After 24 years at Kansas State, Frank Tracz, director of bands and professor of music, says he doesn’t see himself going anywhere soon, despite the program’s lack of funding.
“I tell people I’m here till retirement, death or assassination, and I thought last fall it was going to happen,” Tracz said, speaking of the events from last year’s first halftime show.
Tracz said his love for music started at a fairly young age.
“I was going to be a rock-and-roll star when I was in high school,” Tracz said. “Aren’t we all?”
After growing up in a family of blue-collar steel workers, Tracz said he knew that wasn’t the path for him.
“I saw my dad, brothers and sisters come home, and when they came home, they just didn’t seem to be very happy about things,” Tracz said. “And working in a steel mill, they smelled and looked funny.”
Tracz said he was playing the drums in his high school band when he noticed that his band director seemed to be having fun with his job.
“I asked him, ‘What do you have to do to be a band director?’ and he told me about college and practicing,” Tracz said. “I asked him, ‘You get paid for doing this?’ and he started laughing.”
Tracz said it was then he decided he was all in. From there, he went on to Ohio State University, making him the first member of his family to attend college. Once he graduated, he taught at Morehead State University and worked with the band program until he got a call from K-State.
“I got a call from somebody at a place called Kansas State,” Tracz said. “I had never heard of Kansas State. I didn’t even know where Kansas was.”
After playing around with the idea of working for a university in the Big 12 Conference, Tracz said he came to K-State with the intention of only staying a couple of years before going back to Cleveland, Ohio, to raise a family, but he fell in love with Manhattan, K-State and especially the students here.
“There were opportunities for us to move on, go someplace else, but the people here made the difference,” Tracz said. “A lot of people talk about that, and (other people) kind of look at you like it’s just a bunch of garbage, but it’s not.”
Tracz said the day-to-day interactions between students and professors is an unusual dynamic that not many other campuses possess. From being able to casually greet one another on campus to happily helping with directions, he applauds the community on their friendliness.
“This generation is not one that’s going to go down in my books as the one that’s going to change the world for the better, but the students I deal with are just great people,” Tracz said. “They have a work ethic to kill for, they have a desire and a passion to work for what they do and want to be the best they possibly can. They’re the kind of people you want on your side.”
Tracz said he leads five concert bands, various small ensembles, three pub crawl bands, a couple of basketball bands, a volleyball band and the marching band.
Sarah Bures, sophomore in marketing and a member of the marching band, said Tracz is not only focused on making sure his students succeed within the band either.
“He motivates us to do more than just be good at band,” Bures said. “He motivates us to go to class and succeed in our lives. He wants us to succeed past marching band, and I think that’s really inspiring.”
Besides the students, Tracz said Bill Snyder is another main reason he stayed in Manhattan.
“The fact that Bill Snyder is the man that he is is a big reason why I’m still here,” Tracz said. “I have the utmost respect for that guy, what he’s done and what he means. Him and his family have done more for Kansas State, Manhattan and the state of Kansas than anyone I can think of in the past 24 years.”
Much like Snyder, Tracz has some success stories of his own since being at K-State, including when the marching band received the Sudler Trophy in 2015.
“My all-time favorite memory was when we got the Sudler Trophy, especially considering what we had been through a couple weeks before that with all the controversy over the first halftime show last year,” Tracz said. “That was probably my all-time favorite day of teaching.”
The Sudler Trophy is a two-year award that is presented to the most outstanding marching band in the country, making it a highlight of his career, Tracz said.
“He brought a lot of recognition to the school with the Sudler Trophy,” Hunter Sullivan, sophomore in applied music, said. “When he got here, the band was like 50 people, and now it’s like 400 people. He really knows how to recruit and build up a program.”
This will be K-State’s final year with the award, but Tracz said he is excited to be on the committee to decide who will receive it next.
Despite finding success and falling in love with the university, Tracz said that working here, at a school in Kansas, is by no means an easy task. He said the schools in Kansas are some of the most underfunded universities he’s ever seen, putting significant strain on his job when he has to fundraise to just repair instruments and continue doing what the bands already do.
“There aren’t many people struggling like we are,” Tracz said. “I understand that there’s a part (in fundraising) we have to do, but this has crossed the ridiculous line.”
Although the lack of funding makes Tracz’s job hard at times, Bures said she believes Tracz’s charismatic personality and the mixture between a fun and tough teaching style contributes a lot to the success of the program.
“He’s very energetic, and he really wants to get us pumped up,” Bures said. “He’s also tough, but I think that’s what any good organization that wants to succeed as far as our band has succeeded needs.”