More than 200 Temple University marching band members took their spots on the practice field, iPads strapped over their shoulders and smartphones in hand.

They were learning a new routine to Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," in which they march in the formation of two animated sledgehammers, coming down on a head. Their phones and iPads, loaded with the app DrillbookNext, show animations of where each musician should march, step by step. In the past, they would have had to flip through paper drill charts.

"I really found this year that they learn drills a lot quicker," said Matthew Brunner, band director. "Every single step, it changes, so they see where they're supposed to go."

Temple's Diamond Marching Band is in the forefront of a growing number of university bands beginning to use technology to learn and perfect their complex drills and music for each performance.

On Saturday, the band demonstrated its new routines - learned in just the last two weeks - during Temple's homecoming football game against Tulsa at Lincoln Financial Field.

Their performance, just after Temple took the lead at halftime, got the already excited crowd on its feet, clapping, whistling, and cheering.

"Of all the bands we've seen across the country, they are by far the best," said Rob Balasavage, a financial adviser from Lancaster who has attended games, home and away, for seven years since his son played for the team.

The band, indeed, has been on a roll: In the last year, the Owls have been recognized as one of the top collegiate marching bands in the nation by USA Today and Rolling Stone, have appeared on Good Morning America, and have been featured in two Hollywood movies, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the remake of Annie, due out this holiday season.

They regularly get shout-outs from pop artists who fancy the band's versions of their songs.

"Pretty surreal watching this by @TempleBands - thanks for doing our song," tweeted English rock band Bastille, about Temple's take on "Pompeii."

Under Brunner, who came to Temple seven years ago after earning his doctorate in music from Indiana University, the band, which began in 1925, has just about doubled in size.

"A lot of good things have been happening around here that have helped: new instruments, new uniforms, the football team doing better," Brunner said.

The band draws members from majors across the university. Only about 20 percent are music majors, Brunner said.

In addition to performances, they practice six hours a week as a group, for which they receive one credit and a little scholarship money. The real reward is performing.

"Getting out onto the field with 200-plus other people, and they're all doing the same thing at the same time - it really is a feeling like nothing else," said senior Kevin Rothenberger, 21, a drum major from Wernersville majoring in computer science.

Brunner picks popular music that students enjoy playing and writes most of the renditions himself.

"I listen to the songs like 100 times each just to get ideas," he said.

With the new technology, band members can change routines on a dime. For "Sledgehammer," Brunner decided to make the face's eyebrows move.

"If we had changed that with paper, you'd have to print out 200 copies," said senior Derek Witzel, a history major and sousaphone leader from Warminster. "It's a significant amount of money dropped right there, which means you probably wouldn't do it."

The band also uses forScore, an app that allows musicians to make notations on and share music with fellow band members.

For Saturday's 10-minute homecoming show, students donned cherry and white uniforms, played songs from recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Nirvana, Kiss, and Peter Gabriel, as well as Hall and Oates, who met at Temple as students. About 130 alumni band members from as far back as the Class of 1956 joined the performance of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True."

Jerry Chaykin, 75, a 1991 Temple alum from Cherry Hill, clapped and rocked in his seat to the band's take on Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Nite." The retired IT worker said the band had improved dramatically.

"I never used to watch them. I used to walk out," he said.

But not anymore.

"They play with so much energy and emotion," said Brent Fragola, 20, a Temple sophomore from Milford.

Jeffrey Witte, an investment sales banker from Fairless Hills, snapped pictures as his daughter, Lizzie, an alumni band member, took the field.

"They do a great job," said his wife, Susan, a nurse.

Brunner had hoped to include Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" in the show - Springsteen's E Street Band was inducted this year - but Springsteen, he said, declined permission.

"It would have been great," he said. "People don't usually say no."

Especially to a band whose cred is on the rise.

Brunner says he's unsure how the band got recognized by USA Today last month for one of "five college marching band covers you absolutely have to hear" or by Rolling Stone last year as a top 10 for its take on Kanye West's "All of the Lights." He learned about Rolling Stone from a student tweet.

"I was like, 'What?' I was pretty excited," Brunner said.

As for the Wall Street movie, he said he knew someone who knew the music coordinator. In the movie, about a stockbroker running a corrupt firm, students are offered triple money to play in nothing but hats and underwear at a flashy office party. About 25 Temple students, women and men, participated.

"It was really interesting to see how Hollywood works," Witzel said. "They like to do things over and over and over again without saying what to do differently."

The marching band operates more efficiently. The movie producers thought the scene would take three days to shoot; it took only one, Brunner said.

The music director then invited the band to play in Annie. This time, students kept their uniforms on. They'll play the signature tune "Tomorrow" while parading with the actors down a New York street.

The band received "a nice donation" for both appearances, Brunner said, declining to say how much.

Several artists, including the Canadian rock band Sum 41 and the rock band Fall Out Boy, have put Temple's version of their songs on their websites. After the lead singer of the band Paramore tweeted about Temple's take on its "Ain't it Fun," American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, too, noted the video, which got 80,000 views.

With its new fame, the band has grown in demand locally, Brunner said, including a stint at a Forbes Media summit in the city.

"To be in the band takes so much work and time, and, face it, a lot of band students don't get the respect that other activities in school do," Brunner said. "In high school, maybe, it wasn't looked at as being cool, but you come to college, and you're in USA Today and Rolling Stone magazine, and students kind of feel a little more like rock stars."

Daphne Saatchi, a freshman trumpet player and music education major from East Brunswick, N.J., has caught the buzz.

"There's this feeling in your heart when you're playing, it's indescribable," she said, shortly after leaving the field. "It's adrenaline, mixed with 'I can't believe I'm doing' this mixed with 'I'm a part of something so special and I know it.' "


Watch a video of the Temple Diamond Marching Band performing at Saturday's game at Lincoln Financial Field. EndText

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