Unfortunately this letter has nothing to do with The Steve Miller Band, Billy Jo, Bobby Sue or two young lovers with nothing better to do. Sadly, I write due to the current, steadily-declining, state of affairs with the new director of the VCU Pep Band, Duane Coston.
I have to write this letter anonymously for fear I will be dismissed from the band. But if I choose to leave because of the new director and his antics, it will be on my terms.
As many of you know, VCU’s Athletic Director, Ed McLaughlin, decided he could not afford to keep our pep band director who had been with the school for 18 years. It seems as though this all stemmed from a money issue, as Athletics did not see the value in what Ryan Kopacsi brought to this university.
In contrast, Coston has been the perfect politician. As a matter of fact, we should probably put him on the presidential ticket. He says exactly the right things but his actions are empty.
But the true tipping point and catalyst for this letter is the fact our new director, Duane Coston, can not be approached. Traditionally, a leader is supposed to field the concerns of the people he or she commands, but Coston always goes on the defense.
Recently, we had a member dismissed from the band for raising concerns about some of the ongoing issues with the new director. Coston told this member he would like the band to be a student-run organization while he continues to take the full director’s salary.
Since Coston has taken over, there have been two rehearsals — one of which was held in the auxiliary gym at the Siegel Center. The auxiliary gym is not an appropriate place to have a rehearsal due to the undesirable acoustics. All the sound bounces off of the four parallel walls, creating a cacophony that is almost intolerable.
Coston has also promised additional pay for students who exceed a given amount of Olympic sporting events, but he has given out no contract. It is all still very unclear, even though we are approaching the end of our Fall Schedule.
There were also promised changes regarding the attendance policy, but the attendance policy we received had the same requirements as previous years. Long story short, this policy is in place to determine whether or not members are eligible to continue playing with the band during basketball season.
Furthermore, if our new director were to follow his own policies, you would not be seeing him at any basketball games this season as he is falling severely short on his own attendance.
Recently, the Washington Wizards asked the band to play for their open practice. The band was extremely excited for this opportunity, but unfortunately, Coston did not share our same sentiment. He was clearly opposed to the idea, but at the urging of several members the idea was put to a vote. The band decided by an overwhelming majority to play the gig. Nonetheless, our director still did not attend this event.
In addition, Coston has preached fairness for everyone but has worked backdoor deals with certain individuals to motivate them to stay in the band. These deals include paying them cash per performance, allowing them to play less than everyone else and giving them less responsibilities — just to name a few.
With basketball season rapidly approaching we have not received our uniforms, have not had a set rehearsal schedule (as promised by the Athletic department) and have only practiced three new songs. This is truly unacceptable if Coston expects The Peppas to remain one of the premier college pep bands in the nation.
It is a tragedy VCU decided they could not agree with our previous director’s contract terms. What VCU received was a divorce from one of the most talented, creative and passionate directors I have ever played for. As a result, VCU has left a hole in the heart of this band.
Now, members of the band have to work with a director who continues to act as if he is still in the assistant role, but honestly appears to do even less than before. Not only are students conducting the band, but they are also taking attendance, serving as contacts on emails and handling what seems to be most of the day-to-day operations of the band.
As I look around and see the new students, I can say I am truly sad for them. Yes, we are still good — for now — but returning members can tell this band will never be the same. The new students will never know the band that I was introduced to and came through. They will never know what it truly means to be a Peppa. To be a Peppa is an Honor, HONOR IT!