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UMD marching band returns after 18-year absence

Brendon Canavan pounded his hands on his dining room chairs so long and loud two weeks ago that his downstairs neighbors knocked on their ceiling in an effort to get him to quiet down.

Brendon Canavan pounded his hands on his dining room chairs so long and loud two weeks ago that his downstairs neighbors knocked on their ceiling in an effort to get him to quiet down.

Had Canavan gone mad? No, he had joined a marching band, and those chairs were a makeshift drum kit.

After an 18-year absence, Minnesota Duluth reinstated its marching band this fall, and on Saturday it had its first performance during halftime of UMD's homecoming game against Western Washington.

"There wasn't much marching, but other than that, they looked great," said longtime UMD fan Dave Zentner. "A big improvement."

Band director Dan Eaton arrived at UMD in 2000 and immediately noticed the Bulldogs had a quality pep band but no marching band. It had disbanded -- pardon the pun -- years ago in what Eaton said was still a mystery.

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UMD got the band back together, so to speak, with the group starting practice three weeks ago. On Saturday, they performed the music of Chuck Mangione, known for the hit "Feels So Good" as well as "Give It All You Got" from the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

"This is something we talked about for six or seven years," Eaton said. "We have an incredible Division II football team and a great athletic program in general, so we needed to increase the band's presence at athletic events, and for football that means having a marching band. They go hand-in-hand."

The 38-member marching band is comprised of students from 36 Minnesota and Wisconsin high schools and represents 30 academic majors.

"It's great to have them back," UMD athletic director Bob Nielson said. "It adds tremendously to the atmosphere and festival of what college football is all about."

Canavan, a senior music education major from Ogilvie, Minn., plays tenor saxophone in the pep band, but showed Saturday he is multitalented, banging on the drums as if they were bongos.

"I signed up originally to play tenor sax, but Dan goes, 'Can you play base drum? And I said, 'OK,'" Canavan said. "At first it was just one drum, but then nobody else showed up, so he put me on all four of them."

With little time to get ready, Canavan had to quickly brush up on skills he learned from a percussion techniques class he had as a freshman. Hence, his dining room chair drum solo.

"It took me awhile to get more fluid at it, but I just kept hacking away until I got better," Canavan said.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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