Rider drummer marches to the Rutgers band tune

Senior Aaron Allen (second from left) joins in with the members of the Rutgers University marching band in an effort to rouse the crowd during a football game.  Allen has been playing for Rutgers since his junior year.By Laura Mortkowitz

Even though his Monday classes end by 2:40 p.m., senior Aaron Allen is by no means done with his day.

It’s not that he has homework to do, although there is that, too. Allen goes back to his room and gets ready to leave campus by 3:30 p.m. so he can make the drive up Route 1 to the Rutgers University campus.
Although Allen is a full-time student at Rider, the ‘R’ on his band uniform actually stands for Rutgers University, since he is a part of its marching band.

“When I got to Rider, there was no marching band so I had to look outside,” Allen said. “One of my friends from Rutgers told me about the Rutgers Marching Band. He said anyone could join.”

Three days a week, Allen drives an hour in traffic to participate in a two-hour practice. He also plays for all home football games.

“I drive every day,” he said. “I don’t have a problem but I have a lot of miles on my car. It’s just routine for me now.”

It’s because of a Rutgers policy that Allen and other students are allowed to play with the state university. According to Rutgers Marching Band Director Timothy Smith, the school thought it should offer this chance to students at other colleges.

“Since we’re the state university of New Jersey, it would be a nice gesture to afford other colleges in the state that have an interest in marching in the collegiate marching band to join us,” Smith said.

Rider doesn’t have a marching band, but Allen is a member of the pep band, the Rider University Bronc Band (RUBB), which plays during home basketball games and other campus events. RUBB is completely student-run and directed, although Dr. Jerry Rife, professor of music, is the faculty adviser.

“It was started by a student about four years ago,” Rife said. “Rider doesn’t have a marching band because there’s no football team. So the pep band tries to generate school spirit.”

Allen is also part of the Rider University Band, which plays one concert a semester. The band plays alongside professionals in a community band, the Blawenburg Band. Both are conducted by Rife.

However, the Rutgers Marching Band is giving Allen an experience that he couldn’t get with Rider.

“It’s a whole different environment than here,” he said. “Here they have a good music program. But there is new music every two weeks at Rutgers and I have to march and everything. I like watching the game and being in an environment with people cheering and heckling.”

Allen said the big crowd is what he missed most coming from high school to Rider. He first started playing as a freshman in high school, but he had his first drum when he was much younger.

His father bought him and his brother a drum set and an organ. Allen got the organ. However, his brother never played the drums, so he played them.

“I just caught on to the drums,” he said. “It’s the easiest instrument, but once you really get into it you find more advanced things. I just kept going with it.”

Understandably, Allen was disappointed when he found out Rider didn’t have a marching band to join, but he started out playing in the concert band and RUBB.

“The Pep Band is pretty new here, so there’s not as much of a background here for the basketball games,” he said. “The Rutgers Marching Band has been around for so many years and it just has such a strong backing.”

It could have been difficult for Allen, a Rider student, playing with all the Rutgers students, but he said there isn’t a problem.

“Basically, all I see is everybody wants to play music and they want to march,” he said. “Of course you get some people who are like, ‘Rider sucks,’ but it doesn’t add up. Over there we’re all one, the marching band, non-affiliated.”

The fact that Allen attended Rutgers band camp over the summer helped build some camaraderie among the band members. The camp only lasted a week, but each day they started out running two miles at 6 a.m.

“This was my first year at band camp,” Allen said. “Everyone’s required to go to band camp. It was a good experience. We wake up at 6 [a.m.] and we don’t stop until 6 that night. It’s intense.”

Still, there is the typical teasing. Rutgers students like to call Rider “little RU.” But Allen said that since there are a lot of people not from Rutgers it’s never an issue.

Allen even had the chance to travel with the Rutgers Marching Band. When the football team went to the Texas Bowl, the band followed for free. According to him, the big crowd there was similar to Rutgers stadium.

“I like that about Rutgers: playing and hearing the cheers,” he said. “I like that constructive criticism.”

Allen managed to find venues that let him play in the fall, winter and spring. He doesn’t want to lose his talent because he hasn’t been using it enough.

“After football season I play with United Percussion,” Allen said. “That’s 20 hours on the weekends. We won first in the nation last year. It’s intense drumming. There’s a lot of movement, a lot of playing. It’s just another venue for me to drum.”

According to Allen, this is the best way for him to keep playing, and he’s glad he had the opportunity to have these experiences. However, he’ll always have love for Rider, he said.

“I’m still a Rider student,” he said. “But it’s definitely been a good experience because I get the best of both worlds. Here it’s a small school and there it’s a big school with a football team.”

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