Humor and comedy have always been a central part of the Penn Band since its inception in 1897.
This year, two College sophomores, Kylie Murrin and Lauren Mendoza, are leading the Penn Band in that same direction.
Murrin and Mendoza are the Penn Band drum majors, or conductors. They lead the band and keep time. But more importantly, they maintain the energy and spirit of the band.
“We’re the cheerleader within the band,” Murrin said. “The band is basically competent enough to play the music without us usually, but they’re better — I hope so — with us.”
As the band plays songs like Payphone, Accidentally in Love and The Final Countdown, Murrin and Mendoza “jam” in the front.
“We like being the happy [people] up there,” Mendoza said.
Both Murrin and Mendoza — or as the group calls them, K&L — joined the flute and piccolo section of the band their freshmen year. Last year’s drum major happened to also be in the flute section, and Murrin and Mendoza were inspired to give it a try.
At first they were conductor’s assistants, but they then auditioned to be drum majors and took on their new roles last spring.
Mendoza is not new to conducting; she actually conducted in her high school band. When she first got to Penn, she wasn’t sure if she’d join the Penn Band. However, after attending the first football game and feeling like something was missing, she decided to join the band.
Murrin also played in her high school band, but she had never conducted until she became conductor’s assistant at Penn. She jokes that she’s “still playing catch-up with Lauren.”
It was a bit of a “trial by fire” for Murrin when she first started conducting, but she has since become more comfortable with it.
Now that both Mendoza and Murrin have been conducting for some time, they have developed their own unique sense of style.
“Both of them are very smiley and peppy,” Penn Band President and College junior David Kaiser-Jones said. “That’s by far the most important thing.”
But they all admit that Murrin is a bit more “bouncy” and Mendoza is more “rigid” and “precise.”
The function of a marching band drum major traditionally is to conduct the drum line; the drummers in turn keep the beat for the rest of the band. However, Kaiser-Jones explained that the Penn Band is not actually a marching band.
“We don’t march, we scramble,” Kaiser-Jones said. “We’re one of very few bands that scramble. For halftime shows, we have a comedy routine over the loudspeaker, and we run around and form a shape and play a song, and then run around, make a shape and play another song.”
One of the professional band directors, Greer Cheeseman, prides himself on leading the unique Penn band.
“We are the antithesis of your father’s traditional marching band,” he said in an email.
A space for fun
While they do practice two to four hours a week, the band is meant to primarily be a fun outlet, Murrin said.
“The job of the Penn Band is not to be an incredibly talented musical group,” she added.
“If you’re an incredibly talented musician and don’t have a sense of humor, it might be torture,” Kaiser-Jones said. “But we’re lucky enough that I think everyone in the band has enough of a sense of humor that they really love it.”
Mendoza and Murrin both strive to evoke that sense of humor in their conducting.
Even the staff advisors in the Penn Band share this sense of humor and lightheartedness. The three directors of the group are fondly called “Alleged Adults.”
These “Alleged Adults” try to leave as much of the leadership to the students as possible.
“I see myself more as a coach,” Cheeseman — one of the AAs — said. “My job is to make sure the students can handle everything at a performance. I’ll occasionally direct the band at rehearsals or events, but pretty much leave that to the drum majors and student leaders.”
For Cheeseman, working with the students “is a blast.”
“And the best part to me is that I never see them in an academic setting, so I tend to see the ‘real’ student — which is cool,” he said.
Cheering on the Quakers
One of the main roles of the band is to support Penn’s sport teams. Yet, despite the fact that the Penn Band attends every football and men’s basketball game, not all of the band members are sports fanatics.
“A lot of people don’t know a lot about sports,” Murrin said. “They’re there for the music and the atmosphere and the team.”
Mendoza and Kaiser-Jones are two of those members who admit to not knowing all of the rules of the sports. Nonetheless, they are learning to love Penn sports with the help of the band.
“I think I can speak for a large portion of the band when I say that you would feel very naked without being with a band at a sporting event,” Murrin said.
Not only has the Band spirit impacted its own members, but it has even affected Penn tradition. The tradition to throw toast on the field during “High Ball” began in the band.
“Greer and some of his friends started the tradition in the mid to late 1970s,” Kaiser-Jones explained. “They were inspired by the interactive Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where audience members threw toast at the screen.
An open spot for all
While tradition and spirit is crucial to the Penn Band, everyone in the band still takes part in the music in some way, “whether it’s a cowbell or a pair of coconuts or something,” Kaiser-Jones said.
But Kaiser-Jones, Murrin and Mendoza are all quick to note that one doesn’t have to play an instrument to join the group.
Additionally, there are no auditions for Penn Band, and it isn’t mandatory to attend all practices and games.
“You just have to be able to find the band room,” Kaiser-Jones said. “And if you can’t find it, you can call us, and we’ll tell you where it is.”
And while only about 30 percent of the group attends every band function, there are no hard feelings.
“Some people just show up for one game a semester, and we love them just the same,” Murrin said.
One big family
For many students like Murrin, the Penn Band is a loving home.
“The Penn Band is very good at keeping a large family,” Kaiser-Jones said. “We’re super into our alumni relations. If you’re in the band, you’re in the band for life.”
For Kaiser-Jones, the band family actually overlaps with his biological family.
“I’ve wanted to be in the Penn Band as long as I can remember because my mom was in the Penn Band back in the ’70s, and I grew up on band stories,” he said.
Kaiser-Jones is not the only second-generation “bando”. According to Kaiser-Jones, there are two or three more in the current group.
It all goes to show that the Penn Band is really like family, he explained.
For Murrin, her favorite part of the band is “the people, of course — cliche, but true.”
Kaiser-Jones lives with ten other “bandos,” and Murrin makes sure to go to the band’s open lunch every day.
“Because I can’t get enough of those same people,” she said.