By David Lias
The weather outside was threatening to become frightful in Vermillion Sunday afternoon.
That didn’t stop the 57-members of the USD Symphonic Band from performing, as scheduled, that afternoon in Slagle Hall’s Aalfs Auditorium.
Blizzard conditions did, however, for the band and it’s three directors – Dr. Rolph Olson, Dr. Gary Reeves and Dr. Jonathan Alvis – from leaving immediately after the concert for the Black Hills.
“We’ll be blasting off early in the morning (Monday). We were planning to leave about an hour after the concert and head out the Hills, and we had three concerts scheduled tomorrow (Monday, Feb. 11) in Rapid City,” Olson said. “What we’re hoping for now, since I-90 is closed, is that in the morning it will be open and that we can get out there and maybe make our afternoon concert on Monday.”
The USD Symphonic Band makes such a journey every year to various cities in the region, to perform and hopefully strike a chord with young people.
“We do this every year. We recruit in a similar manner to athletics. In addition to sharing good music with high school students, it’s a great recruiting tool,” Olson said. “We hope that when those students hear our band play, they’ll think, ‘Gee, I want to be in that band.’ If they’re interested in coming to USD, then we want them to know what the opportunities are for them to participate in music here.”
These on-the-road concerts stoke, in many students, a desire to participate in music on a collegiate level that’s already been smoldering.
In some instances, however, the performances provide the needed spark among a few high schoolers who hadn’t even been contemplating music participation as they plan their studies after graduating.
Occasionally, some of the students haven’t thought, seriously, about attending USD, Olson said, “but when they hear our band play, they think, ‘ Ok, maybe I better check that place out. That’s pretty cool,’ and they’ll end up coming here even though they didn’t have USD originally on their list.
“In addition, it’s a neat way for our students to get out and play,” he said.
In the last four years, the USD Symphonic Band has toured to schools in the Omaha, NE, Des Moines, IA, and Minneapolis, MN, areas.
“And now, we’re including the Black Hills. We’re trying to reach out a little further than just 50 miles across the border line,” Olson said. “We’re trying to attract some students from larger, metropolitan areas.
“In addition, we do like to make some shorter runs – last year we made some trips out to the Sioux Falls area, and we try to hit some of the smaller schools in the area, too,” he said. “We’ve gone to Beresford, and Akron (IA) and to some other small schools just across the border in Iowa.”
On the way home to Vermillion from the Black Hills, the USD musicians stopped to perform for high school students in Pierre and at Platte-Geddes.
“Another thing that I try to do is visit the home schools of some of the band members,” Olson said. “One of the soloists in the brass group is from Rapid City, and unfortunately, his school is Rapid City Central which was supposed to be first thing in the morning (on Monday), and we’re not going to get to play at his home school. Occasionally, I think about that if we have some seniors in the band. We almost always have somebody in the band from a town we’re going to play for.”
If all went as expected according to plans that were revised Sunday afternoon, the Symphonic Band performed at St. Thomas More High School in Rapid City Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, the band played at high schools in Sturgis, Spearfish and Hot Spring.
“We’ll drive to Pierre on Tuesday night, stay over and play at Pierre High School Wednesday morning,” Olson said, “and we’ll be at Platte-Geddes Wednesday afternoon and then we’ll head home.
“We’ll do six school visits instead of eight because of the weather,” he said. “It will be good to do that. The band does tour every year – some years a little further away than others. It depends partly on our budget, and we try to get to areas in the region that we haven’t been to before. It’s a good thing to do – it’s good for the school and it’s good for the students. It’s good for everyone involved.”
This is Olson’s fourth year as director of the USD Symphonic Band, and in that time, he’s learned the importance of promotion and marketing of the group.
“One of the things I want to do is make the band a little more visible,” he said.