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Opinion: Students Band Together To Make Music

By Irina Rusanova

With the sudden departure of Randall Kratofil (more commonly known as Randy) from the position of director of bands at Saint Vincent College, Marching Band at Saint Vincent College has turned from director-run to virtually student-run. Randy was quite suddenly offered a more fulfilling job focused entirely in the musical field, which he accepted after much thought.

March of the Bearcats representing Saint Vincent College at Hempfield Area High School’s band festival in 2019

I have taken part in the Saint Vincent College Marching Band for two years so far and participated in the Concert Band for the first time this year; my instrument is the clarinet. I have found that following Randy’s leave, the marching band has been able to find much fewer opportunities to play and the officers and other supervisors have been tasked with more responsibilities than ever before. As for Concert Band, I have no reserved judgements.

With no current candidates for Director of Bands, it is yet unclear as to who will take up the position in the years to come. However, student officers have worked tirelessly to continue the marching band’s activities and have done a successful job of running the band with contributions from unofficial supervisors and mentors.

Abigail Uhrinek (more commonly known as Abby), a sophomore biology major and music minor who plays the piccolo in Marching Band, and Carly Belich, sophomore middle grades education major and music minor who plays the saxophone in Marching Band, were both drum majors during the 2019 football season. Madison Starliper (more commonly known as Maddy), junior art education major and color guard member, was our secretary this season.

The three officers commented on their initial reactions to Randy’s departure from SVC.

Maddy said that she was blind sighted by the news.

“I felt like leadership had really been kept in the dark until the last second, and it made everything feel worse entirely. I am glad that Randy was able to land a position with a real salary, but I wish that the idea that he would be leaving had been brought to our attention sooner,” she said.

The Saint Vincent Concert Band during its February 2019 show entitled “Literature and Repertoire.”

Carly said that she was surprised by the situation. Abby had similar sentiments.

“Initially, when Randy left, it was a very shocking day,” Abby said. “I think that we were all just confused with how quickly things were changing around us.”

The day Randy announced his leave was truly unexpected, and on the day of his departure, half of us were in tears. None of us had ever imagined the March of the Bearcats without Randy, though many freshmen seemed confused by the conflicted atmosphere in the band at the time.

Thomas Octave, associate professor of Music and Chair of Fine Arts, revealed that he strives to preserve the instrumental programs Randy had so carefully built up over the years.

“When Mr. Kratofil informed me of his departure for a new position, we needed to be sure that we continued the band and instrumental programs that he was directing here at Saint Vincent,” he said. “I know that the Marching Band, Pep Band, and Concert Band had many good instrumentalists in the program and I wanted to be sure that the ensembles continued and continued to grow.”

Joseph Codispoti (more commonly known as Joe), was the percussion instructor this season. Ed Dunlap, our percussion instructor last year, initially told Joe about the position.

“I took over for [Ed] as the graduate assistant for the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Percussion Studio this year. He mentioned the job to me at the beginning of the summer while we were discussing things that I should know for my first semester at IUP.”

Joe was able to quickly adjust to the way our band worked and continued with us on our journey following Randy’s goodbyes.

“I found out very quickly that the band has a great vibe; everyone cares about each other and about the activity and knows how to have fun while still making music together,” Joe stated. “That's why I stayed with the group and hope to return next season as well.”

Joe really stepped up to help our band both musically and technically. He made sure that our (frankly miniscule) drum line was able to properly create a unifying heartbeat for the band and cleaned up our band as a whole regarding the sound of our show as well as the drill we performed on the field.

“My role changed significantly in the middle of the season when Randy left. In addition to coaching the drum line, I've had to step up and coach the wind players at certain rehearsals,” he said.

Randy Kratofil conducting at the February 2019 concert

Joe also communicated very often with our band council and with staff members in order to keep our band up and running with set plans. He revealed his sentiments regarding the band’s rate of success this season but stated that the band could benefit from a better balance of roles among the leadership positions.

“As unfortunate as this is, [a certain level of burnout] was bound to happen since there was a such a big void to fill in Randy's absence,” he said. “We discovered very quickly how much he did, and many people made sacrifices to keep the band going, including Dr. Octave who stepped in to run Tuesday rehearsals.”

Maddy has similar thoughts on the subject. She expressed that the president of our band was taking too much responsibility onto himself and said that she wished the administrative affairs would have been distributed better among band council members.

“Honestly it became frustrating more than it ever had been before. […] Without a true supervisor, council members were left in the dark half the time and it made everything much harder than it needed to be,” she said.

Joe stated that he hopes for such a proper distribution of roles to happen soon.

“[The] sacrifices [made for the band] may have been necessary for the success of the group this season, but in the future, I hope that the responsibilities will be more balanced so everyone (membership and staff alike) has a good experience.”

Abby expressed her gratefulness towards Dr. Octave and the leadership team.

“I think that overall there was a lot to handle, but [Dr. Octave’s efforts] allowed the transition to occur smoothly. I also believe that our leadership team was a huge help to keep the stress-level low, including Joe,” she said.

Carly shares the same view as Abby. However, she added, because changes occurred early in the season, she does not have many experiences to compare the shift to since she acted as drum major for the first time this year.

Dr. Octave has been able to successfully recruit an official director for the Concert Band at SVC. Karl Priore, Dr. Octave’s prior instrumental teacher, has stepped in to direct our Concert Band this year and will continue to conduct and guide us musically in the next semester.

“I knew that I could not lead both ensembles, and I asked Mr. Karl Priore, a distinguished and well-known music educator, to conduct the concert band.” Dr. Octave said. “Mr. Priore is a great educator and an excellent musician!”

Dr. Octave aims to continue the instrumental music programs at our college.

The leaders, directors, and supervisors shared messages directed to members of bands at Saint Vincent.

Abby said: “This marching season was absolutely fantastic, I am so incredibly proud and honored! We could not have made this happen without the students that participated this season. Thank you for providing so much hope, happiness, and passion for our band!”

Carly said: “I am so incredibly proud of the entire band. I think everyone has done an excellent job this season despite some adversity and I cannot wait to see the amazing accomplishments we will continue to make.”

Maddy said: “To the students that participated in marching band this year and stuck with the program despite everything: you did so much more than you had to. I know so many people were frustrated, I know that I was more ready to quit than I ever had been, but those of you that kept showing up and did your best to keep your spirits up, you’re the ones who made everything worth it. Thank you.”

Joe said: “I have three things I'd like to say to the members of the March of the Bearcats. First, I've really enjoyed getting to know everyone and becoming a part of the family this season. Second, I want everyone to know how much their work and dedication meant to myself and to the rest of the leadership. When we all come back to see the band in 30 years, it will still be thriving due to the contributions that the 2019 version of the March of the Bearcats made, even in the face of adversity. Lastly, thanks for the many wonderful memories this season, and I can't wait for the fun to continue in the spring with Pep Band!”

Dr. Octave said: “I am so grateful to all the students participating in the bands at Saint Vincent. Their dedication and energy for playing in these ensembles is great and they add to our athletic events and campus concerts.”

As for me, I would also like to extend an enormous thank you to everybody participating in any of the bands at Saint Vincent College. Music is a great way to form a family and to come together with a shared creative initiative, so I urge any instrumentalists hiding around college to come out and join Marching Band, Concert Band, Pep Band, and Jazz Band.

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