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HOT band to play in Vatican City, Rome

USF’s HOT band were invited to play at St. Peter’s Square and during the Rome New Year’s Parade in 2017. THE ORACLE/JACKIE BENITEZ

For the second time in five years, the Herd of Thunder marching band (HOT band) will be spending New Year’s Day playing in Europe. 

The last time the HOT band played abroad was in 2013 when they marched in the New Year’s Day parade in London. This time, they will march in a parade through the heart of Rome. They are also slated to play St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City on the eve of the holiday.

According to Matthew McCutchen, the marching band director, the band has received invitations to perform again in Europe ever since the London parade. The invitations come from the organizers of the original London trip as they help in the planning of various parades around Europe. 

However, the band needed some time off to recuperate from such a big trip.

“We’ve had the invitation up in the air for the past four years, and then last year around this time, they made a formal invitation,” McCutchen said.

The HOT band decided to accept the invitation this time. 

Justin Mouriz, a junior drum major in the band, recalled McCutchen sitting down with the entire band in September 2015 and telling them the news.

“Of course, we all freaked out,” Mouriz said.

Only 130 out of 370 band members will be attending. They were notified a year in advance so that they would have time to save funds for the trip.

According to McCutchen, while the university has voiced their support for the band and this opportunity, they could not finance the trip because they have other issues that need to be funded.

This was when McCutchen was introduced to USF HerdFunder by Bill Faucett, who fundraises for the College of the Arts where he is the director of development. Faucett knew they could use some capital for the trip so he recommended crowdfunding and helped to put together the ‘Herd of Thunder Marching Band Goes to Italy’ HerdFunder account.

McCutchen said all he had to do was provide information for the page to be built. 

Meanwhile, Noga Afik, a student majoring in mass communications who does marketing for the band, has been helping on the social media side of things.

Members of the band are “thankful and incredibly honored” that the USF Foundation has given the band this opportunity to raise money, Mouriz said. They are also thrilled that individuals such as students, alumni, family and friends are donating to their cause.

“We couldn’t be more thankful about it,” Scott Schiff, a senior majoring in marketing and a drum major, said. “Really, everyone needs money. We’re not the only organization out there that could use help funding. Everyone has expenses, so the fact that we’re seen as important enough by the community and by the school, the fact that what we do is recognized as something the university values, really means a lot to us.”

The HerdFunder has a goal of $50,000, and with four days left, it has raised just over $2,200. McCutchen said that this goes towards helping to knock money from each individual’s trip and that even if they don’t make the goal, they’re going anyway.

“We just gladly accept whatever we can possibly get,” McCutchen said.

The HOT band is scheduled to leave on Dec. 28 and land the following day. They will play in St. Peter’s Square outside the Vatican on New Year’s Eve. McCutchen is excited for this performance, as he only knows of one other American marching band who has played this venue before.

“We don’t actually think the Pope will come watch us, but we can hope he’s sitting behind a window somewhere,” McCutchen said.

They will then march in the New Year’s Day parade through the heart of Rome.

The trip won’t be all work, as the band has some sightseeing planned, including a trip to Pompeii on the day before their return.

“I’m excited for them to see this because, around here, if something’s 50 years old, it’s considered old, but we’re (going to) go see 2,000-year-old artifacts,” McCutchen said.

According to Mouriz, some band members aren’t just excited for the trip because they get to play, but are also excited that they get to represent the school on an international level. He believes that it’s as great an opportunity for the entire university as it is for the HOT band.

“We’re really excited to represent the university. The band works awfully hard to represent us in the community and at athletic events. We’re pretty visible around here,” McCutchen said. “We’re proud of our affiliation with USF and a lot of people over there who have never heard of our university will see us and I hope they come out of it with a good impression of what the school is.”

For some students, this trip means a little more because of its timing.

“Personally, it’s just (going to) be like a really amazing way to cap off four years of doing band and being here,” Schiff said. “Eleven years total I’ve been in band, and this is probably the last thing I’ll ever do in a marching band so it’s just kind of a really awesome way to end it all.”