Cara Forsberg, a math education major and resident advisor in Smith Hall, was mostly kidding last year when she talked to another resident advisor, Michael Rocha, about the idea of a Wheaton College pep band.
But Rocha, a senior music education major, brought the idea into reality. He recommended that they talk to Brady McNeil, assistant professor of music, who played in a basketball pep band when he was an undergraduate at Auburn University.
“They knew that I was possibly the faculty member to help lead the charge because of my background,” said McNeil. “Ideally a pep band is something that will create an energizing atmosphere that will not only help the fans get more involved in the game, but also pump up the team and show our support for our athletics.”
Forsberg played the flute since fifth grade, but coming to Wheaton, she did not have an outlet to practice her instrument. As she and Rocha talked more seriously about the idea of a pep band, they realized it could become an outlet for students who had played in a band in high school but lost touch with it in college.
“Seeing the chapel band play made me miss playing,” she said. “At least for me, it didn’t feel like I could play my instrument casually at Wheaton.”
Forsberg met with McNeil, who was fully onboard with the idea. He said Wheaton used to have a pep band, but wasn’t sure when it stopped playing. Last spring, Forsberg, Rocha and McNeil met with Athletic Director Michael Schauer and Michael Wilder, the dean of the Conservatory of Music. With faculty backing the idea, and the athletic department willing to allocate funds for the pep band, they planned to hold auditions in the fall of 2023.
Official auditions were held on Aug. 26 from 1-5 p.m. in a backstage room in Edman Chapel. But hoping to get more members, McNeil decided to keep auditions open till Oct. 1. Now with a total of 16 members, the band is scheduled to play at four double-header home basketball games, first at the men’s basketball game on Nov. 17. Schauer, who also coaches men’s basketball, has supported the start of the pep band and hopes it will benefit athletics.
“I love that we will again have the pep band at some home men’s and women’s basketball games,” said Schauer. “The atmosphere is improved by their presence. It really matters.”
Though the band is small in numbers, they hope to be an encouraging presence during basketball games. As they continue to grow, the band’s leadership envisions one day having a large enough band that can support football and other athletics teams.
Though the pep band is an on-campus music ensemble, they differ from other-on campus ensembles, like the symphonic band, in the instruments they play and the songs they perform. According to Taylor Dvorak, a freshman majoring in sociology and anthropology, part of the fun is being able to play songs many students know and can sing.
Some classic examples of songs used in pep bands are “Final Countdown” or “We Will Rock You.”
“We all, as humans, have a necessity for some form of music,” said Dvorak. “And the music that is normally played by a pep band is something that’s kind of central to pop culture.”
For Forsberg, what sets pep band apart from other musical avenues on campus is the opportunity for non-music majors to reconnect with their instrument. It also allows for freedom in the songs played and instruments used, which include electric bass and a drum set as well as more traditional instruments like a clarinet, flute, piccolo and trumpet.
“Since I’m graduating, I think my hope is just to get people interested in pep band and to get underclassmen involved, so that they can take over leadership in the future,” Forsberg said. “I think it’s a fun way for students to connect with music, especially for people that haven’t played in college.”
Sarah Parker, a sophomore sociology major with a music minor said the time and effort put into the band will be evident to everyone who shows up to games.
“I think it will be an encouragement for the campus community to see that people are involved with the basketball team,” said Parker. “And for the schools coming to play against us, they will notice that we are putting time and effort into having a band that will be there to play for the games. It’s a good example of community.”