Stella knows something’s up.
Brad Townsend’s Labrador retriever has been sniffing around the boxes that have suddenly started to appear in the house. Change is coming.
And how: At the end of this academic year, Townsend, Oregon State University’s director of athletic bands, will leave his post after 11 years to accept a position as director of bands at the University of Pittsburgh.
Moving always is tough, but this time should be easier than the last move, when Townsend landed at OSU after a whirlwind of interviewing. He was working, he recalled, at Temple University, when a friend — the director of the marching band at the University of Washington — called to tell him about the OSU job.
“You need to know about this,” the friend told Townsend.
Now, more than a decade later, Townsend is leaving behind a program that has more than doubled in size during his tenure: OSU’s marching band now numbers 262 student musicians, up from 110 or so when he started. Band members have new uniforms and play new instruments in a program that’s been bolstered by donations — and the decision by student government to devote some student incidental fees to the program.
He’s leaving a program that’s in good health.
But the job at the University of Pittsburgh gives Townsend a chance to return to his home state — and, in particular, to return to the spot where, as a teenager, he got his first taste of the power of a marching band.
He was attending a band day at the university, which included a visit to the Pitt stadium on game day. “When that band came rushing out of the tunnel,” he recalled, he was hooked.
Members of OSU’s band perform in a variety of settings — basketball games, gymnastics meets, wrestling matches, volleyball games, even a softball game or two — but the football halftime shows still are the showcase performances.
“Since the late 1980s, it’s become much more of a show,” Townsend said about the football performances. “Now it’s a product. It’s very tightly scripted out. … You have to be very exacting.”
And when it comes time to select music to perform during games, he said, “I’m very much into things that people know.”
By way of example, he recalled once watching a band perform a halftime show that featured Russian Christmas music and then excerpts from Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana.”
At the end of that show, he said, “ninety thousand people stood up and said, ‘What was THAT?’”
As the OSU band has grown, Townsend said, it’s reached that key point where the members themselves naturally assume informal leadership positions: “By and large, they’re just great, great kids,” he said. “The band isn’t about me or any one individual. They police themselves. Usually, I don’t have to say anything” about violations of band rules.
Townsend’s departure will leave a void in mid-valley community theater: He’s played big roles in recent productions, including an uproarious turn as the lead in the Mel Brooks musical “The Producers” at Albany Civic Theater.
“I’ve been really lucky,” he said, noting that he’s had a chance to audition for shows that were good fits for him, such as “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “The Music Man.”
And for a man who makes a living directing hundreds of people, the appeal of community theater is simple: “It’s fun for me to do something like that because I’m not in charge.”
Occupation: Director of athletic bands, Oregon State University; soon to be director of bands at the University of Pittsburgh
Family: Labrador, Stella
Instrument played: Tuba
An instrument he wishes he could play: The cello, which is not featured in most marching-band configurations.
Most embarrassing relic discovered in the packing process: An old Ray Stevens CD, which now awaits some student looking for hidden treasures in a “To Give Away” box in Benton Hall. “Don’t judge,” Townsend pleaded.
The ideal Townsend halftime show: “I’m a big fan of ‘Strike Up the Band,’ the George and Ira Gershwin classic, for obvious reasons. And the show likely would end with the ‘1812 Overture,’ complete with fireworks.”