Posted September 11, 2014
By DYLAN WEEMS
It’s nine o’ clock in the morning on a Saturday at the University of Miami and a tall, wiry man with black hair pulled back into a short ponytail stands on a scissor lift overlooking the intramural fields with an intense but prideful gaze.
Below him stands a group of 180 college students standing perfectly at attention, listening intently to his every word.
These students collectively make up University of Miami’s Frost Band of the Hour, and the man standing on the lift is Prof. Jay Rees, the director of athletic bands.
While this is Rees’ first year at the helm of the Frost Band of the Hour, he is no stranger to the University of Miami. Rees was graduated from “The U” in 1984 with a degree in jazz performance and music education.
From there he moved to Los Angeles to perform in various musical groups before finding his home as the director of athletic bands at the University of Arizona.
During his time there, he was able to build the program larger than ever and gain national recognition as one of the best bands in the country. He hopes to apply the same strategies that brought success in Tucson to his new home in Coral Gables. His philosophy is simple, yet straightforward,
“I really just view myself as a musician who cares very deeply about excellence and cares very deeply about students pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to understand what excellence really takes,” he explained.
To demonstrate just how much Rees cares for the band, he has developed an unconventional, albeit unforgettable, method to get his point across.
“I am happy to throw myself down on the ground and eat dirt to show people what it takes to be exceptional.”
Yes, he literally does just that. It was safe to say that the students had never seen anything like that before. Junior Loren Tanksley, the trumpet section leader, quickly realized that a major change was coming this season.
“The biggest difference in rehearsals is the intensity and expectations of students. Anything below excellence is not accepted and that is repeatedly made clear to students.”
In order to achieve this excellence, the band arrived on campus two weeks early and began a series of grueling 13 hour rehearsals. From nine in the morning to 10 at night, the band played and marched around the field at the mercy of the hot sun. Some members dropped out, but the ones who stayed saw a world of difference in the quality of their performance.
It was not an easy task to make it through those long days, but despite exhaustion, the band knew it had to push through to keep the new director happy.
“Bodies become fatigued and minds distracted” Tanksley stated, “Nonetheless absolutely focus and excellence are expected at all times.”
Rees has taken note of the effort that the band has put into making the show great. He feels that they are “in a completely different place heading into the first game than most bands…these kids are working hard and really buying in to what it takes to be great.”
Rees has also been lauded by his colleagues. Charles Damon, assistant director of programs at the Frost School of Music, admires that he “lives, eats and drinks marching band, he’s preparing all the time, he’s that marching band guy.”
Well, “that marching band guy” is incredibly excited for the first football game and is bringing a new flavor to the Frost Band of the Hour in the form of a unique first show.
The band will be performing music by Daft Punk. For fans of marching band, this will certainly seem like an odd choice, but Rees thinks it’s the right one.
“I like to do things that are current and/or unusual, marching band can be pretty cheesy, let’s face it”, Rees said. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do something different.”
There is going to be a huge difference in the visuals of the show as well. Instead of traditionally performing with the center of the band on the 50 yard line, the show will take place directly in front of the student section, a concept that Rees says has never been done before, and will feature exceedingly intricate maneuvers that will keep the performance exciting.
This is undoubtedly the future of the Frost Band of the Hour and Rees can’t wait to show the entire university just what the band has in store.
“We want to get the students really excited about their band. It’s their band, it’s their football team, it’s their university. We want them to be excited as possible about their entire college experience,” he said.