University of South Carolina

Music alumna takes to national playing field

By: Frenche` Brewer, brewer4@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3691

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Become one of the assistant band directors for the Fighting Irish. At least, that was the entrée for Alison Thigpen. Just one of the plum career opportunities she’s had since accepting the position with the University of Notre Dame.

Thigpen has also taken her band students to Asia, South America, and Europe, coordinated flyovers of Notre Dame Stadium on game days and will be in Miami when the Irish play for the national championship.

But, Thigpen is calm, cool and collected about the huge audience that will watch her lead the marching band in its halftime performance as Notre Dame faces Alabama Jan. 7.

Alison directing“From a band perspective, the students are beyond excited, so that has made the preparations fun,” says Thigpen, ’07. “We are just excited to have this opportunity to support the football team in Miami.”

At Notre Dame, Thigpen leads one of the oldest and largest university marching bands in the country, comprising more than 380 students. The Mount Pleasant native, and University of South Carolina alumna with a master’s degree in music education, says she never thought that her first job out of graduate school would be working with a college band, but credits her time at USC as preparing her well for this big stage.

“I was very fortunate to be offered the position at Notre Dame. I was just finishing up my third semester at USC and knew that working with college bands was something I really wanted to do,” Thigpen says.

When the football announcer for the Fighting Irish roars for audience members to keep their seats, it will be time for Thigpen to step it up.

It’s also about as high a profile as one can get, and not be a player on the field.

“The fact that we are playing in the national championship game is still hard to believe,” she says. “It's been neat to see the team come so far in a short period of time, and the band has been there supporting them all the way.”

Her success comes as no surprise to Thigpen’s professors, several of whom are mentors, and with whom she maintains close relationships today. Jim Copenhaver, director of bands, emeritus, was unsure whether Notre Dame would hire someone with little experience despite Thigpen’s talent.

“I told her that they’ll want someone with teaching experience, and lo and behold, they hired her,” Copenhaver says. “She is one wonderful young lady -- very bright, very talented. In my opinion she has no faults at all — just a terrific person in every respect.”

Music education professor Jeremy Lane calls Thigpen one of the finest students from the master’s program.

“I was not at all surprised that she earned such a prestigious position at Notre Dame right out of graduate school,” Lane says. “During her time at Carolina, she clearly demonstrated the necessary talent and work ethic for that type of job.”

Thigpen is in a small fraternity of women as an assistant college band director. She’s only the second woman to work on the Irish band staff and is proud to be an example for her students to follow.

“Although we do not have a music education program at Notre Dame, I feel that it is important for women in the band to see another woman being successful in a position typically filled by a man,” she says. “My students may find themselves in a similar situation after graduation, even if it is in a different field. It is a very rewarding experience to work with a college band every day. I really love what I do.”

Posted: 01/07/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 01/07/13 @ 10:16 AM | Permalink