Two weeks ago, the CT published an article headlined “Requiem for The Peppas: how a nationally renowned band lost its spirit.” Since, myriad band members, fans, alumni and members of Athletics administration have weighed in on the controversy surrounding VCU’s famed pep band through emails, interviews and phone conversations. Here’s what the community had to say about alleged disharmony in The Peppas.
Duane Coston, Band Director
It is my privilege to work with a group of musicians as talented as The Peppas. It’s my mission to support our members and continue to elevate the band. While a change in leadership typically requires a transition period, I’m proud of the way our students continue to represent this band with passion and class while providing an unbelievable gameday experience for VCU’s student-athletes. We have made great strides toward improving the experience of our band members each year, including the band’s student advisory board and the huge growth to our members to 150, by far our largest group yet. This student-centric leadership ensures that every Peppa can enjoy a positive, memorable experience while playing for VCU.
Ed McLaughlin, Director of Athletics
I continue to be pleased with Duane Coston’s leadership as Director of the Peppas. The students in the band continue to produce terrific music and a energetic environment. Duane has brought professionalism to the position and continued the tradition of the Peppas being one of the premier pep bands in the country.
Based on overwhelming feedback I continue to receive from our Peppa Student Advisory Board, students in the band, donors and fans, the atmosphere surrounding the Peppas is very positive. We have addressed questions and complaints that we have received. Some of them were misunderstandings, some were helpful in improving the experience of the students in the band and some were complete fabrications and exaggerations. I encourage everyone to support the Peppas in their entirety through next year and years to come.
Susan Joynes, local server and longtime fan
I’ve waited tables for 15 years at a diner located just down the street from the VCU campus. I didn’t attend VCU but consider myself a big fan of the basketball team as well as the Peppas. As a fan I’ve seen a big difference in the band and the atmosphere in the Siegel Center. It just hasn’t been the same. The excitement seems gone. Fans just knew that the band would give the team that extra push to get the job done! No longer is that the case. I see VCU students, faculty, fans, don(o)rs, coaches, and team members every day. And I can safely say that I’m not the only one who is disappointed. Ryan is very much missed by all I talk to. He was more than just the pep band director. He mentored many of those kids. They looked up to him. They could count on him. He DID care. Apparently those days are over. It’s sad to hear that Mr. Coston cares so little and publicly shames the kids he should be supporting.
Summer Griffin, former Advisor for The Rowdy Rams Leadership Board
During the transition from Ryan to Duane, I was the Advisor for the Rowdy Rams Leadership Board which is sponsored by VCU Athletics. Our goal was to make the Siegel Center the best basketball environment in the country, and a big part of that involved working with the band on chants and ideas to make us a cohesive unit. Duane stopped caring about this effort once he took over and frankly seems to not really care about much of anything else.
Some people ask why I care so much, I was never in the band. Well, I love VCU as a whole and I think it’s the best university on the planet. I don’t like seeing injustice. Students not being able to speak freely and not getting scholarship money that they were promised from the band just isn’t fair. And no matter how many complaints come, Athletics does nothing. Yes it’s just a band, but for some students who aren’t in the music school, this is the only outlet they have to express themselves. For some students, its their passion. For Duane, it is not his passion and his attitude is only causing more problems for the band. Athletics knows it, and won’t do anything about it, mainly because of ego. I mean if they bow down now to all of the fans and students who have been complaining, how will it make them look?
Robert Stepp, senior and four-year tuba player for The Peppas
I also agree that the heart and energy of the band is missing. But the heart of the band wasn’t Ryan, it was us. Ryan did his best to shield us from how Athletics mistreated us, which allowed the band to flourish. But now that the director has been replaced by a yes-man, many of us (particularly the most talented performers) have gotten too disillusioned to give our 110%, or even have genuine fun with it. For me, the band has turned from something truly magical into just something interesting to do on the weekends.
Deidre Belcher, alumni and fan
It’s incredibly disheartening to read how these talented and dedicated students are being mistreated. As a VCU alumni and basketball fan, it’s been tragic to see our once nationally recognized band succumb to lackluster status. However, the greatest tragedy is the mistreatment of our students.
Dylan Thomas, five-year Peppas member
The band has gone down in energy the past couple years, that’s been obvious to notice. But the band doesn’t sound bad. Everyone except for this one single clique is saying we sound good…The article was an unfair representation of how the band is. I think it’s complete and utter lies, and plenty of people in the band will back that up…It’s one group that’s been causing all (the infighting)…Most of the band wants to move on. Ultimately, the cliquiness and infighting will disappear because we have so much positive energy coming into this band…The band is expanding rapidly, we’re getting better energy…Directors are always going to change, but if we have a good foundation of the band’s energy, any changes will go with it…Ryan isn’t coming back, and Duane isn’t forever. We need to move forward.
Leah Carmichael, three-year clarinet player for The Peppas
In the end, the band is whatever you make it out to be. I go there to have fun and so does my section, I always encourage them to get up, scream, dance and shout. If you’re not having fun, then that’s really on you. The band director can’t make you have fun…I just want to have fun.
Wilson Tolbert, senior trombone-player for The Peppas
I think it (the article) was a complete overreaction to the change in the organization…if you’re not communicating with us and showing up to events, how can you be a part of any organization?…We’ve tried to be flexible and communicative with students to retain as many people that wanted to be in the band as possible…Most people just come to have fun and don’t get scholarship money out of this…we’ve tried to work with students and make (the band) accessible for everyone…From my personal standpoint I think Duane has been perceived wrong throughout the community — we’ve had a great relationship…he wants to continue the reputation, but he’s limited by all this drama.
Nico Roberts, sophomore and two-year Peppas member
I think it was definitely a one sided article because it was only about people who were upset. I would argue the majority of the band is pretty satisfied being a member of the ensemble…A lot of the new members that have come in don’t have any grievances with Duane. Whereas the older members might have more of a bone to pick because of the differences in leadership, and I can’t speak on that…all of this culminates in prospective members thinking this isn’t going to be fun and seeing it as a place filled with drama. I don’t want people to get that image of us, because I don’t think that’s what we are.
Zach Joachim, Executive Editor