Keeping the Beat Alive: Barry Bernhardt and the FIU Marching Band

The FIU Marching Band | Photo via FIU Flickr

Kaysea Suzana | Assistant Entertainment Director

It’s been over a decade since the FIU Marching Band was revived following budget cuts that shut it down.

It was revived in 2010 by professor and director Barry W. Bernhardt. Now, in 2024, Bernhardt looks back at all that’s happened since.

Bernhardt, who has originally traveled the country working in several schools and sports companies, as both a director and a half-time show writer, was given a proposal to work for FIU back in the early 2010s.

Unlike most schools, FIU’s marching band works in conjunction with the athletics department, rather than under it.

Though the marching band program was removed due to financial issues, with the approval of former president Mark Rosenberg, Kenneth Jesell, former provost Douglas Warztok and then director of the school of music Orlando Garcia, the program was fired up with Bernhardt being their choice for leading it.

“This was the most challenging job of my life. Basically starting from scratch,” Bernhardt said. 

Having the tremendous task of creating a program out of thin air, Bernhardt moved down from Missouri, spending many years went by without seeing his wife or his children. 

Bernhardt, who is now planning on retiring with his contract ending this upcoming August, is proud of his achievements in building the group.

“I’d put my band against anyone’s. We may not have 300 people, but I’d put them up against any other band in the country,” said Bernhardt.

The marching band is comprised of a variety of students from all walks of life, with music majors not being a requisite to audition.

Bernhardt receives around 125 submissions each year. Of those 125, just about 50 make the cut. 

“Meaning, our band is top notch. It’s a great way for [students] to keep themselves occupied as they ready themselves for competitions.”

The band is made up of a drum line, a woodwind and brass line and a color guard. In Fall, these three sections are one cohesive unit.

“They train or compete in auditions all over the country during the summer. These students are so talented that they are usually prepared for it,” said Bernhardt. 

Additionally, in the summer months, FIU invites students from different high schools to view the marching band’s performance, offering them the chance to see if this is a path they’d like to consider.

Not only is Bernhardt in charge of the administrative tasks, he also directs for the band, rehearses with them and even writes for them.

But he hasn’t done it alone. Bernhardt commends his administrative assistant Shelly Dominguez, for helping him turn the program around.

Dominguez, who is in charge of making sure students fall within budget, scholarships, travel plans, and hiring, is the logistical backbone to Bernhardt’s creative direction.

Logistics and creativity come together during the NCAA’s Conference USA Basketball Tournament. 

It’s during this tournament that the marching band members face off against the best in the country. 

The kicker is that if the band wins, they are given an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament March Madness, where students get a paid hotel booking, flight, and accommodations. 

In order to stand out during monumental competitions such as this, Bernhardt had to create costumes that were unique. 

White pants–sometimes jeans paired with Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps are the MO for the band members. Bernhardt claims it adds to their identity, rather than stuffier clothes that are often associated with marching bands. 

Account manager for the Wertheim school of music, Michelle Vires expressed her amazement for the marching band and for Bernhardt.

“What he has done is phenomenal. He’s beloved by his students, and his colleagues,” said Vires.

Bernhardt ends his interview with PantherNOW with a message for the marching band.

“Thank you. Thank you for making the end of my career as an FIU college professor and director memorable. Thank you for bringing the passion into what we do,” said Bernhardt.

“We’re blessed, I tell my students. We’re blessed to have all these activities, to do what we do.”

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