Look, it's the third quadrennial (except every 100 years, except every 400 years) Throwback Thursday! I wrote this profile way back in 2011 for Comm 260. I never gave it a title, so forgive me:
Good Guy Greg
Gregory Drane is dog-tired. He has a six-week-old baby, Gregory Drane, Jr., at home. He splits his time teaching, assistant conducting the Blue Band for football games, leading the Pep Band and the Volleyball Band, and managing inventory and arranging music for his band members. His schedule would stagger any ordinary person, and Drane’s job requires him to be energetic not for himself, but for stadiums of thousands of fans.
It’s six o’clock on a Wednesday night and students are unloading
instrument crates from a box truck into the basement of the Bryce Jordan
Center. A sousaphone plays a theme from
“The Lord of the Rings” as a group of trumpets practice “Bad Romance” across
the room. Drane arrives seemingly out of
nowhere, speaking to any student who says hello to him, and greeting each
security guard and janitor he passes.
“I make it my business to speak to the staff that’s there,”
he says. He never lets his rush keep him
from being friendly, even though it’s the middle of November, the busiest time
of the year for Drane. All of his
responsibilities collide in the few weeks before the Thanksgiving break.
“Oh, the month of November,” says Drane. “When football season is still going, so the
Blue Band is still going, and the volleyball season is still going, so the fall
athletic band is still going, and then basketball is just starting up, so we’re
starting to get the Pride of the Lions band together, and it’s frankly just a
“And I have a baby on top of all that,” he adds. “So I’m, you know, staying up a couple
nights, to say the least.”
The Pep Band is here to play for a basketball game between
the Nittany Lions and the Long Island Lions.
Since it isn’t a Big 10 matchup, there are only a few hundred people in
the seats of the BJC when the Pep Band files in half an hour before
tipoff. It’s games like these, when the
fans are sparse, that the Pep Band is most important.
“If we’re motivated, we get the crowd into it,” says
Drane. “I consider myself the best-dressed
cheerleader at the sporting events, so I’m always cheering and always yelling
and I figure if I’m doing it, then that’ll be motivation for the students to do
so as well. They’ll tell you that I have
my intense moments.”
His “intense moments” are when he pushes the band to the
limits of its endurance.
“No matter the situation,” he says, “if it’s favorable or
not, you know, I’m always asking for more and more and more from our students.”
He illustrates his point with a story about a volleyball game a few years ago. It was ten o’clock at night and Rec Hall was sweltering hot. The Volleyball Band had been standing for the entirety of the game, the fourth set of which was stretching into the night.
“You could see the sweat dripping down,” he says. “Most everybody was tired, and I’m still egging them on to cheer for our team, to support our team to victory. And oftentimes they can see it in my eyes. And I’m like, ‘I’m just as tired as you are, but I’m still trying to show my enthusiasm, because that’s what we’re there for.’”
Drane demands a lot from his students, but it’s impossible for them not to rise to the challenge when he is in charge.
Matt Wagner, the president of the Blue Band, emphasizes the energy Drane brings to the stands.
“If the team’s talking behind or needs a little pick-me-up,” Wagner says, “he’ll get us up on our feet to show the students that the band’s still there, the band’s still cheering them on. He gives us the energy to go on even though there might not be the energy to go on at that point.”
Drane, a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, has had to excel because of challenges he’s faced as a band director in the Big 10; partly because he is African-American, but mostly because he was so young when he started.
“When I first became assistant director, I was maybe 25, 26 years old,” Drane says. “I’d go into these meetings of the Big 10 band directors, and everyone was 20 years older than me. So that was a challenge, feeling like they were looking and thinking ‘Who’s the young guy?’ But I also took that as ‘You know what, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m on the right track to get where I want to go.’”
Drane, a saxophonist, has known that he wanted to be a band director since he was in high school.
“I knew I’d have to get a graduate degree,” he says, which lead him to Penn State. “I came up for grad school, got my Master’s degree, and was asked to stay on as the assistant director. At the time there was no assistant director, so that was definitely a needed position.”
Since Drane arrived, the fall Athletic Band and the Pep bands have “grown exponentially from what they were,” according Caleb Rebarchak, one of Drane’s graduate assistants. “They went from 30 people to 150 people.”
“He’s very encouraging with the students,” says Rebarchak. “That being said, he’s not afraid to let them know when something can be better. But he does it in an encouraging way that doesn’t put the group down. He gives them a compliment;< then ‘despite that, here’s something you can fix.’ Then he compliments them again. It’s a compliment sandwich.”
Matt Alosi, another graduate assistant, says “he’s great. He’s taught me so much I can apply to teaching my own high school band, especially about keeping them motivated in the stands.”
His huge personality in the stands has inspired students to spawn an Internet meme, “Good Guy Gregory Drane,” where a photo of him is overlaid with a variety of captions.
“STUDENT WANTS BAND TO PLAY NEWEST SONG – [GREG] ARRANGES IT OVERNIGHT.”
“94 AND HUMID? STILL KEEPS COOL!”
He isn’t entirely sure what to make of the adulation.
“I did see a couple of them,” he says. “I thought it was pretty funny. Then I thought ‘hold on, are they making fun of me? Should I be flattered?’ And the students say it’s a little bit of both. So it is flattering. I think there was one that said ‘Team down by 17 points, Greg Drane is still cheering.’ But I think that’s our job - especially when the team is down. It’s easy to cheer when you’re winning, but it’s not as easy to cheer when you’re losing. And that’s when they need you the most.”
The students see how much of himself Drane puts into the bands, and one of the memes they made encapsulates his philosophy toward directing. Written on a photo of Gregory Drane directing the Blue Band in Beaver Stadium:
“OUR TEAM IS LOSING – STILL THE BEST LOOKING CHEERLEADER.”