Talking Bama, Flips, and Piped-In Music with Drum Major Ian Kenney

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We're back. Told you we would be. Big games are always a real treat for the Blue Band--along with the other 108,000 folks in Beaver Stadium that day--as experiencing the roar of the crowd from the middle of the football field is second to none. Blue Band Drum Major Ian Kenney carved out a few minutes this week to answer some more questions for the BSD community. Hope you enjoy.

One of the loudest moments I can remember at Penn State was in 2002. You can imagine which game... Sept. 14, vs Nebraska. It was my second-ever game, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. But with the record-setting (record still stands today) crowd of 110,753 literally shaking the concrete under the tunnel, it was a sight to behold once we came marching out of the tunnel. Our drum major, Trevor Gast, landed the first flip just before we stepped off for the downfield portion of pregame, and I nearly went into shock at the sound of the crowd.

I hope to experience that same feeling this Saturday around 3:20 p.m.

BSD: You landed both of your pre-game flips last week and Penn State won big. Tell us a little history behind the Drum Majors' flips. What's it like knowing that landing the flips has become such a major part of Penn State football, especially going into a big game like this weekend?

Ian: The Drum Major's flip actually happened as far back as 1942, when Edwin L. Anderson first performed it during pregame... but since he had to withdraw from the university, it didn't happen again until 1972, when Jeff Robertson was chosen to be Drum Major.  His mace/baton tossing skills were not strong, and when the crowd was initially displeased with his performance, he needed something to account for it - which was the first back-flip.  The Drum Major after Robertson, Eric Felack, couldn't flip, and the crowd was once again displeased.  As a result, the flip became required for all Penn State Drum Majors. 

Soon after, the superstition became affixed once the outcome of the game often reflected the Drum Major's performance.  I have been looking forward to the Alabama game since it was announced, and every time I think about it I feel the adrenaline rushing and my heart pounding.  I know that the Penn State faithful are behind me and want me to perform well, and that keeps me from being nervous about it - and that's what I'll be thinking about going into this weekend.  I'll go out there knowing that I'm capable of doing it and have prepared myself physically and mentally, and let the rest take care of itself.

BSD: The first gameday is always a challenge for the band, but having such a major national spotlight on Penn State in the second week of the season doesn't come along every year. Will the band approach this week any differently, particularly preparing those members who haven't experienced the kind of atmosphere that is likely to engulf Beaver Stadium this Saturday?

Ian: We're approaching this week like any other.  Every week we prepare as if it was PSU/Alabama.  We strive to put on a world-class performance each and every week.  I have been a part of the Blue Band since the 2008 season, and I fully expect Saturday's atmosphere to be unlike any other I have experienced on the field on Beaver Stadium.  I expect this week's rehearsals to be very intense.  We had a three-hour rehearsal in the rain today just preparing for the 9/11 tribute that is going to take place during halftime.  In addition to having one of the most electric pregames in the band's history, the halftime show is also going to carry a similar energy.

BSD: Some of our readers were making requests after last week's Q&A, so let's throw one out there. What are your thoughts on the piped-in music Penn State plays over the PA system in Beaver Stadium? The band is also plugged into the guys in the press box to coordinate when the Blue Band plays and when canned music or commercials are played. Have there ever been times when the band could play, but is over-ridden by the authorities in the press box?

Ian: I'm not a fan of piped-in music (excluding Zombie Nation, Shout).  This past week I wasn't particularly happy with the amount of opportunities the band had to play, but I do believe that is because it was the first game and smoother coordination needs to occur between the press box and the band.  We have a lot of new music in our folders this year - I just hope we get more opportunities to play.  It really isn't our call though.  We play our "chasers" on defense, most of the time we'll get to play "Fight On, State" after a touchdown (for instance, the first touchdown last week [kick return], Zombie Nation was piped-in when I called up FOS ready to play), and we'll have our "drive songs" for offense, along with the drumline's repertoire.  We'll see how it plays out.  We were also limiting how much the band played due to the extreme heat.  A significant number of students and fans asked me why the band wasn't playing very often after the game - so we're not the only ones noticing.  This weekend's weather is supposed to be much more tolerable, so we'll see how much our "fresh" band will get to play.  I will say that our purpose is to be there to support the team, and we'll take every opportunity we get to do so.

BSD: What are some new songs the Blue Band is playing this year in the stands? I think I heard Ke$ha this past Saturday. What are some others fans may have missed?

Ian: There's at least a dozen new tunes, some of which the band hasn't had the opportunity to read through yet.  Last week we played "We R Who We R" by Ke$ha and "Alive and Amplified" by The Mooney Suzuki.  During Football Eve we also played "I Don't Wanna Stop" by Ozzy Osbourne, "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, and "All American Nightmare" by Hinder.  Expect some more music from artists such as Cee Lo Green, Pink, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock, James Brown, and another Ke$ha tune.


BSD: Finally, any clues as to this week's halftime show? I imagine it will be very special due to the 10-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Beside the halftime show, are there any special events/memorials planned by Penn State for either pre-game or halftime? (like a flyover, big American Flag, etc.)

Ian: This week's show is going to be a very powerful tribute for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  After seeing the band walk through it today, play through the music, and then begin to coordinate the two, I definitely don't want to spoil any of the formations or the music that is going to be played...  the show will touch on the solemn and reflective nature of the tragedies that took place, honor those who passed away in a very symbolic and chilling manner, and also have strong moments of pride and resolve for our country.  The Penn State Glee Club will be also be performing along with the Blue Band for one of the songs during halftime.  It is a remarkably well-written show by Greg Drane, the Assistant Director of the Blue Band (also director of Pride of the Lions Basketball Band and the Fall Athletic Band for Women's Volleyball).

Mega-thanks to Ian for another great Q&A. Best of luck to the band this weekend. And everyone be sure to scream your heads off when Ian nails the flips. We want Bama fans to kick off their Beaver Stadium experience with a bang.

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