Columbus Dispatch, September 25, 2018
Ohio Wesleyan University has its groove back.
The Battling Bishops’ marching band, which vanished in 1962, has been resurrected. Here’s hoping it’ll be making joyful music for decades to come.
The newly formed band, 31 members strong, reappeared in its black and red uniforms during halftime of the Sept. 15 football game against Wooster. Fittingly, music selections featured a “back” theme, including “I Want You Back,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Back to the Future.”
The band’s revival is entrusted to Mary Kate McNally, an energetic 28-year-old who last year earned a master’s degree in music conducting from Kent State University. As an undergraduate at Henderson State University in Arkansas, McNally was a featured trumpet soloist. She previously supervised all aspects of a K-12 music program at a small public school district in her native Colorado.
Such experiences, as both musician and administrator, equip her well for realizing a shared vision with OWU of a broad-based program of performances at athletic events, spirit activities and special events on and off campus.
Marching bands, to be sure, play vital roles in boosting school spirit. But the bands and music education programs they represent have much greater and long-term significance.
Volumes of research validate a correlation between music education and overall student academic performance. In high school and college, music education teaches discipline, memorization, math-related pattern recognition, creativity and teamwork.
“Students in marching bands have better retention rates and higher graduation rates than average,” McNally said. Universities with marching bands and related music programs also have a recruiting advantage, attested to by several of OWU’s new band members.
Kaci Holmes, a psychology major and flute player from Louisiana, said she was not interested in big schools with big bands but wanted to keep playing and marching.
“I had already looked at (OWU). I liked how small it is (1,600 students) but had crossed it off my list because it didn’t have a band,” Holmes said. “When I was told they were starting one, that changed.”
Riana Bierman, a zoology major from Wooster, has a similar story. She was considering Ohio State University but as a flute player would not have had a shot at joining OSU’s all-brass and percussion band. When she learned Ohio Wesleyan was relaunching its band, “that was really the deciding factor for me,” she said.
Holmes and Bierman typify the reality that band members represent a broad cross-section of academic majors. Although she has a handful of music majors, McNally said the most popular major among current band members is zoology. “We also have two astrophysics students . . . We have theater majors, business majors.”
Among this diverse group of student musicians, McNally has seven flutes and no trombones. No sweat. “You make it work,” she said. Like countless small-school band directors, making it work is part of the creative process.
Her goal to double the band’s size and attract and showcase the musical talents of women and minorities is in perfect harmony with the Delaware-based school’s rich tradition of leadership in racial justice and social responsibility. The Methodist-founded school is nationally recognized for promoting servant leadership — locally and globally — among students. That’s some beautiful music.