Marching band runs in the Currey family

By Chicago 7 Min Read

matthew and kathryn currey

Matthew and Kathryn Currey have been in the Marching Illini since their freshman year at University of Illinois, when they got to join the band on a trip to Ireland.


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CHAMPAIGN — You shouldn’t assume Kathryn and Matthew Currey share everything just because they’re twins, but love for the Marching Illini is one thing they definitely have in common.

The band’s impact on them started early: Their parents, John and Jennifer Currey, are University of Illinois alumni and directors of Champaign Central’s Marching Maroons.

They grew up going to Illini football and basketball games (along with their “superfan” grandma) as well as high school band competitions on campus.

“It was a huge draw, at least for me, to want to come here,” Kathryn said. “I wanted to have that college experience.”

Now, they’re UI juniors. Matthew is studying mechanical engineering and Kathryn kinesiology. He plays mellophone and she plays trombone.

It isn’t easy for either of them to balance a schedule full of band practices and STEM classes, but both say it’s worth it.

“I like the work that we do to keep the quality that the crowd expects,” Matthew said. “But also there’s a good social aspect to it and it’s sort of a nice break in my day to go out and play music and not think about the hardships of what’s going on with class.”

Kathryn sticks around to connect with their fellow band members — she said that if they were “trash people,” she wouldn’t want to be in band.

“We’re both very Type A about everything we do in school, very focused, and it lets you get out of that space and be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” Kathryn said.

It isn’t too bad from a sports fan’s perspective, either.

“We get great seats in the stadium for both football and basketball,” Matthew said.

They both also spoke highly of experiences with the Illini athletic program, especially when traveling to games.

The band members get merch, meals and just about anything else they need to have a good experience.

Some of Kathryn and Matthew’s favorite memories with the band involve travel.

Michigan was fun, but cold; imagine playing a brass instrument in seven degrees Fahrenheit weather.

“Our valves froze,” Matthew said — and even hand warmers couldn’t fully revive the instruments.

Florida was fun and warm; the band had a few extra days to hang out in Tampa.

“We got to watch fireworks from the beach at New Year’s, so that was pretty sick,” Kathryn said.

The most exciting trip for both Kathryn and Matthew was a visit to Ireland in their freshman year to play in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin with an audience of millions.

Kathryn marched the two-hour parade — and one the day before in Kilkenny — on what she thought was a twisted ankle.

“I snuck in. I told one of the TAs, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to march,’” Kathryn said. “But I realized that everyone was going to go, and I’m not going to stand in front of the castle like a chump.”

She didn’t realize her leg was broken until they were back in the U.S.

Still, Matthew and Kathryn both enjoyed the parade.

The crowd was much larger than they’re used to, and due to the length of the parade, Marching Illini director Barry Houser let the band break formation occasionally to interact with the audience.

“There wasn’t a dead space on that parade route,” Matthew said.

Some of their other favorite things about band happen every year: Kathryn likes surprising new members with traditions, and Matthew gets excited every time he walks down the tunnel onto the field at Memorial Stadium.

They’re not unfamiliar with playing in the State Farm Center for basketball games or new student convocation, but the Marching Illini in Concert will be a rare chance to play for an audience who came just to hear the band.

“Playing for animated crowds that are really into it makes it really special,” Matthew said.

There are other things to consider, like the fact that there won’t be any crowd cheering or talking over the band’s sound, but Matthew and Kathryn aren’t too worried because the band has to be at its best at every performance.

“It is special knowing that people are there to see you and usually for this kind of thing, music is in their lives, so they’re going to be more critical about it or more supportive about it,” Kathryn said.

The majority of the pieces they’ll be playing in Marching Illini in Concert will be songs they’ve worked on so far this year, for their pregame show and other performances.

Many band members have taken time outside of regular practices to arrange their own pieces so each section will have its own feature.

Matthew couldn’t fit extra rehearsal time in his schedule, but he said to expect a “Barbie” theme from the mellophones; Kathryn said the trombones will play a medley from the band Chicago.

They’ve heard from other sections that they might do other medleys inspired by pop culture, but the specifics are a bit of a surprise for the concert.

Tickets are still available for Marching Illini in Concert through the State Farm Center’s website.

The concert will be at 3 p.m. Sunday.

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