After recently performing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Temple’s Diamond Marching Band was mentioned in Rolling Stone’s “10 Mind-Blowing College Marching Band Cover Songs” for its version of “All of the Lights” by Kanye West.
The band’s renditions of modern pop music have become popular among audiences at university football games.
Since Matthew Brunner became head of the band in 2008, the band has grown from 125 people to 212. Members have experienced significant changes and received national recognition for their performances.
“‘Good Morning America’ called us and asked us to come and perform as a part of college week,” Brunner said. “It was a group of 25 band members. We had a quick rehearsal [before] we met Sheryl Crow and got on the show and played to represent Temple.”
Besides being an assistant professor at the Boyer College of Music and Dance, Brunner has seen the band expand by adding more talented students to the group.
“The band has grown a bit over the years,” Brunner said. “There’s a lot of good students. When I got here, football was on the up. The band hadn’t had anyone that was here and stayed here for a while. The guys that were here before me did a really good job, but they had the downside of football not being very good.”
Brunner’s approach to leading the marching band is a modern one, he said, which he executes by studying recent pop music charts and making the melodies applicable to the band. Recent songs the Diamond Marching Band covered include “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors.”
“Everyone’s looking for the groups to participate in,” Brunner said. “We make it into something that is really enjoyable for everyone, too. I stay in touch with popular music and that’s pretty much what we play.”
He also allows band members to contribute to song choices, as he said he believes musicians should feel ownership in the work they do.
“I’ll send out an email asking the students their opinions and if they have any ideas on what songs to play,” Brunner said. “This year, a lot of kids came up with a great number of songs and everything that we’ve played so far has been something that students have suggested.”
Brunner said he listens to top radio stations to determine which tunes are highly played and stays in touch with the popular music scene to find out what students may enjoy.
However, not every song can be translated for the marching band.
“Sometimes just because it’s a popular song doesn’t necessarily mean that it translates to the marching band,” Brunner said. “We have a lot of energy and play stuff that people know. They can sing and dance along to the music and so far it’s been pretty good.”
Brunner arranges music for the marching band and also conducts the concert, symphonic and collegiate bands, all while teaching classes on conducting and brass instruments.
His time and effort applied to writing the pieces for the marching band is manifested in the band’s performances, he said.
“I can write the music to a whole show in about a week – five hours to sit down to write a whole piece,” Brunner said. “But I still have a wife and kids at home, too. It takes me some time to do a piece, because I have to figure out what form I want to use, what instruments should play, this melody, that melody, who’s going to play the guitar part, is everything in unison, how loud do we need it to be. There’s a lot of stuff I take into consideration. Sometimes I’ll write something, not like it and go back and start over again.”
Brunner’s conducting skills are enhanced by his knowledge of how to play every instrument in the band. He played in jazz bands and one funk band throughout high school and college.
Brunner said knew he loved music when he was a small child.
“My parents have pictures of me when I was two years old, standing in the living room of my house conducting to records of the Ohio State marching band,” Brunner said. “My uncle was in the band at the time, and I’d go to every game and watch their pregame concert and conduct all of the time.”
Brunner graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in music education and went on to teach music classes in elementary, middle and high school. He later received his master’s degree in instrumental conducting from Ohio State and obtained his doctorate degree in wind conducting from Indiana University.
“I’m doing what I want to do,” Brunner said. “This is what people like. A lot of people [say] we kind of have a knack of really capturing the style of something and it’s been a really good thing so far.”
Shayna Kleinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.