The earliest bands at Indiana State University (which was then called the Indiana State Normal School) were organized and run by students (sometimes with a faculty advisor). These bands tended to be all-male, and consisted mainly of brass and percussion, though from time to time they would be joined by other instruments. The Advance, the student newspaper of the time, documents such groups as early as 1904. By 1924, the University had recognized band as an official part of the curriculum, and fundraising efforts were undertaken to buy instruments. A class rehearsal schedule was established, and academic credit was given for participation.
In 1933, Mr. Harold Bright was given responsibility for the burgeoning band program, and a marching band was created. That first marching band played at every football and basketball home game, as well as baseball games against state rivals Purdue and Indiana University. For many years, only men played in the group, supported by female twirlers and “flag swingers.” In line with changing social conditions, women became players in the Marching Band in 1963, and today form an integral part of the band's membership. Meanwhile, the concert bands continued to flourish, with enrollment as high as one hundred players each year. Bright's memory is honored each year with the presentation of the Harold Bright Distinguished Service Medal, first awarded in 1935.
In 1939, Mr. Joseph A. Gremelspacher became the Director of Bands at what was by then called Indiana State Teachers College. Responsible for many of the traditions associated with the bands at ISU, Gremelspacher wrote the Fight Song (March On!) and helped promote the band department through his tireless efforts. In 1953 Gremelspacher was succeeded by his longtime Associate Director of Bands, George Graesch, but remained on faculty until 1967.
Mr. George M. Graesch became the Director of Bands at Indiana State in 1953, conducting the Symphonic Band and also the Marching Band and Basketball Band, in addition to teaching courses in the Music Education curriculum. Gremelspacher and Graesch both helped develop a music education curriculum that attracted many students who wanted to become public school band directors. The bands were renamed to "Wind Ensemble" and "Symphonic Band" in 1974 (from Symphonic Band and Varsity Band), and began to meet year-round in 1976. Repertoire became more challenging, often featuring the latest works of significant composers, and performances at conventions became commonplace.
Graesch retired in 1984, and was succeeded by his assistant, William Wakefield, who remained as Director of Bands until 1985 before leading to take the Director of Bands position at the University of Oklahoma. From 1985 to 1988, John Anderson served as the Director of Bands. Following his departure to teach in California, Dalvin Boone, Dave Booth, and David Watkins split the duties of the position for the 1988-1989 academic year.
In 1989, Dr. John Boyd was appointed as Director of Bands, beginning a new era for the Indiana State University band department. The top wind band, now named the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, regularly appeared at regional and national conventions, and in 2001 traveled to Tajimi , Japan, for a series of overseas concerts. The group also appeared on several compact disc recordings on the ELF music label.
Dr. Doug Keiser was appointed Director of Athletic Bands in 1990, and began to lay a strong foundation for the Marching Sycamores as well as the Sycamore Basketball Band, in addition to conducting the Symphonic Band. While Dr. Keiser stepped down as Director of Athletic Bands in 2009, he continues to serve on the ISU Music Education faculty, and is the conductor of the Concert Band.
In 2010, Dr. Boyd retired from Indiana State University and was succeeded by Dr. Roby G. George, who currently continues to serve in this capacity. Under Dr. George's tenure, the ISU Wind Orchestra has performed at numerous conventions and conferences, including a CBDNA regional performance. In 2015, Dr. Nikk Pilato was appointed Director of Athletic Bands, and in 2016 he was appointed Associate Director of Bands. Dr. Pilato teaches courses in the music education curriculum including Conducting, Scoring, and Marching Band Procedures, and conducts the Wind Symphony.