Looking out over the Atlantic Ocean after going on the trip of a lifetime to Dublin, Ireland, all David Fanta could think about was how tired he was. He went from never being on a plane to flying across the ocean just a few days earlier. Now, being an experienced world traveler, he could barely keep his eyes open. While drifting off to sleep, Fanta found himself back in fifth grade, where he almost did not play the instrument he does today.
The future Cornhusker Marching Band member always wanted to play the trumpet. He grew up listening to New Orleans jazz music with his family and became drawn to the notes of this brass instrument. However, his band director made him switch instruments for numbers sake.
“I got moved to trombone. I didn’t hate it, but I was not happy,” Fanta said. “I guess I practiced a little bit, but again, I didn’t. I just wasn’t happy about it.”
Luckily, the trombone player’s misfortune ended in three weeks. Some fifth graders decided to quit, meaning he had the opportunity to switch back to trumpet, which he did instantly. Since that moment, Fanta happily tooted his horn all the way through high school.
When it came time to decide where Fanta wanted to go to college, he figured he would go to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I mean, I grew up in Nebraska…Why would I go to a different school?” Fanta asked rhetorically, with a smile on his face.
Once he got to his senior year at Norfolk Catholic High School (NCHS), though, Fanta did consider other colleges, like the University of Nebraska-Omaha. A childhood friend and tuba player of Fanta made him reconsider his original dream college. That companion, who Fanta played football alongside through high school, was Ethan Piper, who committed to Nebraska as an offensive lineman for football. Not only did Piper’s commitment encourage Fanta to attend Lincoln, but also sparked an interest in auditioning for the Cornhusker Marching Band (CMB).
“He’s out there on the field. Then I could also be out there, but in a different way and I think that would be cool,” Fanta said. “It’s like it was a chance for me to really be part of game days.”
The road to making this ensemble, though, would be demanding. When he attended NCHS, the band never marched on a field. Samantha Hahn, the Norfolk Catholic High School Director of Bands, never had a student make the CMB before.
“Both of us were pretty green about the whole situation. But I knew that if he wanted to do it, he was going to make it because every goal that he had set up to that point he had made,” Hahn said.
If the concert band trumpeter wanted to make the college band, he would have to learn how to march in less than 24 hours.
After working with Hahn for months, including his last summer before college, it was time for the official audition. He spent the night at his sister’s who lives in Lincoln the night before the audition weekend. Saturday rolled around and he “did the thing.” While there was some nervousness, he felt confident in his playing ability and his way of learning on the spot. After a rigorous Saturday of learning and meeting new people, the freshman was ready for the actual audition on Sunday. Fanta worked all weekend for an audition that lasted only 20 minutes, the majority focused on marching and then the memorization test over the fight songs. He did all he could do, but now, it becomes a waiting game.
Nighttime descends and the hopeful trumpet player is sitting in front of the music building with Piper and hundreds of other students. All of them waited for the same pieces of paper to be posted on a whiteboard inside. Time continues to pass and there is finally movement inside the building. A whiteboard moves to the front of the building and people begin to swarm around it. Fanta could not get to the board to see his name, but Piper helped him get there.
“[Imagine] this huge football player shoving David to the front of the line, getting him to the front to see if he had made it or not,” Hahn said.
With Piper’s help, Fanta made his way to the whiteboard. After his eyes skim down the list, he feels his heart drop after reading each name that was not his. He continues down the roster and then he sees it: David Fanta. He made it. He is a member of the Cornhusker Marching Band.
Since that moment, Fanta poured everything he had into the band and it did not go unnoticed. Associate Director of Bands, Anthony Falcone, watched Fanta grow from a person who had never done marching band into one of the section’s leaders.
“He’s a model band member,” Falcone said. “You notice him just because he’s always really steady and doing what he’s supposed to do…[He] adapted to everything that we do here, and he’s done really well.”
Years go by, memories are made and Fanta is a senior. He’s loved watching his favorite football team in arguably the best atmosphere. In college football, the Huskers have not had good seasons while Fanta has been at UNL. However, some games still stand out in his mind.
“Michigan was awesome,” Fanta said, referencing the close matchup between Michigan and Nebraska in 2021. “It was a night game, and we were actually in the game. Big games like that are awesome.”
An opportunity arose in 2020 that disappeared within months due to the pandemic. Nebraska football versus the Fighting Illini in Dublin Ireland. At that time, the whole 300-piece band would go and perform. However, COVID-19 took the Aer Lingus Classic. At least, until May 20, 2021. Fanta desperately wanted to go on this trip. To go across the ocean and support his favorite college team was a dream. However, the athletic department could only allow a 50-piece band to go. 50 out of 300 members.
“I had no confidence that I was going. None at all,” Fanta said.
For Falcone, it would be a difficult decision to decide who would get to go on a trip like this. Hundreds of students wanted the opportunity to represent the band across the Atlantic. There are many choices that can be picked to go on this trip. How can one make a decision as big as this?
“The short answer is that [the roster] was based on seniority within a workable instrumentation,” Falcone said. “I did have to make some hair-splitting decisions though.”
Fanta felt his odds were slim, but all he could do was apply. He threw his name into the hat the first moment a Google form arrived in Slack, the band’s way of communicating. It became another waiting game, bringing him back to when he waited for audition results. On June 21, a random Tuesday during the summer, a Canvas announcement popped up: “Ireland Pep Band Roster.” Fanta saw the notification, heart in his stomach and pulled open the file.
“I wasn’t planning on seeing my name going down the list. [However,] my name was on there, ” Fanta said. “Holy cow.”
One of the first people he contacted was the high school director who got him there in the first place. Hahn felt excited for him, especially since he came from a smaller school.
“I saw how small the list was…I blasted [the news] out to all the staff and said, ‘Look what David’s doing,’” Hahn said.
Weeks passed. Days of working and preparing for band camp passed. Next thing Fanta knew, the band made it to the Kansas City airport and finally boarded the plane. At that point, he started to feel butterflies in his stomach. How could Fanta know what to pack and prepare for when he had never stepped inside a plane before, let alone fly? All the possible emotions he could feel, he admitted he was feeling.
“I was nervous, but I was excited,” Fanta said. “I was also scared. I think [it mostly was] anxious.”
Those nerves quickly dissipated after they hit altitude. He enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the different shapes and forms the clouds were taking. After switching planes and a “good night’s sleep,” Fanta arrived in Dublin. He loved the sights and the atmosphere, but his favorite place happened to be the Palace Bar. While the variety of drinks he had there was fantastic, what made this place stand out was the local couple he met, Phillip and Sandra.
“I talked to them for over an hour,” Fanta said. “I hated leaving them because it was super easy to talk to them.”
The pep rally in the park was one of Fanta’s highlights of the trip. Instead of taking a bus to the rally’s location, the band walked in uniform to their destination. He said the attention the band received was well worth the trip.
“[Ireland] almost loved the band more there. They genuinely liked the band, and that was so much fun,” Fanta said.
Saturday arrived and Fanta walked into Aviva Stadium. It felt nothing like Memorial Stadium energy, but something similar was in the air. What threw him off, though, was that an arena this big could sit only 48,000 people.
“The area was bigger [than Memorial Stadium]. But seating-wise, it just felt smaller,” Fanta said.
The halftime performance was Fanta’s most memorable moment from the trip. The Northwestern band and Husker pep band came together to play a song in honor of Ireland, “Fields of Athenry.” When Fanta first practiced this song, he had low hopes for it. However, he quickly changed his perspective when he performed it on the football field.
“I don’t know what that song means or what it means to the people of Ireland, but it’s a big deal [to them]. The [Irish fans] started singing along to it, loudly. So loud, I couldn’t hear myself playing,” Fanta said, smiling at the memory.
While Nebraska lost the football game, Fanta could not get over the feeling of playing the last song at halftime for Ireland. What also lifted his spirits was Phillip and Sandra coming to the game and finding him.
“They came down after the game to say hi,” Fanta said. “I made sure that time to take a picture with them. I’m so glad I remembered to do that.”
The last night in Dublin passed and it was time to go back to the States. Fanta did not want to go back home yet but knew he was ready for some sleep.
He wakes up and he still finds himself on the plane. He looks to his right, and the Atlantic Ocean is still thousands of feet below him. Fanta hoped that he was really reliving his journey to this point, but he found himself at the end of this milestone. That is, unless he went back to sleep. He closed his eyes once more, thinking back to his fifth-grade self.
“In fifth grade, I didn’t start playing in a band because I was expecting to absolutely love it,” Fanta said. “I did, though, and look where it got me. I got to be fortunate enough to be here.”