Timothy Diem is in his first year as the director of athletic bands and assistant professor of music in the Setnor School of Music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Previously he spent 16 years at the University of Minnesota, 11 as the director of the Pride of Minnesota Marching Band.
Along with directing the marching band and overseeing all administrative aspects of the program, Diem also has taught courses in music education, marching band techniques and conducting, and directed various concert ensembles. Diem has also taught grades 5-12 instrumental music for four years in Elbow Lake and Rockford, Minnesota.
You specialize in directing marching bands. What is it that appeals to you about that, as opposed to performing on a stage?
I wouldn’t say, “opposed to performing on stage.” Most of those in the band profession get their start doing both athletic bands and concert bands. I love both areas of the band world and having a position that allows me to create and perform in both venues has been wonderful.
As my father likes to point out, it allows me to continue working in the two areas I’ve done since I could walk: music and sports. I started piano lessons when I was 5 and started playing organized ball at about the same time. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town, where one was able to be involved in both areas all through high school, and that continued on into college and now, beyond. Whether it is working on a masterwork with a group of musicians in the concert hall or putting together an entertaining show on the field, I find each day exciting and very rewarding.
What’s involved in directing an athletic band, in addition to waving the baton on the field? There must be a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
There is a great deal of work behind the scenes. For each show we have the music book and the marching book that have to be created and taught.
With the shows, we sometimes have 10-12 class sessions to put things together, or sometimes we have four, so there is a lot of planning and management to be sure we are able to keep up with our fundamentals and learn the new “playbooks.”
As you can imagine, moving a college marching band around involves a great deal of logistics as well, so we keep busy making sure everything is running as efficiently as possible to be sure the students get the best experience we can offer them.
Do you have a vision for where you want Syracuse University’s marching band to go, how you want it to progress?
Like any other performing organization, we hope to improve every time we are on the field, working on varied musical styles and drill designs and hoping to push the bar higher as we go. I’d also like to get more SU students involved in the band. It is a great way to be a part of the University and a great group of people to work with. There is a large number of students on campus that have made music in their high school careers and I’d love to see more of them continuing to do so with us in the SUMB.
The other thing that you have done a lot of is teach music to elementary and middle school students, and one particular item on your CV struck me as interesting. What exactly is “Junkyard Percussion”?
If you know of the group “Stomp,” you have an idea. Percussionists like to hit things and see what they sound like. Taking this into the classroom, it is a great way for all students to learn some percussion technique using household items.
We had a class of 25 students and used five-gallon buckets, wood dowels, shakers created from coffee cans and rice, and other instruments of that type, and we created grooves and explored drum circles and the like. There is a great little book by David Birrow called “The Bucket Book” that we used to get things rolling.
You’re also teaching in the Setnor School of Music. What are you teaching?
I’ll conduct a concert band in the spring, help with the conducting of the wind ensemble, oversee the Sour Sitrus Society pep band and teach Marching Band Techniques.