Big Red Bands Advising Update

At the Big Red Bands Alumni Association general meeting this past fall, I wanted to use the outstanding alumni attendance as an opportunity to bring people up to speed on some of the larger issues facing the Bands. One thing we talked about then was the tumultuous advising situation the band has been dealing with over the past few years. For those of you who couldn’t attend, I’ll provide a quick summary. I’m also happy to report that we’ve moved forward and have recently reached what I think will be an excellent solution.

Below is a rough timeline of the band’s advising situation over the last 65 years or so that was discussed in the fall.  Most alumni from the last 25 years or so will be familiar with the two-headed system that was in place: a music advisor who worked on, well, music, and an Athletics staff member who served as an administrative advisor. Cornell was not immune to the recent recession, and both of these positions were impacted. The Assistant Director of Bands, who served as a conductor in the University wind groups as well as music advisor, was cut in 2009. Similarly, as Athletics staffing became stretched, the responsibilities associated with advising the band became unassigned.  At the time, Matt Coats was the band’s advisor in Athletics, and while he continued to handle field scheduling and other similar duties under his purview, the support that such a large student group requires was lacking.

President Skorton, an avid supporter of the band and First Night attendee, admires our new facility!

President Skorton, an avid supporter of the band and First Night attendee, admires our new facility!

There were some stopgap solutions. We entered into an agreement with Ithaca College in which they would provide a graduate student to assist with music and performance aspects and we would financially support a proportional part of a graduate assistantship. Many of the administrative tasks, however, became fragmented. For budget issues, the students would turn to some combination of the Advisory Council and a handful of financial staff members at Cornell.  For travel, there was the Athletics travel office. Sue Detzer – herself reassigned to the ticket office – helped out in a variety of ways where she could. And on like this it went.

In 2011, through connections in other activities, the student leadership asked Mark McCarthy ’86 (a former bandie) if he would serve as advisor. Mark is a lecturer in Information Systems in the School of Hotel Administration and has devoted a significant amount of his professional time to mentoring students. He is a valuable resource and has done a great job as advisor. However, because they are University groups, the bands are required to have an advisor in the unit in which they reside (Athletics). Recently, Steve Caraher has stepped forward and will serve as the band’s official advisor. Steve is a Major Gifts Officer for Athletics and has been working hard to get to know the bands. While the details are not yet completely worked out, Mark will also remain as advisor; certainly the Big Red Bands are large enough that more support is not a bad thing.

As recently as a year or two ago, things looked bleak, and I’m extremely pleased with where we’re at now. However, things are not perfect. In addition to being relatively inexperienced, the graduate student from Ithaca College holds the advisor position for one year because of other obligations in their second year of studies. I have had discussions with the Dean of Students and the Music Department about a more permanent solution but there is nothing close. That being said, the business and mentoring support that the students deserve is in good hands with the Steve and Mark. Feel free to say hello to them the next time they are on campus, or drop them a line at and

Lowell Frank ‘99
Chair, Big Red Bands Alumni Association