Blue Band director set to go 'Off on Victory'

Annemarie Mountz
November 23, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When the Penn State Blue Band pours out of the tunnel in Beaver Stadium this Saturday (Nov. 29), it will begin its last home performance under longtime director O. Richard Bundy.

Bundy, who will retire in May 2015, is completing his final marching band season in a career that began in 1980, when he was a graduate assistant for the band.

The outpouring of good wishes from faculty, staff, students, alumni and former Blue Band members during his farewell season is a testament to the impact he has made on their lives.

"Dr. Bundy is the epitome of a Penn Stater. His work ethic rubs off on everyone. He commands respect everywhere he goes not only because of who he is and what he has accomplished, but because he gives respect. He is one of the most charismatic and humble people I've ever worked with and under."

-- Charlie Kuhns, Blue Band alumnus

"Dr. Bundy taught me what it really meant to be a Penn Stater. I can't really sum it up with one word or phrase. It's a sense of inclusion. It's a sense of belonging," said Charlie Kuhns, 2012 Blue Band alumnus and current information systems technician third class in the U.S. Navy. "Dr. Bundy is the epitome of a Penn Stater. His work ethic rubs off on everyone. He commands respect everywhere he goes not only because of who he is and what he has accomplished, but because he gives respect. He is one of the most charismatic and humble people I've ever worked with and under."

Kuhns is far from alone in his admiration for his former band director. Since his pending retirement was announced in August, there have been several surprise tributes paid to Bundy, including a special presentation on the field during halftime of the Homecoming football game vs. Northwestern on Sept. 27, a Homecoming weekend brunch with alumni Blue Band members and a presentation during the Bandorama concert at Eisenhower Auditorium on Nov. 14.

The full band also will pay tribute to Bundy at halftime this Saturday. Instead of choosing their favorites from this season's songs to perform at that game, the Blue Band has voted unanimously to learn three completely new songs – new to them, that is.

During the Blue Band's postgame meeting after the Temple football game Nov. 15, band President Stephen Payne announced that the band would be performing three songs for which Bundy wrote the arrangement or marching drill early in his Penn State career.

"I actually thought it was just a little levity to end the day whenever they told me about it," Bundy said. As it sunk in that the band was, indeed, serious about turning the last show into a tribute for their retiring leader, he was stunned, and asked, "Is this for real? You want to work that hard next week?"

Payne said the band members wanted to do their part to honor their director. "Working to prepare a halftime show to honor Dr. Bundy for his commitment and dedication to our program and to the University is certainly the very least we can do. I know the Blue Band members are excited for the chance to give back and make Dr. Bundy’s last game in Beaver Stadium as our director a very special one. If that means we will have to put in some extra work, so be it," Payne said.

"As I've had a chance to reflect on it, it's a really nice honor that they're doing this. It's going to be really enjoyable to hear the band play some of the arrangements that I've done over the years, for my last time with them," Bundy said.

"I'm still a little uncomfortable with it, though," he confessed. "I've always felt that the last show should be about the students that season, and what they really enjoyed. Yet it's really nice of the staff and them to want to do this. It's one of those things that I'm very honored to have happen."

One of the songs they'll play, a James Bond medley, is from the 1982 season. It also was performed at the 1983 Sugar Bowl, at which Penn State won its first national championship.

"At that point it was my third year as the graduate assistant and my wife, Chris, and I were already making plans and had inquiries out on job openings, thinking that we were going to be moving on. And then there was a turn of events in the spring, and I ended up staying on in an acting capacity. One thing led to another, and I'm still here 30 years later," he said.

Bundy said he views the Blue Band as one of the generally accepted symbols of Penn State, along with the Nittany Lion and the Old Main Bell Tower, and that is something he has tried to express to his students. So when opportunities arose in 2005 to put the band, and the University, in the national spotlight in a new way, he took full advantage of the positive publicity it would generate.

First, fashion designer Marc Jacobs contacted him about participating in the Fashion Week show in New York City. Jacobs' fashion line that year had a throw-back feel to earlier days in high school, and so he wanted a band to help give the show a pep-rally feel.

"He liked the traditional look of our uniform and so we got contacted" about participating, Bundy said. "About half the band went to New York City and it was a great experience for the students. There were huge celebrities in the audience. They were talking about seeing Uma Thurman when they marched down the catwalk."

The Blue Band director holds up an Annie Liebovitz print featuring members of the Blue Band in the background.

O. Richard Bundy shows a signed print the Blue Band received from celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz after the band participated in Liebovitz's photo shoot of actress Keira Knightley for Vogue Magazine in 2005.

IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

Fashion photographer Annie Liebovitz saw the Blue Band in Jacobs' show, and got the idea to use the band in a photo spread she was doing with Keira Knightley for Vogue Magazine.

"The concept that they used was the 'Wizard of Oz,' and she decided she wanted to have a shot of Keira Knightley at the Yellow Brick Road. The Munchkin Band is part of that scene in the movie," Bundy said. A smaller group of Blue Band members participated in the shoot, playing the role of the Munchkin Band.

The Vogue spread then led to a third opportunity, as photographer David Sims spent three days on the University Park campus for a photo shoot involving the Blue Band that appeared in W Magazine in January 2006.

The Blue Band got some international exposure this year, as a small representative group accompanied the football team to Ireland for the Croke Park Classic.

Although the experiences and exposure were very positive, Bundy said one of the down sides to each was that only a portion of the band was able to participate.

"That was a tough decision process we had to do to decide who got to go to Ireland," Bundy said. "I think we had 170-some students sign up as being interested, and we had to pare that down to 35. That was tough."

All about the students

With everything he does, he keeps his students as the primary focus and looks for ways for them to participate.

Bundy said the least favorite part of his job occurs once a year, on the last night of Blue Band auditions, when he has to make cuts to the prospective rookie class.

"This is the last time I have to break kids' hearts and tell them they’re not going to be in the band this year," he said in advance of this year's auditions. "That's one thing I won't miss."

Early on in his career, he worked to find a place for those musicians who didn't make the Blue Band, to enable them to participate in an athletic band. That was difficult when he first became director of athletic bands because he didn't have an assistant director to help him.

"Students who came to campus in the fall and auditioned but didn't make Blue Band would kind of just melt back into the student body and we would never see them again. They just wouldn't participate in any band activities," Bundy said.

When Greg Drane became assistant director of athletic bands in 2005, that changed.

"We were able to start what we call the fall athletic band, primarily for students who were unsuccessful in their Blue Band auditions," Bundy said. "We've been able to build that to the point now where there are some students in that band who don't even audition for the Blue Band. At the same time it still allows Blue Band students to participate, if they have the time and the energy, the inclination and the interest."

One fall athletic band has since grown to three distinct Pride of the Lions (POTL) bands, supporting volleyball, basketball and coming soon, hockey. Bundy said the growing popularity of the POTL bands helps to meet increasing requests from the Athletic Department.

"We still have a very difficult time meeting every request that is made or every place that everybody would like us to be, but we've been able to increase what we are able to do without over-taxing the students' time in the process," he said.

The ties forged between the music program and athletics have grown steadily stronger over the years. The most visible link between the programs was forged in 2012, when the new tradition of having the team join the band and the fans in the postgame playing and singing of the alma mater began.

"This is one of those kinds of traditions that has been evident at a lot of other universities around the country for a lot longer than we've been doing it, but I do think it was a terrific addition to what goes on at a Penn State football game," Bundy said.

"There have been some pretty emotional times for us in conjunction with the playing of the alma mater at the end of the game. I think of that game against Wisconsin a couple of years ago in the cold, at the end of the season, and the team pulled out a terrific victory. That was one of those galvanizing moments when that new tradition of the alma mater became something that was really much more than just a symbolic act. It became a much more meaningful kind of thing."

Bundy said it meant a lot to him to have that happen. It meant even more to the band members that then-coach Bill O'Brien attended their Blue Band banquet to tell them personally about the addition to the program.

"The students got a great kick out of that, and then it was great to have that initiated that fall," Bundy said.

O. Richard Bundy 09

For Homecoming 2014, Penn State Football Coach James Franklin invited Blue Band Director O. Richard Bundy to join him on the field to sing the postgame Alma Mater. During preseason, Franklin had Bundy attend a team meeting so he could teach the players the lyrics.

IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

The tradition has continued under new head coach James Franklin. In fact, Franklin invited Bundy to a preseason football team meeting to teach the players the words to the alma mater, and then invited him to join him on the field to sing the postgame alma mater with the team at Homecoming.


Bundy's staff members enjoy working with him as much as his students do.

"Dr. Bundy is a one-of-a kind soul who puts everyone before himself," said Heather Bean, the Blue Band's majorette coach/choreographer, who has worked with Bundy for 21 years. "He is so patient and considerate of everyone he works with, staff and students alike. There are 310 students in the band, and he knows each one's name."

Bean said coming up with halftime shows is a collaborative process. "Dr. Bundy is very easy to run ideas by and is very eager to encourage the students. He allows me to be creative with my team within the scope of the drill," she said.

Drane agrees. "We have a lot of fun creating halftime shows. We have a saying during our planning meetings, that 'No idea is too cheesy.' We all have our fair share of cheesy ideas but he encourages everyone to share because sometimes those cheesy ideas develop into great ideas."

Although the Blue Band has achieved much during Bundy's tenure, he credits others and downplays his own role in those accomplishments. He cites the increase in opportunities for students to contribute musically to their University as one of the most important developments in the program.

"I don't want to take credit for things as being my accomplishments, but it's been very gratifying to me that we've had the support that has enabled us to have a facility now that really is one of the best in the country," Bundy said. "To have the kind of support from the fans – not only in terms of their vocal and emotional support, but their financial support – to make some advances with the program to where we're really very well equipped and the instruments that the students are playing on are top-notch instruments, those kinds of things are very gratifying. There are so many people who have been involved in helping to make that happen, though, including the students themselves. Just the idea that their enthusiasm is such that it makes people want to support them, they've had a big role in those accomplishments."

Bundy also credits administrators in helping to implement positive upgrades and improvements to the program in terms of facilities and support. "That aspect of what has happened while I've been here has been very gratifying," he said.

Deep roots

Bundy first came to Penn State as an undergraduate in the fall of 1966, graduating in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in music education. His plan was to go to graduate school at the University of Michigan. When his number came up in the Vietnam War draft, his plans changed.

"I auditioned for an Army band, and I went into the service. From July 1970 to July 1973 I was a trombonist with the United States Continental Army Command Band," he said.

From there, he taught band in grades four through 12 in the Iroquois School District in Erie County, while pursuing his master's degree at the University of Michigan.

After getting his master's degree in 1978, he contemplated a doctorate.

"I still had a couple of years left on the GI Bill, benefits that I could use, and so despite having four children and all the associated responsibilities, we took the chance and came here in the fall of 1980" to be the Blue Band graduate assistant and pursue a doctorate, Bundy said.

Bundy was a graduate assistant with the Blue Band from 1980-83. He served as acting assistant director of the band from 1983 to 1987, when he was named assistant director. He was named director in 1996.

During his tenure, the band moved into its first permanent home on campus, the Blue Band Building, which opened in 2004. The Blue Band previously operated from staff offices located in the Music Building, and equipment was stored in trailers located on the edge of the practice field.

In addition to directing the Blue Band, Bundy oversees the college's other athletic bands, directs the Concert Band, and teaches courses in conducting, marching band techniques, instrumental music education and band literature.

An active guest conductor and adjudicator, Bundy, professor of music education, has conducted ensembles and presented clinics throughout the eastern United States and Canada. He is a member of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA), National Association For Music Education, Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, Phi Beta Mu and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He is a past president of the Eastern Division of CBDNA and Phi Beta Mu, Nu chapter.

In 2009, Bundy received the President's Award for Engagement with Students. In 2013, he was honored with the Alumni Fellow Award, the highest award given by the Penn State Alumni Association.

The College of Arts and Architecture launched a nationwide search for his replacement.

"Richard Bundy is a 'teacher's teacher,' demonstrating a commitment to excellence and to discipline both on and off the playing field," said Barbara Korner, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture. "He models the highest ideals in education, musical standards and strong character. His influence over thousands of lives reveals the value of a Penn State education. His students, many of whom are music educators and band directors throughout the nation, carry on the great Penn State Marching Blue Band tradition."

"Dr. Bundy is one of the most influential people in my life. ... There are few finer examples of character, humility, musicianship and leadership in this world."

-- Ian Kenney, former Blue Band drum major

One of those former students is Ian Kenney, Blue Band drum major from 2010-12, and current band director at Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown, Delaware. "Dr. Bundy is one of the most influential people in my life," he said. "I'm so thankful to have had the experience of working closely with him for three years. There are few finer examples of character, humility, musicianship and leadership in this world."

Wise words

As with many educators, Bundy attempts to teach his students life lessons in addition to subject matter. This desire led to one phrase that every Blue Band member knows and waits to hear at the end of practice: "Carpe the heck out of the diem!"

"It was just one of those things that came out in the moment," Bundy said. "At the end of a rehearsal leading up to a big game I was just talking with them as I usually do to try to wrap up what we've done that day, and it occurred to me that their time with the band and with Penn State in general is so short that they really needed to be valuing every moment of it. Of course the Carpe Diem saying is well-known. I certainly didn't invent that, but I wanted to just put a little bit of emphasis to it and keep it PG still."

Those wise words sum up the example he sets for his students, many of whom consider him to be a mentor and role model.

"It's not something that I go about thinking about doing. I guess it just happens," Bundy said. "I've just tried to do my job and to be available to people if they've needed something. I have had a lot of really great students and many of them in music as well who have gone on to be music teachers, but the majority of the students I work with are not music majors. They go on to important positions in industry and the world. It's certainly is humbling to have people mention that kind of thing."

Dean DeVore, Beaver Stadium announcer and voice of the Blue Band, has known Bundy for 30 years, going back to his days as a prospective rookie with the Blue Band.

"He ran my audition and there was no doubt from that very first moment that he was a kind, caring person, along with being a great educator. Dr. B has taught me responsibility, compassion, caring and commitment to doing the right thing, even when it isn't necessarily the easiest thing."

Many of Bundy's former students come back on football weekends to visit, and others reach out through email and letters, expressing their gratitude for what he taught them.

"When somebody says to you that they look at what you have meant to them as the way that they function with their family and their children, it gets you a little verklempt. These are folks who have gone on to be successes and they've got families. Talking about how that's a big impact on their lives and how what your role had been or what you had done and said, modeled, whatever, was something that now they find themselves doing with their own family. It really hits you in a soft spot when you realize that. It's not something you think of at the time, I don't think. It's just … I try to do the best I can, and apparently it meant a lot more to more people than I realized."

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Last Updated January 10, 2015