Dr. Justin McManus ‘11 (SFA, ED), ‘13 (MM) was a member of the University of Connecticut Marching Band ten years ago. Now he returns to the organization to replace his former director Dr. David Mills, who retired after 33 years with UCMB.
McManus marched the tuba in the band and was a drum major during his time as an undergraduate from 2006-2011. He stayed as a graduate assistant through his masters program from 2011-2013.
After graduating from UConn, he went on to become assistant director of university bands at Notre Dame for nine years. Subsequently, he stepped away from music for a year and moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue his passion for politics and law.
Now, he comes full circle to succeed his former director. When asked why he decided to return to his roots, McManus said after attending Mills retirement send-off last fall, he felt at home being back on the UConn campus.
“I think being back on campus, I felt that measure of what it meant to be a member of the UCMB family and a chance to come back and be part of it again. It is a once in a lifetime thing,” he said.
As a student, McManus articulated how being in the band allowed him to develop his time management skills and navigate student leadership and mentoring.
“I think that being a band member defined my role as a leader and a teacher,” McManus said.
He spoke on how Mills took the band to new heights during his time as director and how he will continue to grow the band as the new director.
“Dr. Mills grew this band from around 120 or so in the early ‘90s to over 300. That’s a big deal, especially in Connecticut,” McManus said. “I think the best way we can honor the students and honor the history of the program is to grow the band in ways that are reflective of the students at the time. It is a careful balance of tradition and history, but also knowing that history and traditions can change.”
“Dr. Mills grew this band from around 120 or so in the early ‘90s to over 300. That’s a big deal, especially in Connecticut. I think the best way we can honor the students and honor the history of the program is to grow the band in ways that are reflective of the students at the time. It is a careful balance of tradition and history, but also knowing that history and traditions can change.”Dr. Justin McManus, Director of the UConn Marching Band.
This year’s show “Life Animated” will include “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder, “Rocket Man” by Elton John and “Get it On” by Bill Chase, in addition to theme songs from “Power Rangers” and “Cowboy Bebop.”
McManus said that the song variety is diverse; some songs are are exciting and fast while others are calm and slow. He described this as a metaphor for life as sometimes it is fast-paced and action-filled, while at other times peace and tranquility is necessary.
McManus explained how the show comes at a perfect time in a post COVID-19 world.
“This idea of animating ourselves and infusing new and reinvigorated energy back into the program, back into music and making live music again,” he said. “Now we can make music with and for each other again, and that is a key part of this ‘life animated’ idea.”
Students in the band come from all levels of experience. Some students come from big competitive marching band programs, while others have never marched before. McManus emphasized that regardless of experience, everyone is welcome and can fit into the band.
“How are we reaching out to the state as a state school?” he said when talking about his goals for the season. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to ourselves and the state of Connecticut.”
As participant numbers have increased to over 300 this year, McManus said the band will continue to do outreach within the school and the state to increase involvement, whether that be through exhibitions, social media or individually reaching out to interested high school students.
“I think that we can always make things better and take it to the next level,” McManus said.
The marching band performs pre, half and postgame shows at home football games, and also plays at exhibitions around the area to recruit high school students to join. The 2023 performance schedule can be found on their website.