Franklin Steps In Just in Time for Marching Pirates
By Jeannine Manning Hutson
John Franklin was hired knowing he was staring down a deadline: Sept. 5, East Carolina University’s home football opener.
Franklin began as director of the Marching Pirates on Aug. 4, meaning he had one month to turn 220 college students into a cohesive marching band ready to hit the field and impress the football fans.
Before joining the School of Music faculty, Franklin directed the athletic and symphonic bands at the University of West Georgia. At ECU, Franklin is director of athletic bands and associate director of bands.
Five days before fall semester classes began at ECU, Franklin had the marching band on its practice field at the bottom of College Hill for its first practice of the season. Yes, two weeks before the first home football game.
Franklin along with his student staff of drum majors and nine section leaders will teach the band the music and the half-time routine through multiple daily practices.
“They go in knowing the essentials (of being in a marching band), but this is getting everyone on the same page,” Franklin said. “Half of our band are non-music majors.”
During the football season, the band will perform five half-time shows at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, learning 15 songs total and the marching routine for each show’s three songs. The band will also learn the 15 to 20 tunes to play in the stands, five pre-game songs including the National Anthem, and the music for the “Call to Port” concert, a new tradition they plan for this year outside the stadium as part of the pre-game festivities.
“We’ll play songs like ‘Hey! Baby’ and have lots of interaction with the fans at tailgating,” Franklin said.
ECU Senior Tremayne Smith, head drum major for the Marching Pirates, helped keep the program on track between band directors this summer.
“We worked orientation to sign up students for marching band, made copies and created folders, kept the communication going to the band, and kept planning over the summer since Dr. Knighten left,” said Smith, a music education and political science double major. Chris Knighten resigned as the marching band director in the spring for a similar position at the University of Arkansas.
Smith said he’s proud of the way the section leaders have stepped up to the challenge of preparing their areas and welcomed Franklin and his new ideas. “I hope this is an indication of how the season will go,” he said.
“Some directors come in and immediately try to make the program their own. Dr. Franklin has said, here’s some things we’re going to change and here are the things we’re going to keep for tradition. It’s a good mix,” Smith said.
On the first full day of marching band camp, the heat and humidity were aiming for a record even before 10 a.m. Franklin was sweating; the students were sweating; the sun was beating down on the open field. During a five-minute water break, Franklin used “Twilight” and “Harry Potter” references to get one of the horn sections motivated to come onto the field intending to impress the fans (and their fellow Marching Pirates) with their precision.
Joking about the heat, Franklin said he has worked in some of the hottest places for marching bands – tradition and temperature wise – Florida and Indiana.
Franklin completed his doctor of music degree in wind conducting at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, where he also earned his master of music education degree. He earned a bachelor of music education degree from Florida State University.
Chris Buddo, School of Music director, said that ECU is lucky to have Franklin coming in and gearing up so quickly for the football season.
“We are fortunate to have found a marching band director of John’s exceptional qualifications,” he said. “It is a tribute to his dedication and work ethic that he was in Greenville preparing for the upcoming football season three weeks after interviewing, and on the field with the band one week later.”
The rise of ECU’s football program was a ready-made recruiter for the Marching Pirates director position, Franklin said. The band has an opportunity to play at sold-out home stadium games before loyal Pirate fans and potentially at a bowl game.
Franklin said he was inspired to take this career path by exceptional band directors in his high school and college years. He added, “Plus I’m a longtime college football fan.”