Photograph by Annette Navarro
You don’t need a helmet and shoulder pads to work magic on the gridiron. After 50 years teaching music—20 as director of the University of Cincinnati Bearcat Bands—Terren Frenz and his halftime performances have derailed countless trips to the concession stand. At 71 years of age, Frenz has no plans to hang up his baton.
The University of Cincinnati Bearcat Bands actually consists of 11 different units. The biggest one is the UC Marching Band, and that’s approaching close to 300 members.
One of the requirements for being a reasonably competent band director is that we have to be able to play every band instrument, and I make a pretty good stab at it.
It will take us at least 100 hours of rehearsal time for a 10-minute halftime show. From the time a kid first looks at the music, to the time they memorize the drill, a full-blown, 10-minute show will take a minimum of 10 practice hours per minute.
I try to play stuff for the kids. We’ve ended the past five seasons with the most current pop song we could get our hands on, taking it right into the stands and the student body. Last year we ended with “We Are Young.” The year before it was “Party Rock Anthem.”
People my age are always in my face about why we don’t play more John Philip Sousa marches.
When I first came here, it was the football team, the parents, the band, and the cheerleaders at games. They had to beg people to show up. Now I’ve been to 13 bowl games in the last 20 years. It’s pretty much big-time football.
I get up in the morning, and even though I see my grandpa looking back at me, I’ve been blessed with really good health over the years. The students keep me young. As long as the process still works and we’re successful at it, I’m gonna go for a while.
The Doctor Is In
Aside from heading up the UC Band program, Frenz has directed high school bands, professional ensembles, and church choirs as far back as 1963. He also has a doctorate in music education and estimates he’s taught well over 25,000 students in his career.
The average GPA of the UC Marching Band is about 3.4. “It’s a smart-kids band,” says Frenz.
Parents Just Don’t Understand
“I remember my mother and father wanted me to be a lawyer or a minister,” says Frenz. “I compromised and became a band director, because it let me be a preacher, teacher, consultant, social worker, truck driver, whatever.”
“We start practicing about two weeks before school starts, and we’ll go at that pretty hard day and night,” says Frenz. “We’ll try to crank out as much of that 100 hours as we can. When school starts, we’re pretty restricted by class schedules.”
Originally published in the September 2013 issue.