New director brings energy, vision to FIU Marching Band

The FIU Marching Band is about to add a touch of the Super Bowl, major college football bowl games, Major League Baseball’s Opening Day and other high profile events to its act.

That’s the type of experience and showmanship new FIU Marching Band director Barry Bernhardt brings to FIU and its musical players.

“He knows where he is going,” snare drummer Omar Bham said of Bernhardt. “He has a vision and we all see it. He has a whole bunch of traditions he is trying to create and we’re ready to follow.”

Bernhardt, who has been a band director for 26 years – the last 20 years at Southeast Missouri State, was hired this summer to lead the FIU Marching Band.

Bernhardt is also a consultant for Bowl Games of America where he has choreographed bands that played the BCS National Championship halftime show along with the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Gator Bowl and four other bowl games.

In addition, Bernhardt has choreographed Opening Day shows for the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.

As the band director at Cal State Long Beach, Bernhardt got his start by helping choreograph the Super Bowl XXII halftime show in San Diego.

“If we want to make it to the big time, which we can here, we have to act like it and we have to do it from day 1,” Bernhardt said. “We have to invest in the kids.”

Bernhardt has started with the basics, such as having the band members taught proper breathing techniques.

Patrick Sheridan, a tuba teacher at UCLA and Bernhardt’s friend, was at FIU two days this summer teaching wind players how to use air and how to focus their air.

“I knew if we are going to do it the right way we have to start the right way by having somebody like him come in and teach us that,” Bernhardt said. “It’s going to take our 100-piece band and make them sound like a 180-piece band. It’s changed already in the past 48 hours how the kids think of things. Plus, they feel pretty special that I brought one of the best guys in the country to come in and teach them.”

Said Bham: “[Bernhardt] has the experience to take us where we want to go and he’s looking to take us national to compete with other bands. Learning the basics is the first step to becoming a great band.”

The band hit the ground running this summer, practicing 12-plus hours from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break in the days leading up to the start of the semester.

The band returns to the football field Sept. 11 when the Panthers open the 2010 season against Rutgers in an 8 p.m. game at FIU Stadium.

For the opening game Bernhardt is having a U.S. flag shipped in that covers the entire football field.

Over the next two or three years, Bernhardt will create an image for the band. This year, however, he wants to keep things simple for the 110-member band.

“We’ve kind of gone generic this year, because it’s usually been called the Golden Panther Marching Band. The Band of the Sun. It’s not that. We’re just going to call it the FIU Marching Band,” Bernhardt said.

The band will have a new uniform this year with guayabera shirts, khaki pants and straw hats.

Bernhardt said the band will eventually play a wide variety of music. However, for the first couple of games “it will be pretty much music from Carlos Santana and other music that most people know”.

Bernhardt is also working on adding another fight song in addition to the one used before.

“A friend of mine in New York that is a composer is writing another FIU fight song not that we will do away with the one that we use,” Bernhardt said. “Every big school has more than one fight song. Notre Dame has three. I have to continue to build that tradition with the band.”

Bernhardt added that the band is learning how to sing the alma mater in four-part harmony like a choir. He would like for it to be one of the traditions that hopefully spreads to the student body.

The band will also play at each FIU home basketball game and by next season will be divided into two bands (the Blue band and the Gold band) for the basketball games in order to give band members some time off. Both bands would play together for all football home games.

Bernhardt’s goal is to have close to a 200-member band by next year and 300 band members in three to four years.

“This man knows how to put a marching band on the field and that’s what we needed,” said Catherine Rand, director of bands. “I love his personality. When you teach band you have to have a great personality that is going to draw students and that is going to be wonderful for us.”

— Pete Pelegrin