EHS has three grads heading to Fiesta Bowl with the PSU Blue Band

By on December 27, 2017
Ephrata has three alums currently playing in the Penn State Blue Band that is set to leave for Arizona and the Fiesta Bowl Thursday. They are (left to right) Ethan Fasnacht, Ben Hartranft and Calvin Walker.

Ephrata has three alums currently playing in the Penn State Blue Band that is set to leave for Arizona and the Fiesta Bowl Thursday. They are (left to right) Ethan Fasnacht, Ben Hartranft and Calvin Walker.

Ethan Fasnacht is looking forward to wearing shorts and t-shirts in winter, something he is getting used to doing in late December as a member of the Penn State marching band.

A 2016 Ephrata graduate, Fasnacht is a sophomore completing his second season in the Blue Band.

Having one Ephrata grad in this prestigious college band is rare, but even more exceptional, there are three former Mountaineers marching for PSU this year.

Ben Hartranft, a sophomore, and Calvin Walker, a freshman, join Fasnacht in the band. All three leave Wednesday for Phoenix, Arizona, to perform in festivities before and during the Fiesta Bowl slated for 4:30 p.m. Dec. 30.

To put this feat in perspective, the Ephrata band had 79 members in 2015. Three of those individuals make up the 275 instrumentalists in the Penn State band, which draws students from across the nation.

It says a lot of about the musical background these three guys received in middle and high school.

“I won’t say I don’t mention it to kids,” Steve Goss, director of bands for Ephrata High School and Middle School, said. “We have photos on our Facebook page. It feels pretty awesome. It speaks highly of our program.”

Goss, who took over the program in 2014, noted the strong support he has from the administration at Ephrata, and said the program is well designed and fluid with good instruction for beginners starting in fourth grade. He gets the students in sixth grade and has them for six years.

Of the three former pupils, Walker is the wildcard, the one Goss least expected in middle school to continue his musical career.

Fasnacht and Hartranft were consistent the whole way through with great work ethic. Music came naturally to them.

Walker, however, struggled with focus in middle school. Something clicked in high school and he went from the kid who struggled with focus in seventh grade to eating it up. He became passionate about music, collecting instruments and learning to play all the low brass instruments.

A chemical engineering major, Walker was selected to play the baritone in the Blue Band. He is primarily a trombone player, but during the audition process he told an instructor that he can play multiple positions and would be willing to go where he was needed most.

He says his favorite part of marching band in high school was playing music in the stands during Ephrata Friday football games, a thrill that continues Saturdays on the college gridiron.

“The best part of being in the Blue Band is listening to a crowd of 100,000 people react as the band performs pregame and halftime,” Walker said. “There’s a sense of satisfaction knowing the crowd enjoys watching us perform as much as I enjoy performing.”

All three guys said they joined the band as a way to make friends and the sense of family it brings.

Making the band is not easy.

It is a two-day audition that consists of playing two pieces of music – one the student chooses and a second given to them. If invited back for Day 2 of the tryouts, they are shown how to march and evaluated on rigorous day of step march and playing a traditional Penn State song.

As a freshman, Hartranft did not make it to Day Two. He made the cut as a sophomore, practicing two instruments – the clarinet and tenor saxophone – for his selected piece, choosing the clarinet for the marching audition because there were about 10 spots open for Clarinet and only a few spots available for tenor sax.

He said Ephrata marching band prepared him for the low-step marching that Penn State uses during halftime, as well as the mental aspect of memorizing the music for halftime sets.

“I think the aspect that prepared all three of us for making the Blue Band was definitely marching during the football games and playing the stands music,” said Hartranft, an engineering major. “Some of the music that we played in the stands is the same music that we play at the Penn State football games in the Beaver Stadium stands.”

He said the “White Out” game against Michigan on Oct. 21 is one of his favorite memories this season. It was a night game and he could not hear anything but the crowd noise, which was incredible, especially because he plays in the front row.

He is excited to feel the warm weather, to see the desert and make his first trip to Arizona.

While in the Valley of the Sun, the Blue Band will perform for Zoolights at the Phoenix Zoo, play the Fiesta Bowl Fan Fest, march in the Fiesta Bowl parade and of course, perform at the Fiesta Bowl game, where they will doing their “Night at the Opera” show from the Georgia State and Ohio State games.

For Fasnacht, the veteran of the group who majors in music education with a voice concentration and German language minor, playing in big bowl games on the West coast and marching in prestigious parades is becoming common practice.

Last year Penn State performed at the Rose Bowl and marched in the Rose Parade. The Rose Bowl and parade in California was his first time west of Ohio.

“When we marched in the Rose Parade, it was a long time (marching),” Fasnacht said in an email response about the 5.5 mile parade. “I remember that we thought we were done after what seemed like forever, and all of us were celebrating, only to find out that the parade began moving again and we had a while to go. This push towards the end of the parade and honor of playing in it is what made it so memorable.”

Similar to the other Ephrata grads, Fasnacht plays multiple instruments; Goss encourages his students to play other instruments.

Goss remembers Fasnacht struggling with the upper range on the trumpet and moving him to tuba, an instrument he could barely hold in middle school.

Fasnacht plays the sousaphone at Penn State. He said he used his repertoire that Goss helped him prepare during his district band audition in high school.

The college football games were a reason why he joined the Blue Band, but he thought the more ensembles he joined the easier of a time he’d have connecting with people at school.

Highlights in his playing career include last year’s Ohio State “White Out” game at State College, where the energy and emotion in the stadium were beyond anything he could imagine, he said. The away game this year at Ohio State and performing in Buffalo at an NFL game for the Bills standout this year.

The same attributes that drew him to band in high school fuel him now.

“Everyone is very friendly, and the band is like a family,” he said via email. “Everyone has a passion and drive for what they are doing in the band and knows how to get the job one, but also have fun along the way!”

Goss has not had an opportunity to see former pupils in person at State college, but he believes their success at Penn State influences his current students at Ephrata.

“I’m proud of it and I think it has inspired other kids,” Goss said. “I hear them say, ‘I think I want to be in the Blue Band,’ or they decide on a school based on the band program.”

One Comment

  1. Dee Stout

    December 29, 2017 at 8:28 am

    So glad to see these young men be recognized for their dedication to the Blue Band program and their development in the Ephrata Band! These guys certainly have impressed me!

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