Marching band to perform at Heisman gala

The Syracuse University Marching Band will play the fight songs from three other universities as well as the SU alma mater at the 77th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Gala.

About 40 section leaders from the Syracuse University “Pride of the Orange” Marching Band will share a Manhattan conference room with Vinny Testaverde, Eric Crouch and other football dynamos at Monday’s 77th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Gala.

Jon Gesicki, a senior trombone section leader, took his engineering final three days early so he could make the trip.

“We’re going to a nationally televised event – if you think about it, hundreds of colleges and universities across the country and hundreds of university bands could have been invited,” he said. “But they chose only one, and that was Syracuse University.”

Every year, the Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded to a college football player who embodies “great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work,” according to the Heisman Trophy website. The ESPN family of networks will broadcast selections of this year’s gala.

The SUMB will play Baylor University’s fight song to honor this year’s Heisman winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III, in addition to the Nebraska and University of Miami fight songs to honor former winners Eric Crouch and Vinny Testaverde.

Syracuse will be honored twice on Monday as Ernie Davis, famed former SU running back, will be recognized posthumously for his trophy. According to the Syracuse football webpage, Davis, better known as “The Elmira Express,” became the first black Heisman recipient in 1961. The SUMB will pay tribute to Davis with the university’s Alma Mater.

“Being a senior coming to the end, the Alma Mater means a lot to me now,” Gesicki said. “It’s the university’s Alma Mater, it’s my Alma Mater . . . it’s probably the most meaningful thing I’ll play.”

Justin Mertz, SUMB director and assistant director of bands at SU, said in a press release that remembering Davis makes the performance all the more fitting.

“We are thrilled to participate in such a high-profile event, especially given the fact that we will have the chance to honor one of our own – the legendary Ernie Davis,” he said.

Mertz said the band played the gala in 2007 and was asked back this year because of an ongoing relationship with coordinators who recognized proficiency when they saw it.

Since this year’s Heisman winner was announced Saturday, the SUMB has been practicing the fight songs of all five contenders’ schools – Wisconsin, Baylor, Stanford, LSU and Alabama – for over a month.

In addition to the fight songs, the band will perform the eight songs they use to stoke the crowd on SU’s quad before games and the repertoire from their last halftime show, including “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye.

Sam Brickfield, a senior drum major, conducts the band on the field during games.

He said he feels ready, but not nervous.

“At SU we’ve performed for a lot of different people, lots of crowds of 30 or 40 thousand,” Brickfield said. “Once you get going and get the air moving through the instruments it becomes much more comfortable . . . it will feel just like any other gig.”

Brickfield added that other schools’ fight songs are tricky to learn but must be performed like it’s their own. “That’s kind of the goal of having us there – just making it feel like a home environment for whoever the winner is,” he said.

Elizabeth DiFabio, a junior flute section leader, said her excitement for making the trip and playing the Gala overshadows her nerves.

“You don’t just play music –- you perform it,” she said. “The songs we’re playing wouldn’t be entertaining if we just read them and played them straight … you have to put in the emotion or else no one can feel it.”

Mertz said he is confident his team will shine for Syracuse.

“It’s a really good thing we have going on here and we’re just so thrilled we can take it on the road and show it to people,” he said.


Video: Vinny Derise, Xiaodan Meng, Katrina Caraboolad

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