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October 4, 2011
By Nonie Wainwright
The atmosphere of any University of Nevada, Reno athletic event has been illuminated with the sounds of Wolf Pack school spirit since 1981, when the “Pride of the Sierra,” the University of Nevada Wolf Pack Marching Band, was established. This year, three years after the 2008 budget cut threat of program elimination, the Wolf Pack Marching Band has a new director and reinvigorated mission. Director of Athletic Bands, William Plenk, has many goals, but at the top of his list is a bigger and louder marching band that will bring the community and the campus together as one.
Plenk received his bachelor’s degree in tuba performance at Ithaca College in New York and received his master’s degree in tuba performance and doctorate in wind conducting at the University of California, Los Angeles became involved with music at a young age.
“It’s actually kind of funny. I chose to play the tuba in fourth grade because I knew it was too large to take home and practice,” Plenk said. “As it turned out, I developed a passion for the tuba and for music, now, here I am, 17 years later, and I have to carry two tubas wherever I go.”
After five years as the teaching assistant with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, Plenk knew he wanted to pursue his passion to teach music as a band director. Now, in his first year at the University of Nevada, Reno, Plenk has developed a vision for the marching band that extends far past his initial year.
“We want to sound great, look great, and become a fixture in the community at large,” Plenk, director of the marching, pep and symphonic bands, and conducting instructor, said. “We are here to support the University and we can do that in many ways.”
Part of Plenk’s vision has already come to fruition as 35 new members have joined the band making the total count of musicians 130, the biggest band the University has had in several years. Over the past 30 years, more than 3,500 students have played in the program.
“People will notice our larger size and the impact of our sound,” Plenk said.
Another goal for this year is to be at more events. Also new is the branding of the pep band. The pep band, now the “Howlers,” is a smaller band that plays at other, non-marching events and has already played at a soccer game and a few volleyball games.
“We want to all work together,” said Plenk. “The athletic department, the cheer squad, the students, the faculty and the community, we are all part of the game-day experience.”
This year, the Howlers pep band members will wear a specially designed band jersey.
“It’s athletic looking,” Plenk said. “As well as hip and fresh, something the band will wear any time we are not marching.”
Joselle Benitez, a psychology major and human development and family studies minor has been involved with the marching band since 2007 when she played the piccolo. In 2009, she started her role as drum major and has seen the band go through many transformations.
“After we were pending elimination in 2008, we have really shaped our program,” Benitez said. “We got people to stay on because of their passion for the music and for what we do.”
Benitez believes that Plenk is setting the foundation for the future. He has incorporated concerns and encouraged student leadership and faculty to take the program to the next level.
“He is very open to any ideas; he asks our input, and he likes to listen,” Benitez said. “We all contribute now.”
To Benitez, the marching band is like family.
“You don’t get to choose who is in your family or the obstacles you have overcome,” she said. “We are still here, we are loud and proud and that’s who our family is.”
As the Wolf Pack Marching Band begins to accomplish set goals and its size grows, fundraising efforts will also increase.
Currently the band is distributing fundraising envelopes at home games to raise money for scholarships, travel expenses for away games, guest clinicians and equipment.
“Currently, no part of our budget is specifically designated for travel, so as we go forward, we’ll have to fundraise to pay for the bulk of those expenses,” Plenk said. “The long-term goal is to alternate traveling to our rivals, UNLV and Boise, each year.”
The Wolf Pack Marching Band is supported by a $5 surcharge on all football season ticket sales.
“Most of our budget is generated by Athletics, but comes directly from Wolf Pack fans,” Plenk said. “Without ticket sales and support from the fans, the marching band would not exist today.”
The University College of Liberal Arts and Department of Music also support the bands’ operating budget.
“It’s not about what we have done, but where we will go from here,” Plenk said. “I want students to feel challenged, and at the end, feel that they have accomplished something.”
Nonie Wainwright is a performing arts graduate assistant in the School of the Arts.