Northeastern University was founded in 1898 to offer evening classes for YMCA members interested in Engineering. As early as 1914, Northeastern University offered musical activities for its students. The Northeastern Symphony Orchestra began in 1914 and continued until the early 1940s. The first general band, created in 1921, was led by Laverne Bushnell with the assistance of Northeastern University professor Joseph Spear. In addition to the band, other musical groups formed. The Banjo Club started in 1923 and was active until 1941. From 1930-1933, the Saxophone Band also performed at concerts. The Dance Band, or Bacchanalians, performed at social functions and gave concerts from 1923-1942 and 1951-1962. In response to all of these groups forming in the mid-1920s, the Musical Council was created. Active from 1926 to 1934, the council consisted of the leaders of each group and an elected president.
The marching band was directed by students until the early 1950s, when the entire musical ensemble was transferred to the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). As the National ROTC Band Association, for four years they continued the tradition of performing at football games and gave frequent concerts. They also learned songs of the United Nations and played during visits of foreign dignitaries. During these four years, only individuals enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program could participate in the band.
After the Band Association was reestablished in 1958, the group sought the direction of a professional musician. Lloyd Blakely served as the first conductor until 1960, when Professor Overcash assumed the role of advisor. The Band expanded its involvement on and off campus performing a concert series, playing at basketball and hockey games, and playing concerts, hospitals, and other venues throughout Boston.
In 1965, Professor William Tesson was named the director of the Band Association. Under his guidance, the marching band, concert band, stage band, pep band, and wind ensemble became distinct parts of the Band Association. A chamber orchestra was also formed under its first director, Professor David Sonnenschein, and it performed jointly with local community orchestras. The concert band adopted the name “Trityricon,” and the stage band became “Rocky Road.” Members of the pep band played at basketball games, hockey games, and crew meets, while the marching band played during football games and parades. Tesson resigned in 1977 and his assistant, Gary Good, served as acting director for one year.
The next two directors were Matthew McGarrell (1978-1984) and Kenneth Ayoob (1984-1990). Although the stage band, wind ensemble, and Chamber Orchestra dissolved during the 1980s, the other groups began traveling with the athletic teams, and a jazz band was formed.
Allen Feinstein became director in 1990. Under his direction, the Band Association continued to grow, reforming the orchestra and forming the Composer’s Collective, which arranged for professional musicians to come to Northeastern University to teach. In 1999, the Office of the President allotted funds for the Pep Band to hire a musical consultant to assist with learning the music. The first consultant was NU Bands Alumni Dave Kaminski.
In 2003, there were six different groups in the Band Association: concert band, pep band, jazz big band, orchestra, rock ensemble and the chamber ensemble. At that time, the Band Association began to reach some conflict due to its large size. The leaders decided it would be in the best interests of the ensembles to become separate organizations. The Concert Band, Pep Band, and Symphony Orchestra became separate student groups in 2004 while the jazz band, rock ensemble, and chamber ensemble became solely classes through the Music Department. This has allowed the groups to mature substantially on their own, while still maintaining a high level of collaboration through a more informal Band Association. The Wind Ensemble also re-formed as an adjunct to the Concert Band.
In Fall 2007, the Fenway Center for the Performing Arts opened on campus (it had been renovated from a church). This became a new rehearsal and performance center for the Concert Band, Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra. In Fall 2008, the NU Bands office moved from Ell Hall to 146 Curry Student Center. The old office space is now occupied by Northeastern’s art gallery.
In January of 2012, John Leonard was hired to the new position of Assistant Director of Bands directing the Pep Band and Concert Band. In 2016, Allison Cockshaw-Betsold was named as the new Assistant Director of Bands. In our other NU Bands ensembles, Allen Feinstein directs the Wind Ensemble, and Evan Bennett directs the Symphony Orchestra.
Also in 2016, NU Bands reformed as a cooperative association for collaboration and resource-sharing between the Concert Band, Pep Band, Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, welcoming the newly founded chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi (the National Honorary Band Fraternity) - all five members are wholly independent student organizations.
The NU Pep Band is unique among many college bands in that it is officially recognized by the University as a student organization and operates largely at the direction of the elected student officers (the Council) with support from the Center for Student Involvement and the Student Government Association. However, recognizing the Band’s need for professional guidance, the Music Department at Northeastern generously supports us by giving us a Director to shape our musical and visual performance. We therefore operate as a collaborative hybrid between a traditional college band that is a unit of the Music Department and an independent student organization.