Adhering to traditions while keeping the band fresh is a continual balance for many marching ensembles. Dr. Brad McDavid talks about his 23 years with the University of Washington Husky Marching Band and the significance of the group’s recent trip to the Peach Bowl.
For the first time in seven years, the entire marching band from the University of Washington traveled to a bowl game. This holiday season, the Huskies performed in the Peach Bowl, part of the College Football Playoffs, in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Brad McDavid—only the fourth director at the school—has led the ensemble since 1993. He discusses his proudest moments and how the band prepared for this year’s high-profile bowl game.
Halftime: What is your musical and marching background?
McDavid: I was part of The Ohio State University marching band as an undergrad from 1980 to 1984, and I received my Master’s Degree in Music Education from Arizona State University. From there I went to Purdue, where I was the graduate assistant for the Purdue All-American Marching Band in 1991. And in ’92 and ’93, I was back at Ohio State working on my doctorate while I was grad assistant there before coming [to Washington] to accept the job at the University of Washington. This is my 23rd season with the band.
Halftime: How has the band evolved over the time you have been director?
McDavid: I’m proud to say that we haven’t had to change much over the years. I’m the fourth director of the band since 1929, so when new directors have arrived, they tend to enjoy it and stay. It has predominantly been a traditional marching band since its inception. We’ve done a different halftime show for every home game, and our pregame show has changed very little. We use a lot of traditional formations that the fans have come to know and love. We’ve incorporated some contemporary technique into our drill, but it’s still a traditional band with a commitment first and foremost to entertaining the fans.
Halftime: What makes the Husky Band unique?
McDavid: We always try to look for themes that will keep fans interested during halftime. We keep things new and fresh not only for the students but also for the fans.
Back in 2000, we started an athletic band graduate assistantship. There weren’t enough programs to develop the skills of people like myself whose futures were in collegiate athletic bands. We developed the assistantship to help meet the needs of those individuals. A lot of universities have developed positions such as director of athletic bands because they recognize that it’s so much more than just marching bands these days.
Halftime: What were the reactions of band members on being selected for the Peach Bowl?
McDavid: We were watching the selection shows every week hoping we might move up into the top four. When we lost to [University of Southern California] mid-season, we thought that our chances were over, but we snuck back in. When it was announced that we had a game, there was a huge collective cheer from the 240 band members. We haven’t been able to take the whole band to a bowl in so long, which just makes this extra sweet for everyone involved.
Halftime: What show did the band perform for halftime?
McDavid: We [did] a show that is a tribute to the 40th anniversary of the “Rocky” franchise, which is arguably the most popular sports movie soundtrack of all time. It has some contemporary drill mixed in with traditional drill and, of course, the great music that everybody recognizes.
Halftime: What have been your goals for the band since starting as director?
McDavid: I think the primary goal has been based on what led me to seek a profession like this in the first place. I had such an incredible experience in my time marching as an undergrad, and it helped me build an affinity not only for my band but also for the university that I attended. I wanted to help build that same love of not only music but also of school in my students. Yes, we want to give great performances, but I want [the students] leaving here with a love of their university and their band program that never goes away. I want the students to have an experience that they will never forget, that will build their love for the University of Washington long after they graduate.
Halftime: What are some of your proudest moments as director?
McDavid: Up here in the Northwest, you have everything from competitive bands to groups that just sit in the stands. There isn’t the [high school] marching band tradition that you see in the Midwest and Southwest. Every year we start with students with an enormous range of marching band experience. To take that wide range of ability and continue to build and mold their skills into a cohesive unit that the university community can take pride in is something really special.
Halftime: What are some specific challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome them?
McDavid: The biggest challenge has become a funding issue. We are very fortunate that the athletic bands here are funded one hundred percent by the athletic department. But funding a large ensemble the size of a college marching band can become a challenge since universities are struggling with funding in their own right. The entire Husky Band has not been to a bowl game in seven years because unless you’re attending a game with an enormous payout, it becomes largely impossible to send the whole band due to funding. Our bowl game last year didn’t even pay enough to send a band at all. That was the first time in university history that the band hasn’t attended the bowl game in some way, shape, or form. We went from no bowl game last year to taking the entire band [to the Peach Bowl this year], which we are thrilled about.
Halftime: What advice do you have for other band directors?
McDavid: Don’t stop growing. Don’t allow yourself to become bored with your position because that’s something that can happen so easily if you’re doing the same thing year in, year out. Just never allow things to get stale, continually look for new ways to do things. That’s why I love to be part of a program that does a new halftime show every game. We’re constantly looking for new themes and music, and it keeps the staff and band members fresh.
Halftime: What words of wisdom do you have for students?
McDavid: [In the marching band program,] you have the opportunity to build lifelong friendships, travel, and really get to know your peers on a level so much deeper than anywhere else on a college campus.
Photos courtesy of UW Husky Band.