PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Hollywood came to Pittsburg on Wednesday.
It was, quite possibly, the first time a marching band had ever performed on stage at Memorial Auditorium. It also was the first time nobody cared what the band looked like — only its sound.
About 150 current and former members of the Pittsburg State Pride of the Plains Marching Band recorded several songs at the auditorium and on the oval at PSU for an upcoming movie starring comedian-actor Will Ferrell.
“It’s our brush with fame,” cracked Doug Whitten, director of athletic bands at PSU. “It is very unusual for bands outside of California to get an opportunity like this. Honestly, I think it’s really cool.”
The opportunity came about because of Whitten’s longtime friendship with Chris Fogel, an award-winning film score mixer, recording engineer and producer. When the director of the film on which Fogel was working needed a college band sound, he turned to his old friend.
“We’ve been best friends since sixth grade on the West Coast, in Reno and in California,” Whitten said. “We ended up both moving away, but then wound up in the same high school together. We both were in band. I played tuba; he played trumpet.”
They attended the University of Nevada together and were in the same fraternity. In the early 1980s, they owned underground, alternative music dance clubs.
Whitten went on to become a university band director and joined the PSU Department of Music in 2003.
Fogel went on to work on more than 75 movies, including “Message in a Bottle,” “Fun with Dick and Jane,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” He also has worked on dozens of albums with musicians including Quincy Jones, Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Simple Minds and U2.
For the Ferrell movie, Fogel wanted a university band sound as opposed to a studio band. Although both Whitten and Fogel said they were not at liberty to reveal the title of the movie, online trailers indicate that Ferrell’s next movie is “The Campaign,” an election satire directed by Jay Roach of “Meet the Parents.” Ferrell plays U.S. Rep. Cam Brady, who is running for president against Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis. Its release date is listed as Aug. 10.
Each recording, or “take,” on Wednesday was live-streamed on a secure computer connection to Los Angeles. There, the composer/arranger of the band’s version of the tune “Takin’ Care of Business,” as well as the movie’s production staff, listened in and offered comments.
“There have been some technical issues on the facility’s end, but other than that it’s going good,” Fogel said between takes at the auditorium as he manned the sound board. “The band is good. Everything sounds great.”
Whitten said he had no trouble getting students and alumni to come back for the recording. He sent out the call on Facebook and soon had about 150 who wanted to participate. Rehearsals began early Wednesday morning, focusing on articulation, dynamics and timing.
At one point, Whitten, standing in a chair on stage to direct rather than on his usual football field sideline ladder, advised the musicians to “blow your freakin’ brains out.”
Producers plan to use a 27-second recording at the introduction of the movie. Short recordings will be “sprinkled throughout,” Fogel said.
“I think Joplin and Pittsburg should rent out an entire theater to have the band go see the movie as an event,” said trombonist Chris Goddard, who began with the band as an undergraduate in 2004 and is continuing through graduate school. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Vicki Mays, a music major in the early 1970s who went on to teach at Carthage, Carl Junction and Jasper, Mo., and at Columbus, didn’t expect to be playing her flute with a college band again.
“I direct the Heartland band in Carthage now, so I never get to actually play,” she said. “When Doug posted the request on Facebook, I said, ‘Yes!’ My fingers may be a little creaky, but I can do it.”
Several of her students also showed up to play, delighting Mays. As an added bonus, her daughter, Jennifer Mays, is an actress and knows Ferrell.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Vicki Mays said.
In return for recording “Takin’ Care of Business” and a few other songs, Fogel professionally recorded the marching band playing the PSU fight song.
“That’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” Whitten said.