By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Kids coming out of high schools with no marching band have no chance to be a part of a collegiate marching band.
Just ask Jay Niebrugge.
The 2016 graduate of St. Anthony High School thought the same thing.
“Being from a private school without a marching band, I figured I wouldn’t even be allowed to try out,” Jay said. “But I found out I could.”
He then followed up by contacting the band director and participated in the tryouts.
When the Marching Illini, the very first collegiate marching band and considered one of the premier marching bands in the country, performs at Memorial Stadium, the 20-year-old sophomore will be with them.
“I didn’t even tryout my freshman year at U of I,” Jay noted. “But after talking with a friend’s roommate, I found out there were several in the band that didn’t have any marching experience.”
After he contacted Prof. Barry Houser, the director, he decided to go to the auditions that began Feb. 4, 2017. That resulted in an invitation to participate in the pre-season camp, which was held August 20-27.
“That’s where you learn the basic fundamentals about marching,” Jay explained. “Plus, you have to memorize eight different pieces of music and they have somebody listening to you to make sure you are playing the music and playing it correctly.
On Thursday of that week, Jay learned he had been selected to be part of the 300-plus members of the Marching Illini.
“It was really exciting,” Jay admitted. “There were 22 baritones that tried out and they kept 19.”
Jay is the son of Dr. Margaret Merry-Niebrugge and the late Ron Niebrugge. He is majoring in Integrative Biology and Psychology on a pre-med and pre-dental track. He lives in Newman Hall on the University of Illinois campus.
He played baritone in the concert band while in high school, but was better known for what he did on the basketball floor and tennis court.
“I actually started playing the baritone in fifth grade,” Jay noted. “There were a lot more kids interested in music at that time than I was. But I took it much more serious in high school.”
In fact, he credits Christy Cyrus, his high school band director, for his ability to make the Marching Illini.
“She spent a lot of time working with me on the music,” Jay said. “I think my family got tired of me playing it at home.”
Being part of the Marching Illini is a time commitment. Since band is considered a class, however, members do receive two hours of class credit. Jay said the band practices 1½ hours every day from 5-6:30 p.m. Then on game day, Jay spends the bulk of the day with the band – first rehearsing the show and then performing it at halftime.
“The fans love hearing the band,” he said. “They line the streets as we march to the stadium. It just shows how much people care about their university’s marching band.”
Jay said it’s not required to memorize the music for each show.
“You can use an eflip so you can see the notes on your phone if you want to,” he explained. “But we go through it so many times, you don’t really need it. Plus, the more you know the music, the better you can concentrate on the routine.”
Jay really enjoys playing Oskee-Wow-Wow, 3-In-1 and Illinois Loyalty, the main school fight/spirit songs for the Fighting Illini.
“Fans like the traditional music a lot,” he said. “So does the band. But we like playing the new music, too.”
This year, the Marching Illini will travel with the football team and play at the Ohio State game on November 18 in Columbus. Then in the spring, the band will march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland.
Jay hopes to be part of the band his final two years at U of I. But, like everybody else in the band, he will go through tryouts each summer.
“Everybody goes to the pre-season camp,” Jay said. “But if you’re already part of the band, you’ve got a good chance to return each year. I just hope my schedule will allow me to continue.”
He is also involved in the pep band that plays at the home games for the Illini women’s basketball team.
“Being in the band is a great opportunity. It’s been a great experience this year and I’m looking forward to more of those experiences.”
Jay Niebrugge in step with Marching Illini
By Steve Raymond