When the Marching Scarlet Knights wind their way into High Point Solutions Stadium for the first time this fall, a new director will lead the revelry.
Todd Nichols – a New Jersey native with 25 years of experience as a music educator, band leader and professional percussionist – joins the university July 1 as full-time associate director of university bands and director of athletic bands. Nichols, 40, of Hillsborough, takes the baton from Timothy Smith, who is retiring after directing the university’s athletic bands for 17 years.
“It’s been a longtime goal of mine to be part of a university band program, and I always have been a fan of Rutgers,” said Nichols, who’s previously led marching bands from Edison and Roxbury high schools to state championships. “I consider Rutgers to be the pinnacle for our area and really believe the marching band can be one of the best – if not the best – in the country.”
Nichols earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from The College of New Jersey and a master’s in conducting from Messiah College. During that time, he prepped for a music career by playing professionally in clubs, Broadway shows and at celebrity fetes while working with many New Jersey high school drum lines and percussion sections. In 1999, he became full-time director of Edison High School’s band program, which he led to multiple N.J. State Marching Band Championship victories. He’s spent the last 13 years as director of bands at Roxbury High School, a nationally recognized marching band program. Under Nichols’ direction, the marching band performed alongside Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Super Bowl XLVIII’s halftime show.
That deep connection to New Jersey’s high school marching band leaders will be an asset to Nichols as he embarks on his first order of business at Rutgers: bulking up the band. During his predecessor’s tenure, the Marching Scarlet Knights grew from 134 to 255 members before dipping back down below 200 for the 2016 season. Nichols’s goal is 300.
“The kids are wonderful and their drive is very inspiring. They have a great work ethic, and they want to improve and get better,” he said of the current band. “We are working as hard as we can to recruit because there is strength in numbers. We have so much unreached potential.”
Putting on half-time shows is nothing new for Nichols, but this will be his first season leading a band through more than one routine. His tentative plans for those shows include staying true to the band’s – and the region’s – drum corps slide step style.
“We only have three days of rehearsal, two hours at a clip,” Nichols said. “When 95 percent of the students coming in are used to that style, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”
But that doesn’t mean the Scarlet Marching Knights can’t spice up their drill formations and incorporate more fun upper-body choreography and energizing musical arrangements into their repertoire, he said.
“We have everyone in the stands from students in their 20s to grandparents in their 80s, we need to be wide reaching,” said Nichols. “We will have different programs to hit different demographics so everyone has something they can latch onto throughout the course of the season.”
Prior to the football season, Nichols will join Mason Gross Extension Division as assistant director of the Rutgers Symphonic Wind Band and Chamber Music Group. The summer camp for students ages 11 to 18 runs June 25 through June 30 at Nicholas Music Center on the Douglass campus.
Darryl Bott, director of university bands at Mason Gross School of the Arts, headed up the search committee to replace Smith. Bott said he has long been impressed with Nichols’ successes as a high school band director and is confident he can reinvigorate the relationship between the marching band and Rutgers fans.
“He is just a dynamo. He’s exactly the kind of energy we need right now to get to the next level,” said Bott. “Our vision is to make that band as strong as anything else in the Midwest in terms of performance level. But we want to do it in a way that’s New Jersey driven and has its own spark and own identity. I’d like to see in a few years that instead of eating hotdog s at half time, everyone is staying in the stadium to watch the band.”
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