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The sound of percussive beats pervades the air as drummers bang away with precision on their ►drum pads.
They sit in a charter bus along with their fellow FIU band members, many of them with looks of exhaustion on their faces after a 12-hour practice session the night before. Some doze off, others sit quietly, while others engage in light banter even as the tunes they rehearsed played over and over again in their heads.
“You need to play clean, and don’t worry about being loud. This is the biggest thing that has happened to this band since I’ve been here,” says FIU band director Barry Bernhardt, standing at the front of the bus, motivating the band the way a football coach would rev up a team before a big game.
Last month 40 members of the university’s marching band went to Big Wall Studios to record introduction music for college football games broadcast on the beIN Sports network. The sounds of the band were about to be synonymous with beIN’s coverage of Conference USA football.
As soon as the bus pulled into the cramped studio parking lot, the band was ready to go. They were ready to bring home a win. This was the moment they had spent hours sweating and laboring over.
The band members walked into the studio and got into their formation: Woodwinds in the front, brass to either side and drumline in the back. They took a moment to tune their instruments by playing one of their collective favorite songs, ►“All of the Lights.”
Freshman Dante Alvira was running through the beats the way a football player would run through a playbook. He was ready to get the first recording out of the way and shake off some nerves.
“When we got there and I realized this was actually happening, we were recording for a sports channel, I was excited, but it was also nerve wracking being surrounded by all those microphones,” said the tenors player. “I couldn’t help but be a tad nervous to make sure I was playing my best.”
The drumline would record first and Christian Cruz-Vargas, director of marching percussion, coached them through their session. The sound of clattering drum pads played on the bus earlier that day transformed into a ►coordinated cadence. Bernhardt sat at the front of the studio with closed eyes, carefully listening to them. Often times he’d asked them to stop and start over. He’d ask them to continue playing the same beats until all the notes were perfect. At times the drum line members themselves knew something was off and could be seen shaking their heads, or motivating one another to play to their fullest potential.
“We go over every minimal detail, how chords sound and exact counts. We rehearse it to a metronome and try to emulate that in our rehearsals as much as possible,” said Vargas.
After the beats were perfected, the woodwind and brass players came in. All together they took on one of their toughest opponents, the ►FIU Samba. They played clean and followed Bernhardt’s conducting expertly. With each passing, they played tighter and tighter until eventually they tackled the whole song.
“The rhythms in the FIU Samba are not generally the rhythms that we encounter in most of our marching band music. Since it is a samba with the Latin flare, it does contain rhythms that are very complex, which in turn makes it somewhat difficult to perform,” said Bernhardt.
At the end of the recording session the band was energized. They knew they had performed their best and were bringing home a victory that night. They loaded their instruments back up on the bus and were ready to share everything they had just learned in the studio with the other 105 bandmates.
“Just look at the energy they have right now,” Bernhardt said.
After an exhausting seven hours their lips were chapped, their hands were cramped, their backs were stiff and their feet were aching. But when it was all over, the long night proved to be worth every minute.