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Guest Conductor Experience gives Duke fans chance to lead pep band at home basketball game

Anne Dowling, Trinity '92, conducts the band at Duke men's basketballs home game against Clemson. Courtesy of DBAA.
Anne Dowling, Trinity '92, conducts the band at Duke men's basketballs home game against Clemson. Courtesy of DBAA.

Run by the Duke Band Alumni Association, the Duke Band Guest Conductor Game Day Experience gives Duke fans the chance to conduct the pep band at any home men’s basketball game.

This year, prospective participants must place a bid for each game, and the winner of the auction will be the guest conductor for that game. All proceeds benefit the Duke Marching Band program and game day experience for fans at all Duke Athletics events.

Each Guest Conductor Experience includes four or more opportunities to conduct the band throughout the game, premium seats for the conductor’s three guests and a personalized conductor baton. Prior conducting experience is not required—the guest conductor receives personalized conducting training before the game.

The idea for the Guest Conducting Experience was born in 2014 at the Duke Band Alumni Association annual strategy meeting. Nick Superina, Trinity ‘03 and co-founder of DBAA, said the association was looking to innovate exciting new game day experiences for Duke fans.

“We had this vision of the Guest Conductor Experience potentially becoming a tradition in Cameron,” Superina said.

To create momentum for the new program, Duke Alumni Band invited ESPN analyst Jay Bilas to be the first guest conductor at the Duke vs. University of Connecticut game in December 2014. Bilas was a four-year starter on Duke’s basketball team from 1982 to 1986 and Mike Krzyzewski’s assistant coach from 1990 to 1992. Thus, the program gained traction, and the Guest Conductor Experience became a staple at every home men’s basketball game.

In previous years, each game had a fixed donation requirement in order for fans to be a guest conductor, and the program ran on a first come, first served basis.

“That first season, our prices ranged from, like, $1000 for exhibition games, it was $2500 for non conference games, and then $5000 for ACC games, and $10,000 for the Duke-UNC game … these are kind of just these educated guesses,” Superina said.

This year is Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last year, and there is much “pent up demand” from not running the Guest Conducting Experience last season, Superina said. Given these two factors, the DBAA decided to switch the fundraising method to an auction-style system for this basketball season.

According to Superina, every home men’s basketball game has sold a Guest Conductor Experience, except for the Georgia Tech game Jan. 4. Nearly $60,000 has been raised from this year’s season, and over $160,000 has been raised across all years since the program’s inception.

“So far, this year, it’s been an unbelievable year for us…we really can’t thank all the donors and participants enough for being a part of [the Guest Conductor Experience]. It just transformed the Duke band program,” Superina said.

Director of Athletic Bands Jeffrey Au said he initially didn’t know what to expect from the Guest Conductor Experience. When the program first started, he found it to be a bit hectic, but now he’s able to make it a “seamless experience” for all participants.

“It's so enjoyable for me to do it,” Au said. “It's really gratifying.”

Au has loved seeing all kinds of people participate as a guest conductor. He has helped guide parents of current band members, young children and even a groom during his bachelor party to successfully conduct the pep band.

This year, Au remembers a Guest Conducting Experience that was a Christmas present from the participant’s husband. “It seemed like it was just like the highlight of her life to come and get to conduct the band,” Au said.

Some guest conductors come back multiple times to conduct the band. Preston Hensley has conducted the band four times this season.

“I am a Dark Blue Devil fan. That will be first and foremost,” he said. Skipping hours of waiting in line in the cold was nice as well, he added.

Hensley felt that the Duke band was truly appreciative of him and his guests at each game. “Every single person on the band team introduced themselves and waved at us,” he said. “I'll be back definitely next year as well.”

Anne Dowling, Trinity ‘92, conducted the Duke v. Clemson game. She brought three friends along to show them “what the most impressive place and the most fun place in the whole world is like.”

The conducting experience made Dowling realize that the pep band’s energy is incredible and makes such a huge difference in the game day atmosphere.

“I think those kids are fantastic. And they do a lot of sacrifices that people don't realize,” Dowling said.

Dowling had a great time engaging with members of the pep band and visiting her alma mater.

“It was a mixture of nostalgia and fun,” Dowling said. “I couldn't think of a better way to show some support and to say goodbye to Coach K.” 


Katie Tan | Managing Editor

Katie Tan is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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