By Jose Trujillo (@jAy_Ay_T ):
It was first thing San Jose State running backs coach Alonzo Carter did when he found out he was live on the Ellen Degeneres show.
With the camera locked on him, Carter connected his index finger and thumb and raised his three other fingers, like if he was giving Ellen an “OK.”
Only it wasn’t an OK. It was San Jose State’s signature hand gesture: Spartan Up.
And that hand gesture goes back a long time, 27 years to be exact. The creator? SJSU’s band director Scott Pierson.
After 40 years, the San Jose native has decided to hang the megaphone and step down from the podium. There’s no doubt he’ll miss it.
“A job like this is fun,” Pierson said. “The creative part, the arranging and writing of the music, and working all the drill stuff out, it’s time consuming, but it’s fun.”
Pierson first got into musical arts in the fourth grade when he began to play the clarinet. He quickly fell in love with the instrument and continued to study music throughout high school and in college at San Jose State.
After graduating, Pierson joined the Santa Clara Vanguard, a world class competitive drum and bugle corps in which he eventually got his first experience teaching a marching band.
“That’s how I got to this point,” Pierson said. “I had really good music teachers through the public-school system in this town, a good private teacher and the group that kind of honed in all those things into what this has been.”
Pierson expects his marching band to be the closest thing to perfect, but more than anything, he wants his band members to play their hearts out and possess the drive to be the best possible musicians they can be.
“He wants us to know what it is like to achieve perfection,” said senior trumpet player Natasha Singha. “Of course he knows things happen, but he wants us to have high level of attainment and excellence.”
It’s no secret. Students understand that Pierson is trying improve their skills, not diminish them. “I’m pretty hard on them, to make them sound good and look good,” Pierson said. “But a lot of it has to do with being proud of accomplishment … you can’t expect to stand next to someone good and skate on by.”
Pierson also allowed students to explore and learn new skills in any part of the band.
“I was a clarinet performance major, which is a completely different thing from playing bass drum,” said junior bass player Daniel Valdez.
Because of Pierson, Valdez has developed skills outside of just playing the bass.
“He has taught me how to become a leader in the marching band, and giving me the opportunity to showcase my talents other than a musician, like as a marching band arranger and to write for the band.”
It has been a rollercoaster for the veteran director. The marching band program has gone through budgetary issues and enrollment problems in the past.
“Many years we had horrible budgets, so we were not able to replace instruments,” Pierson said. “Or they change a rule about the amount of units students can take, but they don’t tell you until two weeks before everyone shows up for band camp.”
These type of circumstances left Pierson running around and recruiting more band members to discern what time most students could make rehearsal without missing out on their academic lives.
“He is really good at pulling people into the marching band,” Singha said. “He manages to get people motivated and excited for this, he just does a good job at getting people.”
For the last 40 years, San Jose State has been lucky to have a man so dedicated not only with his work, but with his students.
Attend any Spartan football game and it’s guaranteed you’ll see alumni band members go up to Pierson and shake his hand or give him a hug.
“They are really going to miss his big personality, and someone who is driven and passionate about what he does,” Singha said. “He has really impacted many lives and left a mark in the SJSU marching band.”
Pierson’s last football game as marching band director came on Nov 25. He was honored at halftime with a standing ovation by the SJSU crowd.
While the university has not made a choice for who the next band director, Pierson has some words of encouragement for whoever it may be.
“Enjoy the whole process, it’s a total blast doing this job,” Pierson said. “The students are willing and able to put in all this time, so enjoy it. They are really hard workers and keep the tradition going.”