Thursday, March 28, 2013

Profile on a Band Director

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 tough time.”

“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.



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:


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Roller Skating at the HUB

This is a video I threw together for an event at Alumni Hall - SPA sponsored roller skating - along the lines of my minigolf video.  The lighting, believe it or not, was even worse than the blacklight for my minigolf video, but my the time I got to Terrance Dowell I had improvised a light with my iPhone and a scrap of notebook paper.  

This meant that I was holding a camera in one hand while I held a microphone in my other hand while I positioned the paper and light with my other hand.  I need to figure out some tripod/lighting options here.

Roller Skating in Alumni Hall from The Daily Collegian on Vimeo.

Anywho, this video brought up a question of music rights - if I'm trying to do a video like this, where a DJ is an inescapable presence, what's the protocol for having all that popular, obviously copyrighted music in the background?  

Toward the end of my ballerina video, I used some Tchaikovsky music to tie everything together, but Tchaikovsky's long-dead and his music (though not perhaps that specific recording) is out of copyright.  I at least record my music at the event, shouts and noise and all, instead of using the original files, so the audio is representative of the scene.  

I'm just not sure what the line is for fair use and how to avoid using copyrighted music when it's inescapably embedded in the scene.  Cutting an interview is usually a disaster with this because each phrase has a different beat behind it, so I try to run another track underneath everything to at least maintain a consistent cacophony.

So, if you're a media law expert... what's the deal here? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Getting High in the Head House

Our COMM 469 assignment today was to go shoot a feature that made use of some of Andy Garcia's tips from his blog.  I wandered around campus in my usual feature lather, then I walked by the greenhouse.  I wasn't sure if anybody would be in there, or if it would even be unlocked, but I strolled right in and found a room full of students counting leaves in these little sample cups.  I did lots of experimenting (regretfully, that's my horrible orange ladder on the floor) and contortions to figure out the angle for this shot, and the students were remarkably friendly (even as I almost flipped the table holding their entire class's experiment) as I swung from the rafters.
Dara Brown (sophomore-environmental resource management) counts leaves for a Biology 220 class in the Head House of Buckhout Lab on Tuesday.

And since my wonderful photo editor Mara sits next to me in 469, I made it B/W in case it runs in tomorrow's Collegian.  I was experimenting with dodging and burning here... I think I need to continue experimenting.
Dara Brown (sophomore-environmental resource management) counts leaves for a Biology 220 class in the Head House of Buckhout Lab on Tuesday.