Dressed in navy blue uniforms and stationed courtside at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Hillhouse Band could almost be mistaken for a Yale pep band if not for the fact that each member is still in high school.
While the Yale Precision Marching Band typically serves as the pep band at the Yale men’s basketball team’s home games, the James Hillhouse High School Band has stepped in three times this season. The local New Haven high school group, along with its dancers, has provided an electric energy and excitement while supporting a squad that has not lost at home this year.
“It adds community,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “That’s the word that comes to mind. Having people from the surrounding area come to Yale and be a part of the experience here is great for everyone involved.”
With as many as six athletic contests at Yale in any given weekend, and with hockey and basketball teams often competing concurrently, the YPMB cannot attend every event, said Thomas Duffy, professor of music and director of University bands. This year, with the band too small to split up across venues, Duffy said the ensemble must decide where to play each weekend.
But for the basketball team, playing without a band is less than ideal. During last year’s home contest against Columbia, Jones said, the team’s ability to create a raucous atmosphere was affected by the absence of the Yale band and cheerleaders. The Bulldogs wound up losing that game, 56–50.
When Jones and the men’s basketball program received the YPMB’s schedule from the athletics department, the team decided to find an additional band to play at the games the YPMB would miss. In the preseason, Jones said, Chris Vincent, the director of basketball operations, reached out to schools in the community and found the Hillhouse Band, directed by Hillhouse teacher Marissa Iezzi.
When she saw the list, Iezzi realized that the Hillhouse Band was free for all the games that YPMB would have to miss. She had no trouble saying yes.
“Basketball is a very popular sport amongst our student body,” Iezzi said. “It was a no-brainer.”
The Hillhouse Band, which totals 60 musicians and dancers, normally plays at the high school’s own football games, both home and away, which Iezzi said is “rare for bands in this area.” The band also plays at some of the school’s home basketball games. Even when Hillhouse athletics are not competing, the band is highly sought-after for performances, Iezzi said.
Iezzi added that she feels fortunate to be working with her students as their band director, especially because of the positive feedback the students receive at the Yale home games. Though Iezzi does not direct the dancers — that responsibility falls to her assistant, Quashawn Jinwright — she added they are part of the band.
“It’s such a great feeling as their director to say, ‘This is your opportunity to be rock stars. You guys are awesome. Here’s a way you can showcase your talents outside of just the Hillhouse community,’” she said.
Since beginning to perform at Yale, the band has seen not only increased student interest in joining but also an increase in morale among band members, Iezzi said.
The Hillhouse Band’s performance has been “outstanding,” Jones said. Forward Justin Sears ’16 echoed the sentiment, saying that the band creates a great atmosphere and brings the Yale and New Haven communities together.
“They’ve made this home stand in the Ivy League amazing,” Sears said.
The Bulldogs do not return to JLA until Feb. 26, when Harvard comes to visit in the penultimate weekend of Ivy League play.