One of the most acclaimed sounds of any American college is the pep band, a tradition of brass and woodwind fanfare that accompanies athletic events. UTD’s Pep Band will soon return to cheer on student athletes and spectators alike.
Ensemble music at UTD stretches back to the 1960s. In the early 2000s, Winston Stone, a clinical professor of arts and humanities, envisioned pre-tournament pep rallies and bleacher bands to inspire student spirit. He would finally have his dream come true in 2009, after winning budget approval and approval from both the Provost Office and Student Activities Center.
Since 2010, it has been a one-credit class provided by the Bass School of AHT, recruiting students that play flute, piccolo, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, mellophone, trombone, bass trombone, marching baritone, sousaphone, bass guitar and drum sets. Since Stone stepped down, Director Lori Gerard has taken a new lead for the Pep Band.
Biology sophomore Allison Bruce transferred from The University of California, Davis only a semester ago and at first was unsure if she’d find a warm welcome at UTD. She began playing tuba at the start of high school before transferring to sousaphone for marching band. Despite being in a male-dominated section, Bruce fell in love with her instruments and had a craving to rekindle her talent in college. After some digging, she found the perfect ensemble, allowing her to explore her passion without taking too much of her time.
“It’s been an eye opening, grateful and friendly atmosphere,” Bruce said, “[Pep Band] has varying skill sets. Some are really easy, some are really hard, so it definitely makes it worth it musically to be in Pep Band. It also makes it worth it socially because we do everything under the sun together.”
Computer science senior Myles Horn has been with the Pep Band since his freshman year, yet he began his musical career 15 years ago with the piano before collecting practice in 12 other instruments and choir singing. The musical protégé found a home in the Pep Band after being approached at freshman orientations and has since been a core pillar of his community, even bringing new music to the bleacher’s fanfare like Frankenstein.”
“I want to say we’re going to be playing 20 songs,” Horn said. “This is the largest the band has ever been, the fullest instrumentation we’ve had. So we actually have the opportunity to play a lot of songs that we didn’t have the people for [beforehand]. And that’s been so much fun, learning some new music.”
Alumnus Clayton Gabel, who is temporarily a research assistant at UTD’s Biological Sciences Program, is best known as the sole piccolo player in the Pep Band. Before his graduation in 2023, he also played six other instruments. When he came to UTD, he started off as one of three flutists in the Pep Band and as a bassoonist for the UTD Wind Ensemble. In between practices and hosting booths for the Pep Band at organization fairs, Gabel said that music was the outlet he needed.
“To be honest, I genuinely feel like Pep Band was like my anchor,” Gabel said. “Throughout my college experience I met all of my best friends there. I’ve had romantic relationships that I built from Pep Band. I think the most profound relationships that I’ve ever had in my life has come from Pep Band. It was a really, really great experience to not only get to play on campus and really grow my love and spirit for UTD, but really just to find a place that I would call home on campus.”
Practicing from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Thursday, the Pep Band plays in the Activity Center for volleyball and basketball home games. They make exclusive additional appearances at National Night Out, Scholars’ Day and Homecoming.
The Mercury has received several requests from athletes and coaches to cover the Pep Band, showing the critical role it plays in Comet culture, which volleyball head coach Zachary Villarreal said makes all the difference when in the thick of a game.
“The midweek games are challenging if we don’t have the Pep Band,” Villarreal said. “So any kind of routine of positive support being thrown out there to make the environment so ecstatic, that would be awesome.”