Members audition and commit their talent to the athletic department throughout the year.
The Green Garter Band plays at all manner of special events and represents the core of the Oregon Marching and Basketball Bands. Members are required to attend almost all of the school’s basketball and volleyball games in addition to participating in the marching band. In the spring, the Green Garter Band performs at festivals and area high schools. The group is student-run, with a student director and manager.
“I remember the Green Garter People coming and playing at my high school,” says Alex Poole, the group’s student director. “It was definitely a big factor in my deciding to come here and play.” The Oregon Band also has a Yellow Garter Band, which requires a slightly smaller commitment and is often a transition point for students hoping to join the Green Garter Band.
Members of the Green Garter Band receive 15 credits’ (almost full tuition) worth of scholarship from the athletic department, and Yellow Garter Band members receive large book scholarships for their commitment.
“They earn every penny,” says Dr. Eric Wiltshire, director of the Oregon Marching Band. “They do a lot. They’d be crazy to do it if they didn’t enjoy it.”
A Full House
The rewards of participating in marching band could line the pages of this magazine for years, but how do individual bands go above and beyond the same perks offered everywhere? Ask Eric Dezendorf, a third-year trombone player and student director of the University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”) Marching Band.
“We don’t have the band fraternity at Cal, but what we do have is Tellefsen Hall, which is a boarding house for band members only,” says Dezendorf, a current resident. “It’s co-ed, and it’s a great place— we have our own chef. It runs a lot like a fraternity though it’s not.”
Dezendorf lives in the house with 43 other members from various sections of the band. “It’s just another option to housing, and it tends to be a fair amount of first years because it’s slightly cheaper than the dorms,” he says. “It’s advertised within the band. When a prospective recruit comes to audition for the band, we mention that we have this house.”
The house is named after Chris Tellefsen, a longtime supporter of the band, most notably in the 1920s.
In addition to homemade meals and a stocked fridge, the Cal Marching Band offers a variety of stipends and scholarships. Merit-based opportunities range from $300 for first-year bandsmen to a renewable $3,500 scholarship, depending on achievement, performance and commitment. The band also offers a $4,000 scholarship to five students in each class (total of 20), primarily based on need.
A Way to Give Thanks
In the end, many marching bands offer small cash stipends for devoted students simply as a way of showing gratitude.
“We have some small, what we call ‘band stipends,’ that are awarded to all students that participate, and we have an additional award that’s kind of a way of saying, ‘Thank you,’ to those folks that are in their fifth semester,” says Warren Olfert, director of bands at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D. “The institution is seeing the need to reward that kind of work, and we’re going to see some growth.”
Sometimes, the cash comes as a nice surprise for students who don’t even realize that they’ll be receiving a stipend. Like many musicians entering college, Caitlin Miller—currently a sophomore alto saxophone player—already knew that she wanted to participate in marching band at the collegiate level. What she didn’t know was that she could get paid to do it. Miller found out about her reward after she auditioned and was accepted to the Oklahoma State Cowboy Marching Band.
“[Scholarships are offered] as an incentive, to an extent—it’s a lot of time and effort,” Miller says. “I decided to at least try out the band. The $100 was just something extra. Like an extra hundred bucks for something I wanted to do.”
When it comes down to it, students shouldn’t join marching band for the money. These musicians devote hundreds of hours to put together each performance, and when the next week rolls around, they’ll do it again.
“There’s no question about it; our students that are in the marching band do it for love,” Olfert says of his students’ feelings about their stipends. “Right now it’s just a great way to say, ‘Thank you,’ for all your hard work.”
About the Author
Eddie Carden is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. He is a junior, majoring in public relations and psychology, at the University of Southern California. He has been playing the trumpet since the fifth grade and is now trumpet section leader in the USC “Spirit of Troy” Trojan Marching Band. He also appeared in a State Farm commercial as part of a five-piece band.
Note from the Editor: For a list of scholarships offered by universities and by third-party organizations, get a copy of the print magazine. Subscribe now at www.halftimemag.com/articles/subscribe.
Photo by Brian Kanof. All rights reserved.