New UW Marching Band Director Corey Pompey meets media for the first time

Published: Sep. 4, 2019 at 8:51 PM CDT
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The new UW Marching Band Director Dr. Corey Pompey met with reporters for the first time Wednesday since replacing Mike Leckrone, who retired last spring after leading the band for a half century.

Here is a transcript of questions and answers from today's news conference on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. (For more information of Corey Pompey's background and experience, click on the attached University of Wisconsin-Madison news release).

When asked about "replacing" a legend (Mike Leckrone): “The honest answer is you don’t! There is only one Mike Leckrone, and I’d be doing the band a disservice and myself a disservice, if I tried to emulate him. So the best thing that I can do is be myself. Now certainly there are things involved with the program that he has done, and we certainly intend to keep those things as part of the program. But, I have to be myself."

What will you keep from Mike Leckrone's tenure, and what will you change? "Well, one of the things that we will keep is the signature step of the band, which is known as "Stop at the Top." That will remain the same. We will also keep doing the 5th Quarter. Now, I hope as the years go by, 5th Quarter will change a little bit so that we introduce different tunes, so that we can do maybe something different every week. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I don't anticipate that happening this year...but certainly down the road."

What type of music can we expect to hear in this season's halftime shows? Will it be different from the music Mike Leckrone chose? “That's a great question. He has his taste in music. I have my taste in music. Some of our tastes overlap and some of our tastes don’t overlap. I don't know that I can say specifically what our differences in music will be, but I will say for our first show, you can expect a little bit of Beyonce’, The Killers, Jonas Brothers, and Adele, and all four of those tunes will be done in three and a half minutes. We'll touch each one of those things. The second show we're planning to do a funk show--so we're really looking forward to doing that. So, something old, something new...and the idea is that we'll be able to have music that will touch everybody at some point in time. So, for those people who don't recognize the music of our first show, I hope that they'll recognize something that we're playing in our second show."

How would you describe your teaching style? "I don't know. I just be myself. I hope that what you see is what you get. I hope that my teaching style is direct, fun, but at the same time business-like. That's the best I can tell you. I probably need to think a little more about that. I just go in the field and do what I do, and I haven't thought a lot about what my style is or isn't."

What's important to you when it comes to the culture of the band? "I hope to create a sense of community, a sense of family within the band...where we can all come together and have a good time, with the purpose of entertaining the fans. That's what I hope to do. And while we're doing that, to march well and play well too. So that's what I'd really like to do."

First impression of the band so far? "They are very hard working. I wish that at some point, everyone could come see the band rehearse during the summer. The football team has two-a-days, the band has two-a-days, and sometimes three-a-days...and we're up and down the field. On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin! Probably hundreds of times. It really takes a huge amount of dedication to be able to do that all. It's all in service of perfecting the marching style and making sure that we put the best musical product out on the field that we can."

Mike Leckrone did this more than 50 years, so where do you see yourself in 50 years. Corey laughs..."I hope that I'm still alive in 50 years. (But) Where I see myself in 5 years? I see myself right here, doing the job, and doing the job really well and making great music. I don't know what the music landscape's going to look like at the time, but I hope that we'll be able to bring some of that to it. But certainly we'll still be playing some of the tried and true favorites as well."

Are you prepared for the cold weather? "No, I'm not prepared for the cold weather. Yes, I did spend time in State College (Penn State). I didn't like the cold weather then, and I don't anticipate that changing now. However, I will dress the part. I might not be as jovial. But if the students are out there in the weather, I'm going to be out in the weather, and we're committed that we're bringing the best product possible to the people we can."

What's one of the challenges that you find in starting with a whole new group? "Well...getting organized is a huge challenge. Here we're in a place where we've had this infrastructure in place for 50 years. Everybody knows what they're supposed to do, how they're supposed to do it, when they're supposed to do it...and then here's me coming in to lead this organization and there are things I don't necessarily know. I was standing on the field a couple of weeks ago and the band just started clapping. So, I looked around...what's happening? Well, I have to learn what was happening. There are several things like that that happen, that have happened, that will continue to happen and I just need to get up to speed on what's going on. The other challenge is doing things, can I phrase it. There are things that I like to hear if I'm listening to a band. And, if I don't hear it, then I have to somehow bring it out. Well, it could be that the person before me had a different focus, so it takes some time to get those musical ideas ingrained. It's not a better or worse's just different. It doesn't matter who's standing in front of the group. Anytime you have different people standing in front of them conducting, each one of those people or each person has a different way of hearing things. So, if you've been doing things one way for a long time, it can be hard to do it a different way."

What was your first impression of Union South, and what are your expectations for the Badger Bash? "Well, first off, I must commend the staff at Union South. They've been wonderful partners to the band over the last several decades. And it is my understanding that area that we play in was designed for the band to perform on Saturday. So, my first impression was, I like this! Because when the band played...and you kind of have to see how the building is designed, you can't describe it...but the way the building is designed is almost like it's an acoustical shell and so when they hit those fortissimo moments, it was just really, really goose bump-inducing. What can we expect to see (there)? A band that plays great music. We're still trying to figure out some components of it. As you know, Mike used to come in different ways and I don't know exactly how I'm going to be walking in just yet, but we'll see what happens."

How do you feel about being the first person of color to not only direct this marching band, but directing this band on this campus that has had struggles with black representation: "It's an honor, first off, to be an African-American leading this organization. However, that does not go through my mind when I'm doing my job. When I'm doing my job, I'm trying to get the students to march well, play well. I'm trying to get the best that they can be. Certainly, I understand that I'm an African-American, and this means something to a lot of people, so my hope is that I can be a role model to other African-Americans...and not just African-Americans, but all people. When I do my job, I hope to do it in a way that won't let people down. So, if that makes people in my community proud, I'm happy to do that. But when I'm in the nitty gritty, that's really not what I'm thinking about. I'm just thinking about doing a good job."

Have you been in touch with Mike Leckrone? Do you expect him to weigh in with his opinions, or is it just your band now? "I see him all the time. And, yes, we have talked a little bit about his early days. There are things I've learned since our first conversations that I want to hear what he has to say (when Mike gets back from Europe). As far as his advice to me, he did not have advice for me. He simply said, ‘Do what you know how to do.' That’s all he said. And I think it’s great advice. When we see each other, we have great conversations, but it's not necessarily about what's happening with the band program."

So, are we going to see you swinging from ceilings in sequins (Spring Concert)? (Laughter) "I'm fairly confident in saying you probably won't see me swinging from the ceilings. But we hope to have a show in the spring that has high production value and that people will still enjoy. (long, thoughtful pause) And plus, I'm scared. I mean I don't see it."

During your time at Penn State, did you have any observations or interactions with Wisconsin that made this a place you wanted to get to? "Sure. I saw the Wisconsin Band for the first time in Dallas, Texas, when they were playing the University of Alabama, and I remember thinking, that band looks different than other bands that I had seen. I knew some graduate students that had gone to The University of Wisconsin, and they often talked about Mike Leckrone, Mike Leckrone, Mike Leckrone. The legend--Mike Leckrone. So that was my first experience with the Wisconsin Marching Band. Certainly, when I was at Penn State, we met in the Big10 Tournament, I had the opportunity to see the Wisconsin Band again. And just being in the profession, you know about the Wisconsin Band. And so, I found that intriguing. So, you combine the culture of the band program here with the quality of the institution, and it becomes a no-brainer...almost! I had to think before I signed my name on that bottom line, I had to come to grips with the fact that I would be following Mike Leckrone..and that took me awhile. Again, I wondered. But, after thinking about it, after pondering it a little more...talking to mentors and friends, and talking to the students here, talking to the faculty and administration here, I was convinced this was something that could work and could ultimately be successful."