Marist Music Enters New Era

Bryan Terry, Assistant Director of Content Marketing & Communications
Art Himmelberger conducts the Marist Band and Singers at an event on campus in 2019. Photo by Carlo de Jesus/Marist College.

May 29, 2024 — Say the words “two trumpets” to any of the hundreds of students, alumni, and faculty who have been involved with the Marist Band throughout its history, and they will immediately understand the reference.

Those words invoke the snowy Saturday in January of 1986 that serves as the band’s origin story—when Art Himmelberger drove two Marist students, both trumpet players, to Madison Square Garden to serve as a scrappy pep band supporting the College’s men’s basketball team.

"At one point, I’m driving in the snow thinking, 'what in the world am I doing?'" Art said.

What he was doing was planting the seed for a program that would grow into a center of school spirit, artistic excellence, and community for generations of Red Foxes. Now, after 38 years at the helm of Marist’s band program, Art is set to retire.

“Art’s presence on campus will be felt forever,” said Dr. Malcolm Jones, the current Director of Bands at Marist. “His leadership and vision have made the music program what it is today.”

Image of Art Himmelberger playing a bass drum.
Art plays the bass drum in the Murray Student Center’s Symphonic Hall, built in 2014 as the band’s first dedicated rehearsal space on campus. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.

A percussionist who graduated from the University of Michigan and served as Sgt. Major in the U.S. Army, Art grew up in Pennsylvania and was introduced to music from the age of two by watching his father’s band rehearsals.

In his early days at Marist, Art supplemented the student performers with friends and colleagues from the military music groups. He points to the mid-1990s as a time when the Marist Band cemented its status as the real deal.

“It took eight to 10 years,” Art said. “Finally by the mid-1990s we had a sizable amount of students, led by a determined group who went out and recruited other students. This allowed us to give our first concert, and then ultimately create the marching band.”

Image of Art Himmelberger conducting the marching band in 2018.
Art conducts the marching band at Homecoming and Reunion Weekend, 2018. Photo by Carlo de Jesus/Marist College. 

Art became the director of the entire music program in 2001, and it has now grown into a powerhouse with many ensembles, courses in music history and theory, and a music minor program. Ensembles have performed across the nation, at places like Carnegie Hall, Disney World, and a presidential inaugural parade in Washington, D.C.

The band and music department have come a long way in this time. Alumni from before the 2014 construction of the music building in the Murray Student Center will remember the intrepid members of the band fraternity and sorority, Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma, clearing out lunch tables to turn the main dining hall into a temporary rehearsal space each week.

Image of Art Himmelberger conducting Marist band and singers at Carnegie Hall in 2019.
Art conducts members of the Marist Band, Marist Singers, and ROTC in a 2019 Veterans Day concert at Carnegie Hall with Associate Professor of English Tommy Zurhellen as concert narrator. Photo courtesy of the Marist Music Program.

Art says this kind of dedication to music has been part of the fundamental DNA of the program since the original “two trumpets.”

“Students today as students then — they pour their heart into it,” Art said.

For many, it was the inspiration of Art’s commitment to the program that set them on their own path of dedication.

“To see someone with such enthusiasm and passion drew me in,” said John Svare '99, a drummer who majored in political science. "Art’s leadership, organizational skills, and having a mission — all of those were life lessons.”

“The music program here helped mature people ahead of their time, so when you get out of college you’re prepared to lead,” said Jordanna Yap '09, who played clarinet and graduated with a degree in information technology.

“It was the band that really sold me on coming to Marist,” said Katie Bianco '12, a flute and piccolo player who majored in psychology. “I was thrilled at how everyone who was involved in the band truly wanted to be there.”




Art’s mentorship of students struggling academically or personally also marked his decades-long career at the helm of the department.

Austin Lanari '12, a trumpet player who majored in philosophy, remembers Art bringing him and his parents into a dark classroom in the basement of the student center after he’d lost scholarship funds due to poor grades. Art worked with Austin and his parents to come up with a course schedule that could help Austin get back on track, which he ultimately did.

“Back then it seemed odd being 19 years old in that room having this guy that I’ve only known for a year be invested in the fact that I’m messing up my life,” said Austin. “But he had perspective that I didn’t have then.”

Image of Art Himmelberger at 2024 Commencement.
Art serves as Marshal for the School of Communication and the Arts at the College’s 78th Commencement Ceremonies on May 18, 2024. Photo by Nelson Echeverria/Marist College.

Faculty in the music department gained a deeper understanding of teaching and mentorship from Art as well.

“I have learned to listen actively to students, understand their individual needs, and guide them not only in music but in their personal development as well,” said Julie Martyn-Donato, who has taught in the music department since 1993, having been introduced to Art by a friend.

“Art’s passion for music and education is contagious,” she said. “It’s been a privilege and a joy to work with such an excellent human being.”

Art credits his own mentors from the University of Michigan as principal influences for his approach to teaching and mentorship.

When Art couldn’t afford the expense of the second half of his university education, he almost abandoned the academic track to play drums in a traveling circus. That was when Dr. William Revelli, who led the Michigan marching band for 36 years, came to Art’s aid.

“Dr. Revelli was relentless, but it was tough love,” Art said. “I was ultimately awarded a graduate teaching fellowship as an undergraduate as well as funds from the Michigan band’s alumni association so I could complete my degree.”

With this as a formative experience, paying it forward to his own students was a no-brainer.

“We,” he pauses for emphasis, “we could not have accomplished what we accomplished without the dedication of all the students involved in the Marist music program.”

Image of Art Himmelberger leading band in the Nelly Goletti Theatre.
Art presents the band to the audience for one last time at his final concert on April 27, 2024 in the Nelly Goletti Theatre. Photo by Yasir Olenja '24.

The influence of the program extends far beyond academic and professional life for many students. At Art’s retirement reception on April 27, Assistant Director of Music Michael Napolitano asked the gathered crowd how many of them had met their spouse through the band. Dozens of hands went up, including Katie’s and Austin’s.

“Austin and I essentially owe him everything now,” Katie said, holding up the hand with her wedding ring on it.

Looking to the future, Dr. Jones is excited to build on Art’s ethos to continue to grow the department, which consists of over 15 ensembles. These include the Marist Band, Singers, and Orchestra, the a cappella groups Sirens, Time-Check, and the Enharmonics, as well as other small ensembles and choirs.

“This program is at an excellent turning point and I do not doubt that the future is very bright for the Marist Band and Music Program,” said Dr. Jones.

Click here to learn more about the Marist Music program.


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