At Lincoln South Rotary Club on June 11, 2021 we heard about the activities and history of the UNL Marching Band from the director Tony Falcone.
Mark your calendar - August 20 2021 - pre-season marching band exhibition - free! At this point they are planning the year "as usual".
The band started in 1879 as a military band as part of the Military Department at UNL. Women filled the ranks during WWII (similar story as "A League of  Their Own"). In 1972 women were officially invited to be band members.
Tony shared that the band has received many awards and recognition during its 142 year history.
  • In 1927 John Philip Sousa traveled to Lincoln to perform and while here he presented the "loving cup" award to the band.
  • In 1993 the Kennedy Center had a tribute to Johnny Carson and the UNL Marching Band was part of the ceremony.
  • In 1996 the band received the Sudler Trophy presented to a bank with high musical standards and innovative routines and contributes to the advancements in musical performance over years; a band can only earn this award once
  • The band was featured in "Tommy Lee Goes to College" a reality show featuring Mötley Crüe's drummer Tommy Lee
  • A film crew from "Yes Man" filmed portions of the movie at Memorial Stadium including the marching band
  • They have performed in all of the Major Bowl games and many of the Minor Bowl games
View the UNL Band Timeline Website:
We quickly learned that the work of the band leadership and members is not just during the marching band / football season. For the staff, there is work and planning that occurs throughout the entire year. They are constantly juggling activities among:
  • Marching Band of 300 members
  • Big Red Express Band of 120 students
  • 4 Concert Bands
  • 2 Jazz Ensembles
Immediately following the regular football season they hope for a bowl game and trip for the marching band. There is no break - as soon as the marching band season is over they start planning for the next season that starts early in September.
First, Tony and his associates visit schools to recruit future band members. Similar to the sports recruiting activities, they do not guarantee the students a spot on the marching band as they still need to audition. But it does give them a chance to get to know the students. They make note of possible leaders for the various section and squad leaders. The band does not have associate directors and instead rely on member leaders and some graduate assistants to serve as mentors.
They hold auditions for drum majors and twirlers early in the year (usually by March).
Then the band members audition. During the pandemic the auditions took on a very different form - they could not be done in person. But Tony stated that made it interesting - the students were more comfortable in their own space and they witnessed different performances than they would see if in person.
Band camp starts about 10 days before classes. The groups come in incrementally. They start with the leaders who meet for some team building and goal setting. The sections then arrive and meet with their leaders and begin to build the team.
A second round of auditions is held on marching skills. Everyone has to audition even if they are a returning band member.
The band is made of exceptional students. Though they require a 2.0 GPA to be a member, the average is usually 3.5 with many students at 4.0. 20-25% of the band members are music majors. The next highest major is engineering at 15%. Most students are from Nebraska but a couple of years ago they had students from 23 different states.
Tony believes that the marching band program provides the best gateway to life at UNL of any of the programs. It starts with Band Camp. Students arrive earlier than others so they are not thrown into the pool of thousands. Instead they get acquainted with a few hundred and they all support each other. They get familiar with dorm life and the campus before the semester begins.
The schedule is rigorous during the marching band season. There is practice Monday through Friday at 7:00 for 1.5 hours when the stadium is available to them. On game days, they have dress rehearsal 5.5 hours before the game.
There is a completely different show each half-time. So they have 6.5 hours to learn the show for the next week (which is cut down when there are holidays). They also have a pre-game show that they have to learn. Tony is constantly working on the details of the shows coming up with themes based on current events or anniversaries of events. They also try to ensure that the music will be diverse enough to reach all generations.

Tony Falcone is the Associate Director of Bands at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His duties include directing the Cornhusker Marching Band, conducting the Symphonic Band, teaching instrumental arranging, and assisting with the administration of all University Bands. He is also active in the Percussion Studio, teaching lessons, and guest conducting the Percussion Ensemble. He has held previous appointments at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville; James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA; and Truman State University in Kirksville, MO. He earned his B.M.Ed. and M.M. degrees from James Madison University.

Mr. Falcone is very active as a marching and concert band clinician, arranger, and adjudicator for school music programs throughout the country. He serves regularly as a guest conductor for honor bands and his clinics have been received at several state conventions including TMEA and the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Arranger’s Publishing Company and Alfred Publications have published his arrangements. He has also performed across the nation as a percussionist and percussion soloist appearing on national television, radio and motion pictures. Locally he is a member of the Plymouth Brass, and a regular performer with the Lincoln Municipal Band, and Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra. He is also an educational artist for Innovative Percussion and Remo Inc. He currently serves as National Vice President for Professional Relations for Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity and has served as Concert Band Chair for the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association and Nebraska Chapter President of the Percussive Arts Society.