On paper, Franciscan University’s newest music ensemble, its pep band – which for the first time in the school’s history augments athletic competitions with numbers already characteristic of Division I competition – fosters student involvement, promotes school spirit and provides musical opportunity.
However, if you’re freshman JP Soulliere, sacred music and philosophy double major, 2017 Priestly Discernment Program inductee and driving force behind the creation of the ensemble itself, you have a different goal in mind.
“Let’s bring the hype.”
It’s a simple explanation for what otherwise proved an extensive task; to form the inaugural Franciscan pep band was to first establish its foundation.
Soulliere said, “There was so much to do: you had to start the club, you had to get approval and you had to write up the constitution.” Student government approval and the composition of a constitution proved straightforward in comparison to the band’s next formative steps.
Given the fact that the pep band remains in its infancy, Soulliere found himself playing with composition to maximize output. “I’ve actually had to rearrange some of the music myself; I put saxophones, clarinets and flutes on melody with trumpet” he said, all of which allowed for multiple instruments to together carry a stronger sound.
Soulliere cited the positive influence of Pete Rosaschi, head men’s lacrosse coach and assistant athletic director for GameDay and Marketing, who served as an instrumental advocate toward allowing the pep band to find its place come performance time. Also fundamental in the pep band’s success was faculty advisor Romand DuBois, who holds a doctorate in sacred music.
Soulliere founded the pep band as virtually an independent undertaking, encouraged by the direction his life seemed to be taking at the conclusion of his high school endeavors.
“My senior year, I definitely wanted to become a band director in the long run. God had other plans, so he sent me (to Franciscan), and I was really devastated that we didn’t have any instrumental music programs other than piano and organ.”
Inspired by a desire to diversify musical opportunity at Franciscan University and bolstered by conversations held with his high school band director, Soulliere said he “took baby steps” until the pep band was born. Today, the band is characterized by a variety of instruments.
“We’ve got a drumline getting together” said Soulliere, “a fairly small brass section, and our woodwind section is pretty big.”
Student reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. “The (Finnegan) Fieldhouse loves us,” said Soulliere. Under the direction of both Soulliere and Rosaschi, the pep band will hereafter be joined by an accompanying student section, bolstered by the fact that the freshman has composed something truly special, which he plans to debut at the 8 p.m. Franciscan University and Penn State-Altoona women’s basketball showdown on Jan. 31.
“I’ve written our fight song,” said Soulliere, a statement accompanied by an undeniable smile. “We have not had a fight song in our history.” A pep band representative will remain stationed at the doors pre-game to direct students to the new cheering section, in anticipation of the song’s debut. The student director himself aims to distribute sheets with lyrics before the game’s opening tipoff.
He hopes to add both diversity of music and of instruments in years to come. Future funding would allow for the purchase of more musical numbers, including more recognizable tunes. “I’d like to get some more popular songs in there, things people can sing or chant to,” said Soulliere.
Soulliere envisions parallel band growth. Off-seasons, periods of the academic year during which the band has no scheduled performances, will allow Soulliere the luxury of rehearsals and the addition of new instruments. He hopes to maintain a positive relationship with local high school Catholic Central, which he said “is actually letting us borrow their instruments. … That’s where all of our drums came from, plus another trombone, a trumpet and some other instruments,” said Soulliere.
Those interested in joining the pep band and can handle the band’s twice-a-week, one hour practices should answer the band’s online social media advertisements or contact Soulliere for more information. Given his penchant for installing an entirely new genre of music onto a campus primed for a new flavor of school spirit, he shouldn’t be difficult to find.