Before I begin, I want to thank many of you who contacted me with feedback about the new website, communications plan, and content – it is sincerely appreciated. It has been mainly positive, but we can always do better, so please keep the comments coming.
I’d like to update you on the main issues facing the Bands and the Alumni Association right now. The nature of our group is to focus on how make things better for the band, and often that involves facing challenges. However, despite the negative tone that his might carry – and without sounding cliché – there is a lot about what’s happening right now that is really superb. I just got back from New York for the Battle of the Titans between Cornell and Columbia. The team in powder blue was slightly less titanic, and the Big Red pulled out their first victory. The band always wins, of course, but when it’s a comparison to Columbia, that’s like damning with faint praise. However, the students really did look and sound spectacular – the Pixar arrangements were musically complex and the field shows were really sharp. There are new (suitable for print) traditions including community service activities that integrate the energy and talent of the Pep and Marching Bands into campus events, showcasing the best of what the Big Red Bands have to offer.
Of course, one of our main goals is to do what we can as an Alumni Association to support and optimize the student experience. There are three areas that we will be focusing on in the short term. First, we want to turn our attention the Pep Band to deal with the unprecedented success that many of our teams have had. This mainly applies to men’s and women’s ice hockey and men’s lacrosse. The unpredictable nature of these postseason events as well as the cost of these often far-flung trips makes planning and budgeting a nightmare. About ten years ago, we implemented a model with a fixed inflation-adjusted line for projected playoff expenses that was initially based on the previous decade of experience. Every silver lining has a cloud, and with every Cornell victory, we exceeded that budgeted amount almost every year. Given our history of support for teams, the option to simply not go to a deep round playoff game was never a realistic option given the heavily-invested stakeholders – the student band members, our athletes, alumni going to the games, and the Cornell community at large. Additionally, regular season pep band travel has also been at an all-time high (not surprising when the teams are good), further limiting budget flexibility. There are many other contributing factors, but the bottom line is that we need to have guidelines in place that incorporate some combination of number of trips, total cost, team quality, student enthusiasm, and playoff potential into planning both a regular season pep band travel schedule and which playoffs will be attended (unless other funding becomes available). Importantly, this will create realistic expectations for the student leadership, the absence of which has made year-to-year planning difficult. This was first discussed at the Alumni Association meeting in 2013, and I was encouraged by the consensus of the many people in attendance that a general plan should be in place. This discussion will be lead by current (and outgoing) Pep Band Manager Michelle Yanda and Advisory Council at-large member Kyle Preston. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Michelle, Kyle, or me.
When the band is not traveling, they have a beautiful new home in the Fischell Band Center (and if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for?). Like any large construction project, the punch list is still on going. One item is the installation of the permanent donor recognition plaques, but a larger component is – for lack of a better description – making the house into a home. Clearly, a lot of that happens organically over time and cannot (and should not) be planned. Still, there are elements of the band’s history and legacy that can be showcased in this space. Some of this is simple but requires some logistical planning, like displaying old uniforms and t-shirts appropriately. Some is more unique to the space, like designing the large photo murals that will adorn the ceilings. Some of it may incorporate some of the great research into our history uncovered by Kim Salsbury or some of the fantastic band-centric art by Lora Root. It is important that we get this done, because at our fall 2014 Advisory Council meeting (comprising students, alumni, and staff), the students made it clear that they feel like they can’t get totally comfortable until they know what space will be used for what (aesthetic) purpose. Importantly, this cannot be done exclusively by alumni, but similarly cannot be done without us, either. This effort will be lead by current (and future) drum major Michaela Olson with support from Sarah Fischell and me. Let us know if you’d like to contribute.
Lastly, I want to share what is our biggest current financial challenge. Over the years, even when accounting for money put aside for pending uniform and instrument purchases, the Bands have almost always run in the black. Even during the recession, your loyal support allowed the Marching Band and Pep Band to continue to thrive. Additionally, a decrease in yield in our endowment funds was mitigated by the purchase of more shares, keeping payout dollars roughly unaffected. However, on an annual basis, we are running far closer even than we ever have before. While FY14 concluded with a modest positive budget (the numbers are still being audited and will be included in the next content upload), expense increases will continue. These are fueled by two main items: increased travel costs and building operations. The first is due to a reorganization of Swarthout – our primary bus company – and has necessitated using other (more expensive) companies. The second is due to a major change in how the University budgets for all of its units. Previously, facilities operations were centralized and college deans (for example) did not have line items for building utilities, maintenance, and stewardship. That cost has shifted to them in an attempt to have more accountability. This affects Athletics (and therefore the Bands) as well. To be clear, this would have had a significant effect had we remained in Barton Hall, but it is obviously exacerbated by having a larger space. Because the impact is significant, we have negotiated with Student and Academic Services to have these costs phased in over a three year period (with FY14 being year zero). For FY15, we will only pay actual costs – that is, real expenses for heating the Band Center and keeping the lights on. The additional maintenance and stewardship costs will be covered by a combination of Athletics and Student and Academic Services funds with the Bands assuming these costs by FY18. This model is new to all of Cornell, and there may be some central operating funds that come with it, but we are still learning all of the details now. I’ll post more information as we learn it; for now, just look for the phonathon dates in January.
Lastly, thank you again for your interest and enthusiasm. Keep coming to events, say hello to the students, and let me know what information we can provide you with!
- Lowell Frank ’99 ’03