At the end of this past January, in preparation for the Super Bowl that was to come (and how great it was, when it finally did), a production company commissioned by Pepsi contacted Stony Brook University—specifically, its Marching Band, the Spirit of Stony Brook—about performing in a commercial. As the commercial’s title, “Pepsi #Halftime: Hyped Across America,” suggests, the goal was to get people hyped for Super Bowl XLVIII’s Halftime show, the very proud sponsor of which, of course, was Pepsi. To do so (no easy task), the production company planned to load cheerleaders, marching bands, and emcees into buses, and take to the streets of three major cities (NYC, SF, San Diego), where they would stop, very much unannounced, and surprise passers-by with a sudden “mobile halftime throwdown.” The Spirit of Stony Brook accepted the invitation (they’re used to this kind of thing; that’s how good they are), and after gathering a group of brass and drumline members, they filed—marched, perhaps (pun intended)—onto a Stony Brook University bus.
Three and a half hours later, they arrived at Union Square, Manhattan, ready as always to give an amazing performance.
And, unsurprisingly, give an amazing performance they certainly did. The filming, which after Union Sq. moved over to a location near NYU, went fabulously—the production company, as Marching band director Shayna Stahl was kind enough to tell me, was absolutely thrilled with how professional and well-rehearsed the band was. In fact, the Spirit of Stony Brook’s filmed performance went so well that it caught the attention of that infamously preoccupied mass of people—the daily commute; crowds of people, believe it or not, actually stopped to take pictures, dance, and enjoy the music. (If this isn’t telling of the Spirit of Stony Brook’s talent and presence, I don’t know what is.)
There was, however, one problem—the weather. A monster snowstorm, previously forecasted to emerge later that evening, hit NYC while the band was performing. And, while it obviously didn’t affect the band’s playing or the production company’s filming (as you can see in the video, the crowd is so happy and the band so unphased that it might as well be a balmy day in August), the weather did affect—and very seriously, at that—the Spirit of Stony Brook’s commute home. Whereas the trip into NYC was a manageable three and half hours, the trip back to Stony Brook, with its slick roads and feet of snow, took a staggering seven and a half hours! The ride back, then, wasn’t so much a trip as it was an Odyssean journey—a slow but victorious returning home of epic proportions.
When asked if the weather affected the marching band’s morale, Director of Athletic Bands Shayna Stahl happily remarked that “the band members were troopers. They didn’t complain. They play through anything.” Even, of course, if that anything means a record-breaking snowstorm. “It was the students’ decision,” Stahl went on, “to play despite the weather.” This “playing through anything,” of course, is a running theme for the Spirit of Stony Brook: after Hurricane Sandy, the band gathered however many members it could, and performed nonetheless—and nonetheless terrifically—at the next football game. The members of the Spirit of Stony Brook marching band really do, then, as Director Stahl proudly commented, “take it upon themselves” to play through anything, rain or shine, hurricane or snowstorm.
This post—and many, many thanks—goes out to the Spirit of Stony Brook Marching Band and its fantastic Band Director, Shayna Stahl. For on January 21st, the day the Spirit of Stony Brook went mobile, the marching band delivered more tremendously than usual on its core value of “unyieldingly pursuing excellence with fortitude, creativity, and the courage to adapt to changing needs and conditions.” In doing so, in travelling abroad and trekking back, they didn’t just “move beyond the status quo”—they changed it.
Special thanks to Director of Athletic Bands Shayna Stahl for her generous time and wonderful comments.