The new director

Regular readers know about my recent and longer-term association with the UW Marching Band, whose director, Mike Leckrone, retired after 50 years directing the band.

(About which, for a great perspective on what we learned, read this.)

Well, almost no one is irreplaceable. (ABC Radio tried to replace Paul Harvey and then gave up.) And so my alma mater reports:

 It has been a full five decades since the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music has selected a new leader of the UW Marching Band.

But after an extensive national search, they’ve found the one: Corey Pompey, who has been serving as the director of athletic bands and associate director of bands for the University of Nevada, Reno, will take the baton from legendary UW bandleader Michael Leckrone beginning this summer, becoming the school’s new director of athletic bands and associate director of bands.

“Corey Pompey is the clear choice,” said Susan Cook, director of the School of Music. “He has a deep musicianship along with an enthusiasm and energy on the podium that was infectious; he really connected with the students.”

Pompey brings a strong background in music education and extensive experience with marching bands to his new role at UW. He studied music education as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Alabama and earned his doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Texas-Austin, two music programs similar to UW–Madison in terms of size and scope, both with deep marching band traditions. Prior to his time at University of Nevada, Reno, Pompey served as assistant director of bands at Penn State University.

“When I think of UW, I think of a great institution of learning,” said Pompey. “The second thing I think of is its wonderful tradition of marching bands. There’s a strong legacy at UW.”

Interestingly, Pompey didn’t initially set out to become a band leader. He began his career teaching music in public schools in Pleasant Grove and Brookwood, Alabama.

“I went into music education with the intent of doing something else with my life,” Pompey said. “Then the music grabbed me. The profession found me – I didn’t find it.”

In discussing the vision he’ll bring to his new role with the UW Marching Band, Pompey emphasized the importance of collaboration, music selection and the student experience.

“It’s important to be entertaining the crowd, always,” he said. “But I also want to provide the students in the band with a great experience. I want them to learn something.”

The UW students who participated in the interview process were also impressed with Pompey. CJ Zabat, a 22-year old senior who serves as the band’s drum major, said he and his fellow band members felt an instant connection.

“He was really deliberate, knowledgeable and detail-oriented,” Zabat said. “He was aware of everyone in the room with him, and it was clear there were a lot of musical gears turning in his head.

Pompey is also mindful of the deep tradition and national profile of the program he’s inheriting from Leckrone, who has led the band since 1969. Last fall, Leckrone announced his intent to step down as director at the end of this academic year.

“I want to acknowledge how honored I am to have the opportunity to lead this program,” Pompey said.  “I also want to thank Prof. Leckrone for all he’s done. I look forward to carrying on the excellence of the program.”

Pompey will officially start at UW on July 20.

The huge question, of course, is: What do Pompey’s bands look like?

This appears to be an example of “corps-style” marching, patterned after drum and bugle corps. We band alumni added an E to “corps” because there is no real marching involved here.

Band members who have been interviewed have been very positive about Pompey. That shows that it’s a new era. (When I was in high school I was never asked who I wanted to be the next band director.) Getting buy-in is important, because not getting buy-in can be disastrous, as anyone who observed from a distance former UW Band assistant director Justin Stolarik’s experience at Oklahoma University can attest.

Pompey’s music seems good, though those who marched for Leckrone would not approve of Nevada’s marching style, which is not anywhere near as distinctive as Wisconsin’s. (Leckrone inherited a band that was doing a pretty standard Big Ten style, but modified it with Stop at the Top, where there is a discernible pause between steps.) Leckrone’s bands didn’t just play older rock music, of course, but played big bands, show tunes and even classical music as well.

There is a parallel (at least in my strange mind) to politics here in a nonpartisan and non-ideological sense. A lot of political candidates talk about change in glowing terms. Well, change may be inevitable, but progress is not, and “change” and “progress” are not synonyms. People want things to be better, not merely different. And no one will complain if Pompey improves the band. But there are things — the marching style being a major one — that changing may not result in approval.

On the other hand, Pompey starts in July. Assuming similar schedules from the past, he will start with students a month later. The Nevada band might have been the band he inherited too late to do anything with marching style other than what they were already doing. It would seem difficult to adopt a brand new style of marching to upwards of 200 returning band members in just two or three weeks. (Their first home game is against Central Michigan Sept. 7.)



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