In the swing of things

By Michele Wojciechowski, \'90

It’s the first Friday of the month at the Chartwell Country Club in Severna Park, Md. The room is packed; it’s standing-room only. The band members, dressed in tuxedos and formal wear, take the stage.

With that, music fills the room as the 18-piece band begins to harmonize. Saxophones, trumpets, and trombones sway back and forth, and as the night goes on, the energy reaches a fever pitch. Audience members move on the dance floor and in their seats—and so does the band.

Welcome to a performance by Mood Swings.

Mood Swings' brass strike a pose before playing a wedding.

Mood Swings

The swing begins

In 1995, Ken Stastny, ’90, received a phone call from his former high school band teacher, who wanted to know if Stastny could sit in on an up coming performance with a dance band at the Dundalk Heritage Fair. He also hoped Stastny knew a few musicians who could join him.

He did. Stastny was a member of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band (which kept playing together long after the team left town). Word got out, and he had enough people interested to put together his own band. Before they could perform, though, the gig was cancelled. “Everyone was disappointed,” Stastny recalled.

So they decided to have their own show, and on July 15, 1995, they played their first performance at Stastny’s birthday party.

In its early days, Mood Swings rehearsed at Loyola. After playing what Stastny calls “the triple-header Nursing Home Tour” for three local nursing homes, College Manor loved them so much that they invited the band to play there regularly. With a standing gig, the band also began to hold regular rehearsals.

Mood Swings’ first paid gig was a wedding, which they played for $300. At the time, they wanted to do “real” gigs, so they told people the price was whatever a DJ would charge—but they guaranteed the music would be better. The bride and groom liked Mood Swings so much, they tipped them $1,000.

All in the family

Today Mood Swings is comprised of 28 members, including five female and two male lead vocalists, a five-piece rhythm section, 13 horns, and a three-man sound and stage crew.

Of them, eight band members have ties to Loyola. Besides Stastny, there’s Mike Sheridan, ’90, MBA ’94, who also serves as the band’s chief operating officer; Sam Fine, who was an adjunct in the math department; James Reidy, ’03, MBA ’09; Mike Barry, ’05; Wayne Kern, ’77; Xavier Cole, former assistant vice president for student development; and George Wright, associate professor emeritus (Wright recently retired from the band.)

“Seven vocalists allow for a complete range of styles—from Sinatra to Beyoncé; Sade to Stevie Wonder; Earth, Wind, and Fire to Led Zeppelin; Katy Perry to Sam Smith, and back again,” said Stastny. Mood Swings has gone from playing birthday parties and nursing homes to performances at two Bush family weddings in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the White House, as well as a decade’s worth of Loyola’s Alumni Bull & Oyster Roasts.

“The leadership cadre of Mood Swings works hard to keep the band’s repertoire current,” said Wright, who was recruited in 1995 by Stastny when Mood Swings’ original baritone sax player left the group. “Time is spent not only on rehearsing the tunes, but also on rehearsing the choreography and tailoring the outfits.”

In the end, the genre of the music doesn’t really matter. “It’s all about connecting with the audience,” Stastny said.

Playing to the crowd

How have they lasted for 20 years while other bands have fallen by the wayside? Their friendships with one another and their relationship with their audience.

“Ask anyone who has seen us perform, and they’ll be almost immediately amazed at how unique we are with our constant energy, choreography, dance moves, and crowd interaction,” says Stastny.

“I never stop loving those expressions of amazement at the folks on the dance floor who look like they’re having the time of their lives… with a band that’s having the time of their lives, too!”

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