By Emily Clute
Published November 12, 2019
At a recent practice, the 42 members of the UAlbany Marching Band took to Bob Ford Field, under the bright stadium lights, for a chilly night of meticulous formations and songs from Mamma Mia!
The Marching Great Danes made their debut on September 14, 2013, the day the new Bob Ford Field was ready for its opening game.
“When the football team moved up in division and we got the new stadium, they wanted a marching band, so they asked me to do that,” says Kevin Champagne, the Marching Bands leader.
Champagne, or “Champ” as the band members call him, has been working at UAlbany since 2003, when he began leading the UAlbany Pep Band.
Champagne’s work in music isn’t strictly with the university, though.
Working at Lansingburgh Central School District since 1988 as a Band Director, leading bands from the elementary to the high school level, including a jazz ensemble, concert bands, and the pit orchestra for the school musicals, Champagne is an experienced leader.
Champagne also has a long history of performing across New York State, from solo classical guitar performances to singing with the Westminster Choir College at Carnegie Hall.
The band’s rehearsals begin in August, a week before the fall semester, and carry through until the last home game of the football season.
The season begins with a five-day “band camp” where the band learns most of the techniques and music they’ll use for the season during long, twelve-hour days of practice.
Throughout the semester, the band practices twice a week on Monday and Wednesday evenings. On game days, they practice from 8 a.m. until game time.
Matthew DiStefano, a senior majoring in Business Administration, is the band’s drum major. As drum major, he is responsible for conducting the band, running rehearsals, keeping the band on schedule, and even has a hand in putting together some of their shows.
“I was picked by my colleagues in the marching band last semester to have this position,” DiStefano says, “So it is an honor for me to do this and put on excellent shows in front of so many fans that come out to all the games.”
Sophia Theodorou, a senior psychology and sociology major, serves as an assistant to the drum major and is the band’s flute section leader. Throughout her four years of playing the piccolo in the Marching Great Danes, she feels the band has given her a lot.
“Definitely the people in the band have impacted me, I’ve made a lot of friends,” Theodorou says. “It’s taught me a lot of leadership skills, and to be able to be an extrovert and speak and lead.”
Being a member of the Marching Great Danes has helped a lot of new students acclimate to life on campus.
“I’ve gotten to meet a lot more people than I thought I would,” says Ronni Tribuzio, a freshman Theatre major and member of the color guard. “Comparing my beginning of freshman year to other freshmen, the amount of people that I know is ridiculous, and the amount of people I can rely on makes you feel really comfortable being here.”
The band has given students a fun and creative space to meet and bond with new people.
“So it’s honestly made me feel like I have such a great community to go to, especially so early on in my college education,” Tribuzio says.
Shelby Deere, a fifth-year Theatre major and recent UAlbany transfer, credits the marching band with helping her make her new campus a home.
“It’s helped me with time management a lot,” Deere says. “It’s also helped me make a lot of new friends— more than I thought I was ever going to make in my entire life.”
The Marching Great Danes can be seen performing at all home football games, an annual Christmas parade in Delmar, and various events across campus.
The Marching Band is open to UAlbany students of all musical talent levels, even those who have never played an instrument before. For more information, or to submit an interest form, visit the band’s official page on ualbanysports.com.
The band also fundraises throughout the year. To purchase their gear, you can visit https://ualbanymarch.weebly.com.