For some UMaine students and alumni, Black Bear Marching Band is a family affair

The Pride of Maine Black Bear Marching Band’s Alumni Band is a University of Maine Homecoming tradition that brings together current musicians with alumni for a few rousing numbers before the big game. The Alumni Band brings together more than just old friends, though — sometimes, it brings together families.

Jeff and Sylvia Ferrell of Bucksport, class of ’93 and ’92, respectively, met in the Black Bear Marching Band, where Jeff played the tuba and Sylvia played the clarinet. Their daughter, Hannah, is now a senior studying music education. 

Even before Hannah started at UMaine, she and her sibling attended Homecoming with her parents. When she was small, she would carry a banner in the front row of the Alumni Band, but as she grew older, she started playing alongside her parents.

Hannah remembers those experiences fondly — and now that she’s a student, she gets even more out of them. Aside from getting to play with her parents, Hannah says that Alumni Band is a great networking opportunity, particularly for aspiring music professionals like her. 

“It was just a cool experience to get and go meet people, play my instrument and read something different. It was cool to get a different environment to play in,” Hannah Ferrell says. “The band gets really excited to play with alumni and there are quite a few parents of band members. It’s always fun when your parents are rather outgoing and so are their friends.”

Jeff and Sylvia have attended Homecoming and played in Alumni Band almost every year since graduating, but they say those moments have been even more special now that Hannah is a student at UMaine.

“The last four years with Hannah up at school have been so much fun. We watch everything that she’s doing and we’ve been able to relive the entire process through her again,” Jeff Ferrell says.

David Walker, class of ’94, and his son, Andrew, who is currently a sophomore at UMaine, have had many crossovers in the UMaine experiences beyond their time in the Black Bear Marching Band, too. David, who lives in Gardiner and has taught music at Gardiner High School since he graduated from UMaine, received a degree in music education, which is the same degree that Andrew is currently pursuing. 

“He’s very talented in many areas of music and UMaine has so many different opportunities for him to foster that love and that interest. It’s been cool to stand back as a parent and watch him go through some of the same experiences that I went through many years ago,” David Walker says. “Thirty years ago, if you told me that’s what I’d be experiencing, I wouldn’t have believed you, but to be able to see and experience it now has been pretty special.” 

Andrew remembers David bringing him to Alumni Band performances at past Homecomings and credits it with some of his earliest exposure to how great music can be, particularly when he was able to play himself. 

“Having the experience to play in that bigger ensemble when I was just a middle schooler was a really cool experience,” Andrew Walker says. “If I wanted to pursue music as a profession I knew I wanted to do it at UMaine.”

Of course, they are not following exactly the same path: David plays trumpet and Andrew plays trombone. Plus, David says, the ensemble is a bit bigger, and the uniforms have been updated in the decades since he was a student.

“What’s the same is the still the enthusiasm that the band members seem to have for the marching band and the experience their energy at the games how they bring energy bring life to the games I think is the same even though their ensemble is bigger than ours used to be I think we brought just as much energy and excitement to the games,” David Walker says.

This year will be freshman Mikaela Spooner’s first time actually playing her tenor saxophone in the Alumni Band, along with her parents, Laurie and David Spooner, class of ’96 and ’94, respectively, who now live in New Sweden. Laurie and David met in marching band — they said that with intense rehearsal schedules and bonding opportunities, it’s no wonder that so many marriages come out of the marching band — and Mikaela’s godparents are also Black Band Marching Band alumni.

Mikaela says that even more than the music itself, her parents’ stories about the Black Bear Marching Band made her want to join. 

“I grew up listening to my parents talk about it. It was a big deciding factor in the choice to go to UMaine,” Mikaela says. “I hope that I can look back on it as fondly as my parents do. I’ve found that most of the friends I’ve made so far have been in band with me.”

Many of the Spooners’ stories included director and conductor Chris White, who started at the university in 1992 and also directs the UMaine Symphonic Band and Screamin’ Black Bears Pep Band. David Spooner admits that there was some adjustment when White first joined the marching band, which used to be more run by students and less structured, but ultimately the players grew to love him and continue to have a relationship with him today. David Spooner says that some of his best memories involve traveling and playing with White as he directed the pep band at the UMaine hockey team’s first national championship win in Milwaukee.

The current students love and respect White, too. Mikaela says she laughs every time she hears White start a story that her parents have told her a million times before. Andrew says that White has also been inspirational for his future career aspirations in music education.

“He’s very passionate about what he does. He’s a relationship that I would like to have later in life, whether working on a piece with my students or looking for advice on what to do. Seeing him interact with both the alumni and current student population, it’s really cool to see how he works,” says Andrew.

White says that conducting the children of players he taught in his earliest years at UMaine is an “honor.”

“Each year when the marching band gets together for the first time, I tell students to look around the room and I tell them, ‘Your best friends for your college years are likely sitting in this room right now. Maybe even your life partner is here right now.’ These families certainly show that there is truth behind that statement,” White says. “To know that during my time as director of the program, people continue to see the value and want their kids to be a part of it is humbling. It is great to know that the support for the marching band spans generations and it is my hope that that continues long after I am the caretaker of the program.”

These Black Bear Marching Band legacy families are all excited for the Alumni Band at this weekend’s Homecoming. The alumni will get together and practice early in the morning to prepare a few songs to perform themselves before joining in with the current marching band for a song or two – one of which, of course, will include the “Stein Song.” 

David Spooner says that for the parents playing alongside their kids — whether for the first time or the fourth — the overwhelming feeling is, fittingly, one of pride.

“We’re proud of the band, but we’ve never been more proud than we are this year.”

Contact: Sam Schipani,