The Pride of Wildcat Land just made everyone at Kansas State University even prouder after receiving the 2015 Sudler Trophy—college band’s highest honor.
Photo by Scott Sewell
Dr. Frank Tracz is no stranger to hard work. The Kansas State University (K-State) director of bands believes that if you work hard, you can achieve anything. This year, his hard work was rewarded when K-State became the newest recipient of the Sudler Trophy, awarded every other year to a top college band by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.
Halftime: Why did you decide to be a band director?
Tracz: I played percussion in high school and liked playing percussion, so one day I just asked my director, “How do you get to be a band director?” He told me the steps and I said, “Wow, you get paid for this? I’m in.” So there’s very little mystery or anything to my journey. I pretty much knew from day one what my end goal was. I wanted to spend my life doing something I really love, and this is it.
Halftime: How did you end up in Manhattan, Kansas?
Tracz: Well, I tell people all the time: I interviewed at Kansas State 22 years ago and had no intention of staying. I’m from Ohio, and I wanted to go back home and be near my family. We just fell in love with the students and the university and the supportive administration.
I think I got the job here because nobody wanted it. Kansas State wasn’t really a school anybody thought of when you thought of good bands, good academics, good athletics. I was too young and stupid to understand that, but I came in, rolled up my sleeves, and I got to work. Things fell into place and I surrounded myself with the right kind of people, and it took off.
The nice thing about being where I am, and what I think really helps build success, is longevity. People want to move around so much. The grass is always greener somewhere else to them, but it’s not. I’ve been here longer than any president, any coach, any dean, any faculty member. I think that if you stay, and you circle the wagons a little bit, it means a lot.
Halftime: Explain your philosophy.
Tracz: Well, you are what you are. My whole family is blue collar, and that’s just the way I was brought up. You get up in the morning, you work really hard, you get paid, and you go home. That’s from my dad and mom, brothers and sisters. That’s the way we did things in Cleveland, Ohio, and that’s who I am. So when I came in, I think the important thing for me was to continue to be who I am and run with my strengths and still work on my weaknesses. It’s worked so far. We’ve attracted those kids, and it’s just a lot of fun.
Halftime: What was your biggest weakness as a band director?
Tracz: I think the biggest weakness for me was patience. I come from Ohio State and Wisconsin, and they have great bands, great band programs. I taught in Ohio for a while, and there are really good things going on there. Then I came here, and it took a while to build and took me some time to do things that I never was taught to do, things like how to build support, how to build a foundation from the president’s office to the athletic director’s office to the football coach’s office to the dean’s office.
I conduct the Manhattan Municipal Band, and I’ve been doing that for 20 years. So I learned how to network and how to go out and build support for music and for bands and then steer it in the direction that my talents and my education taught me to. I’d love to tell you that I came in with that idea and that master plan, but that would be a lie. I’ve learned this as I’ve gone along. My dad taught me to be open enough and smart enough to open your eyes and look around and see what works. Because sometimes in a ball game, the fastball’s not going to do it; you’ve got to throw a change up or a curve. So I’ve learned to go with it and to be able to change.
Halftime: How has winning the Sudler Trophy affected the band?
Tracz: This is a lifetime achievement of many, many band directors and students, and it’s taken a long time.
This has really helped us though. According to the university, we’re the closest thing to a national championship entity that the university has seen. So, I look at that and think we have to run with that. That’s going to mean budget things; it’s going to mean equipment improvements. That is a tremendous recruiting tool we have right now. I’ve got stacks and stacks of e-mails and letters from people—the football coach, the [Kansas State] president, the past president—who wrote me long letters of congratulations. People stop me in the grocery store—we’re minor celebrities here now because of this award. It just goes to show that no matter where you are and what you have, you can make it if you want to pay the price for it.
Halftime: Tell me a bit about the transition. In 22 years you’ve gone from a director with a job nobody really wanted to winning the Sudler Trophy.
Tracz: What I did here was work with that blue-collar mentality. I did everything from recruit to write shows and music to doing everything you possibly could. Plus I painted the band room and things like that. I think it’s one of those blue-collar things where they see you working hard and want to be a part of that, and you attract the people that are like that, which is a good thing. I’ll take a concert B-flat, average, hard-working, dirty fingernails, scuffed-up elbow kid any day over the prima donna ones. And now we’re getting to the point where we’re getting that kid that also has the talent, so it’s working out really, really well.
I think the key here has been persistence. Not giving up and finding a way to make it work for us. I have three children and my wife, and we love it here and knew it was a great place to raise a family. So, what’s the old saying? “Find a home and build a kingdom.”
And that’s what we’ve done, or at least what we’re trying to do. We’re 45 miles or so from the geographical center of the country so, you know, there are more cattle here than actual people. It’s really not supposed to happen in Kansas. To me that’s even more satisfying because it is happening. It’s a cool program. We have a huge marching band, we have five concert bands, and there’s just a lot of good things happening here.
About the Author
Mitchell King is a senior majoring in communication at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched alto saxophone for two years before becoming drum major for two years at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia. He currently marches alto saxophone for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day open his own public relations firm in Atlanta.