Marching Band is a ‘University Jewel’
Marching Band is a ‘University Jewel’

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

Jason DeGroff’s first recruiting call for the UNH marching band was to Dean Velodota ’14.

When DeGroff was named band director, midway through the spring semester in 2010, the Charger Marching Band had 20 members. “So I called Dean, and his first question was `how many trumpets do you have?’ DeGroff said. “I told him we had four.” Velodota responded that there were 18 trumpets in his high school band.

Jason DeGroff has overseen the marching band's growth to nearly 170 members.

Undeterred, DeGroff countered, “If you come to UNH, we’ll have five and that’s a 25 percent increase.”

Velodato did, and today he is one of three drum majors in the Charger Marching Band. Where there once were 20 band members, there are now 168.

These days, the band is everywhere – performing at building dedications and other special events. They walk together to home football games and play for Charger tailgaters – whose numbers now include more than 75 band parents – all before they do a halftime show created by DeGroff that has fans dancing in the stands.

“With passion, anything is possible,” Velodota said. “The growth and success of our band are directly related to the efforts and determination of our director. His passion plays a huge role in recruiting.”

This fall, at the dedication of John and Leona Gehring Hall, President Steve Kaplan praised the lively and robust band performance and thanked DeGroff for his “incredible leadership.” As for the band’s remarkable growth, Kaplan said, “Let’s keep it going!”

“We barely fit in the stands anymore at the football games,” said Andrea Lee ’14, the tuba section leader. “I can't go a day without seeing a handful of other band members or having someone talk to me about our performance at the last football game.”

Administrators say the band has made a decided impact, building community spirit across campus. “As a Division II institution, we put a strong emphasis on supporting a positive game environment,” said Deborah Chin, associate vice president and director of athletics and recreation. “At New Haven, the marching band is at the forefront of this initiative to not only providing fun and energizing performances but also to engage many different parts of our campus. The band’s enthusiasm and abilities have grown exponentially over the last five years, and I can’t wait for another show this Saturday!”

Rebecca Johnson, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said the marching band “is a University jewel that brings smiles to all who see and hear them perform.”

With the band in demand at events all over campus and beyond, longtime donors Sam and Lois Bergami provided a donation so the band could purchase polo shirts for informal performances when full band uniforms aren’t needed. Sam ’85 EMBA is a member of the Board of Governors and former Board chair.

“We have been very fortunate to have such tremendous support at the University, from the president to the vice presidents to the music department and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences,” DeGroff said. “As the band becomes more visible, support is coming from other sources as well. Sam and Lois Bergami’s generosity means so much to all of us involved with the band. We will wear the shirts with pride."

When DeGroff arrived at UNH, his goals were to increase band membership to 100 in five years and to 150 in 10 years. In only four years, he’s exceeded both and, with 75 first-year students in the band this year, the Chargers are on track to top 210 members next fall. “That would be almost five percent of our undergraduate student body – that would be amazing,” DeGroff said.

In comparison, Ohio State University’s highly touted marching band has 225 members with an undergraduate student body of nearly 44,000.

With a rigorous practice and game schedule, the band is quite a time commitment, but band members say that’s how they like it. “While I'm at marching band, I am outside, playing music and getting some exercise, which is refreshing,” Lee said. “I don't see it as work, which makes it easier for me to make time for it. I even go back to my room humming the show.”

DeGroff, who started his own drill design business 20 years ago, has designed the music and movement for all of the Charger’s shows and created movement designs for college and high school marching bands around the country.

Band is his career, his passion, even part of his family life. He met his wife at UMass when he was in the band, and she was part of the color guard. He encourages students to take on leadership roles as one of the 15 student section leaders.

DeGroff’s interest in band is infectious, says Rachel Coniglio, a first-year student and member of the color guard. She counts “tons of band members” as her good friends.

“If you meet our band director and talk to him for an hour, you would want to join in the band as well,” she said. “He makes it sound like it’s so much fun and so worth joining, which it is, of course.”

Bookmark and Share

Back to the Front Page