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Rutgers’ new band director has lots of ideas...and he shares them with OTB

Personally I’d love to see over 300 band members in a half time show. And tubas! Lots of tubas! But let’s hear from the guy who counts.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Rutgers Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Pride of New Jersey has a new director.

With the retirement of Tim Smith, Rutgers has hired a new leader for the marching band. Todd Nichols, currently the band director at Roxbury High School (in Succasunna) will be taking the baton when the band takes the field this fall.

Nichols is coming on board as the full time Associate Director of University Bands and Director of Athletic Bands. Todd was good enough to take some time to answer some questions for On the Banks - and here’s a heads up, Todd: there will be more!

OTB: As I understood it, Tim Smith was looking to grow the band, hopefully getting to somewhere between 250 and 300. What would be your goal and what challenges would stand in the way of that?

TN: One of my first and primary goals is to increase the enrollment of the Marching Scarlet Knights (MSK). I am hoping to hit the 350 mark in the years to come. It will definitely take time to do this, but I think it is very possible. Rutgers has a very large and vibrant community and I need to get out and meet as many students as possible while our current membership needs to spread the word about the quality marching band we have at Rutgers University. The biggest challenge is educating the general population about the benefits of being a MSK.

OTB: There is the "Big Ten" style of marching bands. I saw in another interview where you stated that you're comfortable with the current "cadet" style. Can you expand on a) what that means, b) why you'd keep that, and c) would you ever consider changing?

TN: The Cadet style is what Rutgers uses currently. It is a drum corps style called the “glide step” and is currently the go to marching style for students in our part of the country. It focuses on a toe up roll step with a step size of 8 steps to 5 yards.

I will keep this style to maintain consistency for our members and keep a clean unified look that fits the identity of our band. It also makes things easier for our new members coming in to have consistency in the marching style they already know.

I will stay with this for now but certainly will entertain visual enhancements (including modified steps) for both our pre-game and halftime shows.

OTB: On the topic of Big Ten bands, what is your view of them in terms of national recognition and prestige? Where do you see Rutgers' band now and what is your goal for the band?

BTN: Big Ten bands have a long and storied tradition for excellence. They are viewed as the model of distinction with long standing traditions that serve as a true representation for the modern band movement in our country. I see Rutgers University Bands as a welcome addition to the Big Ten and certainly deserving of inclusion. My goal is to help build our marching band program to become one of the finest in the nation. As we are new to the Big Ten, I feel we have room to grow and become recognized for a standard of excellence that is associated with the Big Ten Conference . My goal is to have our band program become a leader within the conference, being both innovative and influential through our performance and character.

OTB: I'm going to show off here: do you think Rutgers could ever get to the point where they could win the Sudler Trophy? It's been ten years since a Big Ten school has won it - thoughts?

TN: ABSOLUTELY!!! It will take some time as the criteria and requirements are stringent, but I definitely think it is possible. I was fortunate enough to be Director of Bands at Roxbury High School when Roxbury was awarded the Sudler Flag of Honor (highest national distinction for a school band program) and was the person who put forth the application and materials. I am very familiar with the process and the standards associated with this. I also currently serve on the selection committee for the Sudler Flag and know the high standards expected for the selection of any Sudler award.

OTB: There has historically been an issue - I won't call it a conflict - between the marching and pep bands and athletics, especially in terms of funding. How do you see that relationship and have you met with anyone in athletics (e.g. Pt Hobbs, Sarah Baumgartner)?

TN: I do not see an issue at all. Anyone that I have had the great fortune of meeting has been nothing short of wonderful! Pat Hobbs, Sarah Baumgartner, Susan Beurskens and the entire game day production team…all have been supportive, kind, welcoming, and want nothing but the best for all our programs at Rutgers, including athletics, bands, and spirit teams. I believe that there is a very strong and positive relationship between our music and athletic departments.

Also, the Rutgers University music department has been incredibly supportive of the marching band and has big plans for future growth and expansion. George Stauffer, Dean of Mason Gross School of the Arts and Robert Aldridge, Director of the Music Department have equally been very supportive of the Marching Scarlet Knights. In addition Rutgers University Director of Bands, Darryl Bott is extremely committed to supporting the Marching Scarlet Knights. Professor Bott has helped build the marching band staff to include a new Director of Athletic Bands and new Assistant Director of Athletic Bands. Both these positions will carry responsibilities working with concert ensembles and teaching courses in the music department as well, where both professors will serve as Associate and Assistant Directors of University Bands. Professor Bott will be working with the marching band as well. Add to that a talented team of graduate assistants from the university band program (both master’s and doctoral) and you have an unbelievable team dedicated to the mission set forth for the Rutgers University Athletic Bands. All in all, both the athletic and music department are deeply unified in their support of our Marching Scarlet Knights!!!

OTB: I have a few CDs of the band and the glee club. I haven't seen a new one in years. Do you have any ideas or thoughts about putting out recordings to raise the profile of the band?

TN: I am in favor of recording 100%. It is something I think is incredibly important not only for promotion but also for documentation of what we do. I also enjoy the recording process very much. Someday down the road, I hope to release a new recording of the MSK.

OTB: What do you envision as the musical style and sound of the band? I know you want to have a new show every game - what are you looking to do?

TN: Energetic, Entertaining, and Engaging!

I want our halftime programs to be something that our fans look forward to. I plan to use varying show themes tied to quality musical selections and arrangements that have wide appeal to our audiences.

OTB: As an educator myself, I know that moving between levels (e.g. middle school to high school) can be challenging. As someone who has spent pretty much their whole career in high schools - and certainly with great success - what challenges do you see for yourself in making this move?

TN: The biggest challenge will be getting acclimated to the Big Ten and the expectations associated with membership. As I do work professionally with adults currently, I am excited to have the opportunity to do so at Rutgers as well. I am really looking forward to getting started!

On the Banks wants to thank Todd Nichols for his time in answering our questions. I’m not exactly a band “geek”, but I played and marched in my high school’s band and I always felt the band was as much a part of Saturday afternoons as everything else. Good luck, Todd, and we look forward to seeing - and hearing - you on football Saturdays.

The Todd Nichols File

High School: Morris Hills HS, Rockaway

College: TCNJ, Rutgers, Messiah College

“His” Instrument: Alto sax (for one day) and then trombone

Favorite instrument: Percussion

Professional achievements: served on the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic Advisory Committee and the executive board for ASPIRE, a national organization devoted to commissioning new music for school ensembles. In April 2014, guest conducted the United States Army Field Band and has also served as guest conductor for numerous honor bands in New Jersey and Connecticut. Serves as Artistic Director and conductor for The Eastern Wind Symphony, orchestrated the ensemble’s debut in Carnegie Hall, created an Annual Guest Artist Program and Visiting Distinguished Conductor Program (Source: Roxbury HS Band website)