The Viking faithful fill courts and fields with roaring crowds and electrifying energy, swept up in a spirited storm of school pride. And yet something has been missing. Enter the Viking Sound, Portland State’s new pep band.
The Viking Sound premiered last Saturday with a mission to inject another level of liveliness into our athletic bouts and give students another way to celebrate the college experience.
“We’ve been wanting [Viking Sound] for a long time,” Kenny Dow, director of marketing for Viking athletics, said. “It was a collaborative effort.”
Dow noted that there was an obvious demand from the athletic and music departments, but also from the Alumni Association, the Associated Students of Portland State University’s student fee committee, the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships and the President’s Office. All these parties saw a distinct need for the opportunities a pep band would create across campus.
“It’s a new avenue of support and tradition at PSU,” Dow said of Viking Sound’s impact on the community.
Student benefit was a huge factor in the pep band’s conception, and Edward Higgins, associate professor of conducting/wind studies and director of bands, shares Dow’s sentiments on the value of a pep band.
“[Viking Sound] provides cross-collaboration between music and athletics,” Higgins said, “and it gives opportunities to students across the campus.”
Prospective members of the group don’t need to be music majors to audition, and the band willingly takes suggestions from the cheer squad—and others—to cultivate an atmosphere of camaraderie in content and performances.
“It’s more about providing excitement than other bands at PSU,” Higgins said.
The band provides a multitude of new challenges and opportunities for the musicians involved. Its songbook of modern and upbeat tunes is meant to complement the spirited crowds at games. This requires musicians to have a detailed understanding of the songs, so that they can focus on the energy coming from their audience.
The music must be loud to mirror the tenacity of Viking athletes, yet played well enough that it can be enjoyed by a variety of students and community members. The task seems challenging for any musician.
Luckily, the band’s director, Michael Suskin, has the experience to lead Viking Sound through its inaugural year. Having participated in pep bands since he was 15 years old, Suskin provided his insight at the inception. Higgins initially approached Suskin based on his performance experience and his work directing high school pep bands.
“It was a natural progression for me to become the director,” Suskin said.
Suskin’s dedication to Viking Sound began before the band’s existence was even assured. His investment in the group paid off, and he’s already been impressed by the skill and readiness of the participating students.
“Initially, I was worried that a pep band didn’t exist because maybe no one wanted to be in a pep band,” Suskin said.
But the response of well-equipped and knowledgeable musicians quickly lifted
“They would get the sheet music and be able to play it after two tries. It’s one of the fastest-learning bands I’ve seen,” Suskin said.
The anticipation translates to preparedness in the bandstands and another reason for students to come out and join Viking Sound. Because the band needed to be put together so quickly, it currently consists mainly of music majors, though Suskin believes other students with music backgrounds will audition in the future.
Suskin’s prediction makes sense based on the promise he and Higgins have seen in the Viking Sound’s present membership: Students who are willing to practice, arrange and even write for a band they know has the potential for unique and enjoyable performances.
With its excellent morale, high demand and members who are excited to prepare and perform, Viking Sound seems destined to be a staple in PSU’s school spirit, and the band seems to be in line with what the forming parties had envisioned.
“It’s another college experience that keeps them involved,” Higgins said.
“There’s a lot of excitement, and they know when they play they’re going to be seen by a lot of people.”