The Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band alumni band is a University of Maine homecoming tradition that brings together current musicians with alumni for a few rousing numbers before the big game. The alumni group, however, brings together more than old friends – sometimes it brings together families.
Jeff and Sylvia Ferrell of Bucksport, classes of 1993 and 1992, respectively, met in the Black Bear Marching Band, where Jeff played tuba and Sylvia the clarinet. Their daughter, Hannah, is now a senior music education student.
Even before Hannah started at UMaine, she and her brother attended Homecoming with her parents. When she was little, she carried a banner in the front row of the alumni group, but as she got older, she started playing alongside her parents.
Hannah remembers those experiences fondly – and now that she’s a student, she gets even more out of them. Besides being able to play with her parents, Hannah says Alumni Band is a great networking opportunity, especially for aspiring music professionals like her.
“It was just a cool experience meeting people, playing my instrument and reading something different. It was cool to have a different environment to play,” says Hannah Ferrell. “The band is really excited to play with elders and there are quite a few parents of members of the group. It’s always fun when your parents are pretty outgoing, just like their friends.
Jeff and Sylvia have attended Homecoming and performed in Alumni Band nearly every year since graduation, but they say those times have been even more special now that Hannah is a student at UMaine.
“The last four years with Hannah at school have been so much fun. We watch everything she does and we got to relive the whole process through her,” says Jeff Ferrell.
David Walker, Class of ’94, and his son, Andrew, who is currently a sophomore at UMaine, have also had many crossovers in UMaine experiences beyond their time in the Black Bear Marching Band. David, who lives in Gardiner and has been teaching music at Gardiner High School since graduating from UMaine, earned a degree in music education, which is the same degree Andrew is currently pursuing.
“He’s very talented in so many areas of music and UMaine has so many different opportunities for him to foster that love and interest. It was cool to step back as a parent and see him go through some of the same experiences that I had many years ago,” says David Walker. “Thirty years ago if you had told me this is what I would be going through, I wouldn’t have believed you, but to be able to see it and experience it now has been pretty special.”
Andrew recalls David bringing him to performances by the alumni band at past Homecomings and credits him with one of his earliest exposures to quality music, especially when he was able to play himself- same.
“Having the experience of playing in this bigger ensemble when I was just a middle schooler was a really cool experience,” says Andrew Walker. “If I wanted to pursue music as a profession, I knew I wanted to do it at UMaine.”
Of course, they don’t follow exactly the same path: David plays the trumpet and Andrew plays the trombone. Plus, says David, the ensemble is a little bigger and the uniforms have been updated over the decades since he was a student.
“What’s the same is always the enthusiasm the band members seem to have for the marching band and experiencing their energy to the games, how they bring energy to bring the games to life, I think it’s the same even though their set is bigger than ours before, I think we brought just as much energy and excitement to the games,” says David Walker.
This year marks the first time freshman Mikaela Spooner will play her tenor saxophone in the Alumni Band, along with her parents, Laurie and David Spooner, Classes of 1996 and 1994 respectively, who now live in New Sweden. Laurie and David met in the marching band — they said with intense rehearsal schedules and bonding opportunities, it’s no wonder so many marriages come out of the marching band — and Mikaela’s godparents are also alumni of the Black Band Marching Band.
Mikaela says that more than the music itself, her parents’ stories about the Black Bear Marching Band made her want to join.
“I grew up listening to my parents talk about it. This was a decisive factor in choosing to go to UMaine,” says Mikaela. “I hope I can look back on it with as much fondness as my parents. I have found that most of the friends I have made so far have been in a band with me.
Many Spooners stories included producer and bandleader Chris White, who started college in 1993 and also leads the UMaine Symphonic Band and the Screamin’ Black Bears Pep Band. David Spooner admits there were some adjustments when White first joined the marching band, which used to be more student-run and less structured, but ultimately the players came to like it and continue to have a relationship with him today. David Spooner says some of his fondest memories involve traveling and playing with White as he led the cheering band at UMaine Hockey Team’s first national championship win in Milwaukee.
Current students also love and respect White. Mikaela says she laughs every time she hears White begin a story her parents have told her a million times before. Andrew says White was also an inspiration to his future career aspirations in music education.
“He is very passionate about what he does. It’s a relationship I would love to have later in life, whether it’s working on a play with my students or seeking advice on what to do. Seeing him interact with both alumni and the current student population, it’s really cool to see how he works,” says Andrew.
White says mentoring the kids of players he taught in his early years at UMaine is an “honor.”
“Every year when the marching band meets for the first time, I tell the students to look around the room and say, ‘Your best friends from your college years are probably sitting in this room right now. Maybe even that your life partner is here right now. These families certainly show there’s some truth behind that statement,” White says. “Knowing that during my tenure as program director, people continue to see the value and want their kids to be a part of it, it’s humbling to know that support for the marching band spans generations and I hope it continues long after I’m the program guardian.
These legacy families of the Black Bear Marching Band are all excited for the group of alumni at this weekend’s reunion. The alumni will gather and practice early in the morning to prepare a few songs to perform on their own before joining the current marching band for a song or two – one of which, of course, will include the “Stein Song”.
David Spooner says that for parents playing alongside their children – whether for the first time or the fourth – the overwhelming feeling is, understandably, one of pride.
“We are proud of the group, but we have never been prouder than we are this year.”
Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]