Behind the Music: Four Questions for Rutgers Marching Band Director Todd Nichols

Favorite song?

I love classic rock, jazz, music from the ’80s (yes, I grew up in the days of arena rock bands). I will say that any time I hear the tune Rock Lobster by the B52’s or Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty, I have to laugh, because it brings me back to some funny memories of singing along at the top of my lungs with my friends when I was younger.

What’s your guilty-pleasure music—the songs you secretly love. . . but hate to admit you love?

Definitely Broadway. If you don't know me very well you would never guess that I am a serious Broadway buff. I've had the great fortune of playing a lot of wonderful musicals with incredible musicians, and I love listening to all kinds of old standards and current Broadway hits alike. My family laughs whenever Broadway music comes on in the car or at home--they say it’s time for Dad’s Broadway Karaoke performance again! And no, I can’t sing well.  

You decided to put down the trombone at some point and go toward drums. Why?

Honestly, I was simply pretty bad at the trombone. My middle school director of course did the typical band director thing and moved me to baritone horn and then tuba because they “needed that instrument.” I was drawn to the drums in seventh grade, primarily the drum set. It was from this point forward that I just fell in love with the drums. Once I hit eighth grade, all I knew was I wanted to be a professional musician and bandleader. What I really wanted to do was be the drummer and lead the Count Basie Big Band.

In a marching band, you’ve got to walk and play at the same time—often in extremes of weather, outside, with a heavy uniform on. Why is this appealing—and what do you think it teaches you?

Nothing about being in the extreme weather is appealing! It’s one of the hazards of the gig! All kidding aside, what I truly love about marching band is what it teaches the performers: It instills pride, discipline, and a host of other positive attributes that help students mature and grow, teaching them life skills they can use in whatever profession they choose. Many of my most positive life-long memories are connected to something that has to do with marching band along the way. Getting rained on stinks, being in the hot sun for hours and hours at a time stinks, but accomplishing a goal with 225 of your closest friends in front of 50,000 people—now, that’s something special!

Todd Nichols is Associate Director of University Bands, Director of Athletic Bands, Rutgers Symphonic Winds, and Concert Band. Read more about him.