Notes from the Alumni Association

The Big Red Bands Advisory Council had its first meeting of the 2017-2018 term on February 25, 2017.  In attendance were the new advisory council membership and the 2017 student leadership.  As is typical, the meeting focused on financial stewardship of the Bands, with additional focus on advice and guidance for the Band leaders.  We reviewed this past fall’s Sy Katz parade – the first where the Alumni Association had an outsized role in its planning and organization – and developed a list of what should be maintained and what can be improved upon in November 2018.  Fortunately, there was broad consensus that it went fantastically, despite Drum Major Serge Preciado nearly having a heart attack when we had to add a few unscheduled blocks to the parade to beat the traffic!

Over the past few years, you’ve heard lots of positive news about gifts to the Band – YOUR gifts to the Bands.  From previous fundraising totals in the $55-65K range, we now target approximately $100K as our annual goal.  It would be easy to credit the addition of Giving Day (#remembertheband) for this change, but it’s thanks to the people to make those gifts: It takes dedicated alumni to give a second gift after the phonathon, to give if they haven’t done so in a while, or to increase their annual contribution if they are able.  This generosity has allowed the band to continue to thrive despite seemingly never-ending new financial challenges.  Over the past few years, the University has shifted to a new budget model that includes pushing out facility charges to individual units instead of covering these charges centrally.  Of course, this expense is compounded by costs associated with having a beautiful new building, such as the Band’s insurance (384% increase due to the new building), security expenses ($1100 annually for security cameras), utilities (projected to be $25k per year, but this year an additional $8k due solely to a leaky toilet that was not identified for several months).  Additionally, travel costs continue to increase.  Fall 2016 travel was 27% more expensive than Fall 2015, a very material rise that is expected to continue due to limited bus availability on busy Cornell sports weekends. Further, there are always new annual expenses that we feel are worthwhile (or necessary) investments to optimize student well being.  Most notably, you may be aware that despite the rising stock market, Cornell had a particularly poor performance of its endowment: You can read about this here and here.  Having weathered the recession reasonably well, we were looking forward to reaping the rewards of a larger return (the payout is based on a three-year rolling average of the endowment performance).  While our budgeting models will allow the Bands to operate, we were looking forward to the excesses that, alas, will not exist.

As mentioned in our last writing, David and Sarah Fischell have set up a utilities and operation endowment that will be fully funded in three more years.  We are especially thankful for this after their already demonstrating their transformative leadership with the Fischell Band Center (to say nothing of their insightful contributions to its design and recent enhancements).

Details of the 2016 fiscal year finances can be found here. At the end of the 2017 fiscal year we will be providing an update on the BRBAA webpage.  Our total expenses for the year appear to be an 18% increase from FY 2016.  We hope that our loyal alumni will continue to show the support through end-of-the-fiscal-year contributions that have allowed us to not only meet past expense increases but also generate a small boost to the band’s reserves.  On behalf of all the students, the Alumni Association leadership wants to thank each and every one of our supportive donors for helping to make the marching and pep bands the best bands in the Ivy League!

On a more somber note, you may have heard that Cayuga’s Waiters have been permanently dismissed from campus due to hazing activities.  While there have been no “incidents” of late from the student side, we think this is an important development.  Certainly current students don’t engage in anything close to what was described in the Daily Sun, but we all know that some Band traditions do not appear benign to observers, and at times, to students in the Bands.  Recent student leadership has done a commendable job in drafting and enforcing a code of conduct, and this news really drives home the point that there are no sacred cows.

One new initiative that was raised at the last Annual Meeting was the addition of networking and mentorship opportunities between BRB alumni and students (or older alumni and younger alumni).  For example, former Head Manager Emily Isenstein ’16 joined Alumni Association Chair Lowell Frank ‘99 MD ‘03 to observe his pediatric cardiology practice in Washington, DC.  Not all networking and mentorship needs to be in person; if you have expertise in a certain field and would be willing to speak with interested students over email or on the phone, that would be great too.  Certainly other career mentorship exists throughout Cornell, but there is something about the shared experience of being in the Band that may make these particularly useful.  Please contact Emily Isenstein ‘16 at if you are interested in talking to young alumni or current Band members!

Typically, we have our annual Alumni Association meeting on the Friday of Homecoming immediately following the Advisory Council meeting.  However, to allow as many people as possible to attend, we are considering moving it to Saturday morning after rehearsal – breakfast provided!  We know that many of you are either on your way to Ithaca on Friday afternoon or are making plans with friends.  We’d love to have as many attendees as possible to give you all an update and to get feedback on how you’d like the Alumni Association to work; please let me know if you think this is worth a try.  Either way, mark off October 20-22 on your calendars!

Until then, please feel free to contact the Alumni Association or the student leadership with questions or concerns.  And as always, thanks for your generous support that allows a new generation of Cornellians to have an amazing Big Red Band experience!


Chair: Lowell Frank ’99, M.D. ’03

Vice Chair: Brian Adelman ’09

Treasurer: Adam Mangano Drenkard ’11

Resource Chair: Nick Janiga ’00