Elizabeth Jewlal calls the Western Mustang Band a “hidden treasure” of extra-curricular activities on campus. And now, thanks to the Alumni Association, the school spirit embodied by that group will be able to march on.
The Western Mustang Band, the oldest marching-style group in Canada, offers more than a handful of exciting opportunities to students. Members go to competitions, tour and travel – a lot. They perform at athletic events, from Western Mustangs football games to the Grey Cup, and parades. They’ve been featured in music videos, and even performed at the Much Music Video Awards.
But despite that resume, the group hasn’t always been appreciated. Negative stereotypes abound when talking to someone not familiar with the band’s reputation and impressive repertoire, said Jewlal, the band’s current president.
“You’d always heard things about the marching band – and it was always less than flattering. People don’t always take the band seriously,” she said.
Being underappreciated, however, isn’t as bad as being underfunded.
“There have been recognition challenges, but we’re not facing those issues as much these days. Now, the issues are predominantly financial,” Jewlal said.
For years, the marching band had been, out of necessity, a self-sustaining body. The band has no formal rehearsal space and, instead, practices in the foyer of Alumni Hall. Members cover their own equipment and uniform costs, travel costs and gym space. The band performs pro bono at athletic events, too.
The pressure mounted a few years ago when the University Students’ Council (USC) stopped having accredited groups, thus denying the band even a small consistent revenue beyond their own membership fees.
“We’re one of those under-appreciated groups, who are constantly out there representing the school spirit – sometimes with very little thanks,” said Jewlal, who plays trombone, bass drums and French horn. “It’s just a group of students running this thing, constantly overcoming adversity and working together. For me, that’s just been very heartwarming.
“We would love to hold our heads up and compete against bands in the States, and we’re not quite there yet. We have a group of talented individuals willing to put the work in, but at the end of the day, we still need support.”
Earlier this year, Jewlal’s spirits were buoyed – twice.
This spring, the Alumni Association’s Legacy Committee recommended, and the Alumni Association Board approved, a $26,000 donation to help purchase new uniforms, instrument cases and replacement plumes on headgear.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so elated than when we got that response back, that part of our proposal was approved. We are not only going to be able to sustain the marching band, but we are actually going to elevate it,” said Jewlal, who plays trombone, bass drums and French horn.
Anne Baxter, BA’91, said the Alumni Association’s support was all about pride.
“We wished to demonstrate alumni support for the long-established marching band,” said Baxter, chair of the association’s Alumni Legacy Committee. “We wanted the Western Mustang Band to remain competitive with other university bands during athletic and sporting competitions.
“During my time as Homecoming Committee chair, I always loved seeing and hearing the Western Mustang Band. They made me ‘purple and proud’.”
The money from the Alumni Association, Jewlal added, will help promote the profile of the band that much more.
“I think the school is going to see how much that type of support will elevate our group, and will give us more opportunities and help us bring Western’s spirit and message when we travel and perform. We’re great ambassadors for the school,” she said.
In addition to the Legacy donation, the student body approved a USC referendum earlier this year calling for the band to receive 50 cents of student fees for every undergraduate student.
The combined funds will fuel a brighter future for the band, Jewlal said.
“Last year, my mission was to make Western aware of the band, and I think the school heard us. I think the school is going to see how much this type of support will elevate our group,” she said. “This will give us more opportunities and help us bring Western’s spirit and message when we travel and perform.”