Playing for pride: Lafayette Pep Band conducts school spirit

Rachel Robertson

Clad in Lafayette maroon with arms waving wildly, senior Ryan Dupuis has total control of the situation that is unfolding on the court of Kirby Sports Arena—or at least what is happening next to it.

A fixture at all home basketball games, thirty-some Lafayette students decked out with their instrument of choice are ready, not to play basketball but to cheer on their fellow Leopards from the stands next to the Lafayette bench.  

Until two years ago, the band was run by a faculty advisor who made many decisions for the group. After that professor left the school, the group had to quickly transition to functioning as a completely student-run organization. The club has remained that way since. Their current faculty advisor, Kirk O’Riordan, works only to coordinate logistics with administration, give feedback and support the band at their performances.

Unlike some bigger bands, such as Lehigh’s Marching 97, who can recruit for certain instruments to maintain a consistent sound, Lafayette’s pep band is dependent on whichever instruments interested students can play. This impacts the song choices of the band. For example, a song with a strong trombone part might be problematic for a pep band with only one or two trombones, according to Dupuis, who is the conductor of the band.

The pep band has a large archive of songs from years past, but looks to refresh their choices every year buy purchasing the rights to a few new songs that can then be added to their growing repertoire, said sophomore Peri Chain, who is the assistant conductor.

While each pep band member has a personal favorite to play, Chain, Dupuis and senior pep band president Joe Cericola unanimously agree that the band’s favorite song to perform is “Hey Baby,” which allows the members to take a departure from the usual and add singing to their performance.

“And the tubas love it,” said Chain, and then began scatting the tuba part.

Current setlists include “Carry On My Wayward Son,” “Crazy Train,” “Seven Nation Army” and “Hey Ya.” A special set of songs played by a subset of the band called Pride Jazz allows the musicians to play with both improvisation and jazz classics during halftime of basketball games.

Cericola says that this set is a bit of an homage to famous jazz bandleader Maynard Ferguson, whose arrangements of jazz standards such as “Birdland,” “Coconut Champagne” and “Honk” not only provide fun orchestrations for the group, but have also inspired the band to work in their own arrangements, such as a mash up of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon” and “Gonna Fly Now,” the intro to the movie “Rocky.”

Song choice is usually a consideration of what the band wants to play and what they think the crowd wants to hear, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. During those times, the band breaks out the motivational classics of “Dont’ Stop Believing” or “Living on a Prayer” to show their support for their athlete peers.

The group also takes the job of distracting the other team seriously, serenading them with the “Happy Birthday” song or having one particular member scream “Your hair is on backwards!” while opposing players shoot free throws.

The pep band, while they pride themselves on providing school spirit and, well, pep, is a group that is aware of the challenges they face as a secondary attraction at Lafayette sporting events.

“We know [the Lafayette College Athletics Department] appreciates us… but professors have come up to us saying ‘The band sounds great but it’s a shame you have to fight for playing time.’ If people can notice that, then that’s just bad in my mind,” Dupuis said.

While a little bit more time to show off their musical abilities would be appreciated by the band, they maintain that their goal is to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
“First and foremost, we just try to have a lot of fun,” Cericola said. “It never has to be too serious and we’re just there to add some energy to the crowd.”