If you had asked students nine years ago at Metropolitan State College of Denver what they thought of the pep band on campus, they most likely would have said it simply didn’t exist. Now, the Roadrunner Pep Band, led by Dr. Michael Hengst, is thriving and looking to do bigger things than just being crowd noise at Auraria Event Center sporting events.
The pep band is entering its eighth year, and the wizard behind the magic is Hengst. The band leader majored in trumpet performance, starting his college career at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and earning his master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin. Hengst came to MSU Denver determined to build up the fledgling pep band program. He’s seen a lot of changes since then.
“There’s been more infusion of non-music majors, which is fantastic,” Hengst said. “I really love having the energy of all the departments on campus, rather than just the music department represented.”
Another key to the growth of the pep band has been finding songs that fit, since this band isn’t like other schools’.
The Roadrunner Pep Band only performs indoors, which makes it different from other bands in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. While other schools’ bands can perform outside, this band stays inside and generates the bulk of the musical spirit for events such as basketball and volleyball. The reason why they play indoors? The band is simply not big enough, and it doesn’t have the proper instrumentation to perform at soccer, baseball or softball games.
“What makes the indoor stuff so much more suited for our particular band is because we use an actual drum set. We don’t have the marching band baritones. There’s a couple other different instruments that we don’t have much of, and our size right now is better suited for indoors as well.”
For volleyball head coach Jenny Glenn, the pep band is critical to the team’s success.
“The pep band creates a great environment at Roadrunners volleyball matches.” Glenn said. “They are enthusiastic fans, and their music fills the arena.” The band displays school spirit at its finest and creates an atmosphere conducive to winning.”
Even the way Hengst picks out his playlist for winter sports reflects how different this band is.
During the summer, Hengst gets inspiration from hearing music at the gym. He even gets feedback from students who want to play a certain song. If a song gets stuck in Hengst’s head or the student’s head, they actually have to arrange it themselves so that it will be adaptable for all the members of the band.
“Our group is a little different,” Hengst explained. “We don’t have the normal instrumentation, which is good and bad. It’s not the standard instrumentation that you can just go and order something off the internet for the group. We have the music specially arranged by – most of the time – members or former members.”
With the emergence of the pep band, the burgeoning Roadrunners family needed a school song. Hengst helped write the fight song, “Rowdy Encounter,” and he’d like to see students embrace it to show their pride. He’d also like to see more students sitting in Auraria Event Center seats than band members to cheer for Roadrunner teams.
“We get good representation from the other athletic teams to all the games, but for our students, the twenty some thousand students that go to the school are really missing out on all the awesome events that they have access to,” Hengst said.
Hengst is also open to other ideas to boost attendance. In fact, he’d like to look at having a live roadrunner on the court.
“If they can get Ralphie (at CU) controlled into running into the right spots, then I think they can handle a roadrunner,” said Hengst, who prefers live mascots to costumed ones (sorry, Rowdy). After all, Hengst attended the University of Texas, where they have Bevo, the longhorn. Is MSU Denver ready to see a live roadrunner run across the court or across the soccer field at its blazing 20 mph speed?
In the band world, there are plenty of jokes about how trumpet players are selfish and think they can do things better. But Hengst doesn’t fit that stereotype. He’s the kind of guy who wants to help students and make sure that everyone gets involved during the game somehow.
Whether it’s starting a hand clap or playing the fight song, or even a popular song like “Cake by the Ocean,” by DNCE, Hengst wants opposing teams on the court to know that the Roadrunners won’t go away. They’ll get the Rowdy Experience from one of the best in the business.
Author: Taylor Oxenfeld
Taylor Oxenfeld is a senior at MSU Denver majoring in Communication Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in broadcast. He also serves as the sports broadcast manager for Met Radio. Taylor is pursuing a career in sports broadcasting after graduation. You can contact him on Twitter at @TOxenfeld.