Elizabeth City State’s newest director of bands wants the Vikings to march in a new direction: toward membership levels the band hasn’t seen since the 1970s.
In 1977, the program had about 150 band members. Since then, the number has fluctuated over the years but has failed to again reach that benchmark. Currently, there are about 60 active band members.
“It’s been inconsistent over the past seven or eight years with membership,” said Tomisha Brock, who was named ECSU’s new director of bands in December. “I think the largest they had in that timeframe was about 80 to 90 members.”
This fall, Brock hopes to again recruit 150 new members to the program. The number was set, she said, after researching the band program’s history and talking to former band directors and members.
“I feel it’s reachable,” Brock said. “Realistically, we are expecting marching 128 band members this year and anything else is a bonus. We don’t want to have a drastic change. We want to have gradual growth.”
To reach the ambitious goal she has set for this fall, Brock has gotten a jumpstart on the school’s recruiting season, and her band department has already visited high schools throughout the state.
Usually, Brock said, most band programs don’t know their membership numbers until June. But with the early recruiting effort, ECSU has a good idea of what its projected band membership total will be this fall.
“So far we have 138,” she said. “We’ll probably lose some after auditions, however, we expect to gain them in other areas of the band.”
“Campus-wide and community-wide,” she added, “people are excited and eager to see what’s going to happen.”
The news is music to the ears of some alumni members who used to be ECSU band members.
“I was surprised we’re at where we are so soon,” said Russell Atstupenas, ECSU’s percussion instructor and a former band member at the school.
Atstupenas said for those who used to belong to the school’s band program, the increase in membership is heartwarming. Brock’s husband, Joplin Brock, is also a former ECSU band member and the program’s current assistant director of bands.
“It’s a passion for us,” Atstupenas said, referring to alumni band members still active in the program. “Because we did graduate from that school and that marching band, and we want to see it the best it can be.”
“That was our goal,” he added. “To get ECSU’s name back out there and in the mind of the high school musicians.”
Although, Atstupenas said, it’s a fine line on whether early recruits will end up coming to the school, he’s hopeful about this fall. Students are still coming in, he said, and sending in their admissions papers. The band program will continue their recruitment efforts until the end of August.
“The marching band is the biggest ambassador for the school,” Atstupenas said, adding that he is thrilled to see the band membership jump from about 60 students last year to up to 150 during the upcoming school year.
Brock has set another ambitious goal for 2013. By then, she wants to add between 150 and 200 band members.
Until then, maintaining the increase will be important and Brock also plans to focus on band member retention in the newly expanded program.
“Gradual growth is important for retention purposes,” Brock said. “You are building and improving on your numbers year after year and it’s something you are consistently improving over a long period of time.”
Rita Frankenberry is a correspondent for The Daily Advance