For the second time in four years, the University of South Florida Herd of Thunder Marching Band will ring in the New Year overseas – this time in Rome.
According to Matthew McCutchen, director of USF’s Athletic Bands, the Herd was invited to perform in the Rome New Year’s Parade by the same organization that invited them to perform in front of a half a million people in London’s New Year’s Day Parade in 2013.
“Really it’s through the reputation of the band, it’s through the performance that they gave in London, it’s through the continued excellence that we strive for year after year, and we’re thrilled that we’re getting some international recognition,” McCutchen said.
During the weeklong trip, the band will perform four times.
“In addition to us doing the parade, we’re also going to be doing some smaller performances with the marching band, also more in a smaller setting, in a church, a brass choir, a woodwind choir, things like that," senior drum major Razanne Oueini said. "For us, that’s a really cool experience, something we don’t usually do in the marching band setting, so I’m looking forward to that as well.”
The Herd will also perform at a street fair in the small town of Frescati, in St. Peter’s Square in front of the Vatican, and the New Year’s Parade itself, which will take them through the center of Rome, past Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.
“It’s different from a normal parade," McCutchen said. "The audience will be kind of right beside us and almost a part of the parade. But we’ll pass cathedrals and fountains and an incredibly appreciative audience.”
Senior drum major Scott Schiff said one of the reasons the crowds are so appreciative is because a band like the Herd of Thunder is relatively unusual in Europe.
“It will probably be something that they haven’t really experienced much before. Band over there is much different that marching bands here," Schiff said. "They don’t have the giant 370-piece marching bands like we do, so hopefully we get to show them something different and cool that they really enjoy.”
And junior guard captain Cassidy Garcia knows the show her group puts on, complementing the band with twirling flags, batons and dancing will be new for the audience as well.
"A lot of people know what guard is around here but going to a different country, not a lot of people are exposed to that, so being able to perform for people who aren’t really sure what guard is is pretty cool for us," she said.
Getting the band, the staff and a handful of parents over to Rome is easy enough – they’ll be spaced out on three different planes. Getting all their instruments and uniforms overseas – that’s another story.
In 2013, they sent 100 band members and 95 crates of gear to London. This time, 135 Herd members are going, so the load is going to be even larger.
For instance, McCutchen said, think of just one not so small part of the brass section alone.
“We probably have more tubas than just about any marching band in the country, we’re marching 36 tubas and 22 of them are going with us!" McCutchen said with a laugh. "So packing up 22 tubas to ship to Rome is going to be quite the adventure.”
There’s one other matter complicating things – the USF Bulls football team will likely be playing in a bowl game during December, so some band members may be making two road trips that month.
If the bowl game takes place during the Rome trip, there are enough Herd members not going overseas to still perform at the game.
“Athletics recognizes that we’re trying to educate the whole student and the student experience is important," McCutchen said. "Over here, you see something a hundred years old and that seems pretty old, over there, we’re talking 2,000 years old!"
McCutchen would also like to continue offering band members the opportunity to make these kinds of international trips.
“Your formative years of college, you should take advantage of everything that can come along, and we spend so much time preparing for all of our performances here that anytime we can give them these extra activities and trips and experiences, we’d love to do that,” he said.
But that comes with a cost - $3,700 per student in this case. While many have been working extra jobs trying to raise that money, the band has also organized a crowdfunding effort through the USF Foundation to defer some of the costs.
For band members like Oueini, the trip means so much, so she appreciates the public’s help.
“For us, this is pretty much like a one-time experience for most of us in the band, so it was a pretty costly trip and, for a lot of people, they will never get to do another trip like this, so anything that we can get really helps out," she said.