By Gianluca D’Elia
As the men’s basketball team got set for a game against Manhattan on Feb. 8, a cacophony of musical instruments warming up filled Alumni Gym. Then, the noise settled down as the Rider Courtside Band (RCB) conductor, sophomore biology major Alex Murphy, raised his hands in the air to lead a group of 12 musicians in an arrangement of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
For years, interest in Rider’s pep band dwindled, and membership was as low as five at one point, said current president and drummer Chris Garino, a senior communication major. But over the past couple of months, the ensemble has doubled in size and become a staple of both men’s and women’s basketball games, dressed in red polo shirts and pumping up the crowd alongside the cheerleaders.
“We used to be called the Rider University Bronc Band,” Garino said. “The acronym was RUBB, and it really wasn’t the best title in the world, so eventually, the name ‘Courtside Band’ stuck. From my freshman year to my junior year, we had a group of five or six people jamming out in a room.”
But when Garino and Murphy decided to revamp the band and to start recruiting last semester, they got their numbers back up and started performing at games once again, after almost three years of inactivity. New students have been increasingly drawn to the idea of joining a band and recreating experiences from high school. Another three members joined as of Feb. 12, according to Murphy.
Like most others in the band, sophomore environmental science major Alina Bardaji joined because she always played flute in high school, and music is one of her “biggest passions in life.”
Resident sousaphone player and junior behavioral neuroscience major Elizabeth Mooney — the only musician in the band whose instrument is bigger than her — knew she wanted to join an ensemble when she first transferred from Bucks County Community College last semester.
“When I came here, I was trying to find this club, and it was impossible to find because it wasn’t active for a long time,” she said. “I asked one of my professors how I could get involved, and he said, ‘Don’t do that, it’s just noise.’”
Meanwhile, freshman accounting major and trombonist Nicole Rebovich found the band through a clubs and activities fair. “If there wasn’t a band table there, I wasn’t going to do anything else,” she recalled.
The students in RCB describe it as a band of misfits. It is a tight-knit but diverse club with its own Snapchat group, and practice venues vary from week to week depending on what is available.
“We have rehearsed in so many different venues when we started out,” said bassist Kory Koch, a sophomore popular music studies major. “I just remember getting shuffled from space to space and not knowing where we’d be next. We’re a fully student-run organization, so it’s kind of charming.”
RCB’s most permanent location over the past month has been the Ridge House lounge, where Garino rests his bass drum on top of an old gray filing cabinet, and instrument cases and percussion equipment are stacked under a rarely used pool table.
Despite inconsistent rehearsal spaces, the band’s spot under the far basket remains the same at every basketball game.
At last Thursday’s game against Manhattan, the band’s presence especially helped the crowd as the Broncs and the Jaspers constantly tailed each other by two points, even in the last few minutes of the game. The sound of the horns playing Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” blared through the gym as the Broncs huddled during a 30-second timeout, moments before they clutched a victory.
“The reception has been really positive,” Bardaji said. “Whenever we haven’t been able to make it to a game, at least one person always tells me they missed us. It’s nice to know we’re making a good impact.”
Now that the tradition of having a pep band has made its way back into basketball games, RCB has given a home to several Rider musicians seeking an outlet, and it has also been a source of camaraderie for its newest, youngest members.
“When I first got to Rider, I didn’t have a set friend group,” said Rebovich. “The band became my friend group and I’m really loyal to them. It’s my family. I wouldn’t have my friends if I didn’t join the band.”
See more photos of the band at theridernews.com.