When the University Band exhibits its new classical reportoirs tomorrow evening in Sanders Theatre, it will mark a turning point in a long musical career. Prokofieff and Shostakovitch, Milhand and Coates, are a far cry from gridfron "compabs" and fight cheers, but "the best in the business" has transformed a "Saturday afternoon miracle" into a Sanders concert.
The band has not dabbled in "long-haired" music since its infancy. When a determined group of veterans of another era decided in 1919 to replace the prewar professional football bands with an amateur undergraduate group, they included serious music in their repertoire.
During these formative years, the band made a concert tour of a few eastern cities under the leadership of Frederick L. Reynolds '20, first director of the unit, and launched the outdoor display soon to become a Crimson trademark.
Classics Rebuffed Till Now
Competition with other College musical organizations, however, soon drove the band out of the concert business, and subsequent sporadic attempts to introduce classical scores to the bandstand met little interest until this year when Malcolm H. Holmes '28, present conductor, and another veteran-heavy group of musicians took the plunge.
The band of the roaring 20's grew rapidly through the days of white sailor caps and bow ties, but still lacked the bass drum, the Anderson medleys and the snap drills which gave it nation-wide fame and provoked high-school girls and college co-eds from as far as Texas to write touching letters to Bill Bingham pleading for a chance to be a Harvard drum majorette.
Big Drum Battle Scarred
The big drum joined the band in 1928 as a gift of the Associated Harvard Clubs. In 20 years of trundling onto football fields all over the East it has outfought New Haven evildoers and has been promised six guards for the excursion into Connecticut next fall.
F. Leroy Anderson '29, who gave the band its biggest single boost toward fame, joined the group as a Freshman and soon was composing tunes and medleys which were quickly added to the repertoire. After graduation, he stayed on as conductor and wrote his famous Ivy League medleys, now a distinct part of the Crimson's performances.
"Wintergreen for President"
In 1932 Anderson embellished a Gershwin tune from the musical "Of Thee I Sing," and the classic "Wintergreen for President" medley was born. The arrangement quickly caught the undergraduate fancy and the band has yet to march onto Soldiers Field without a chorus of yells for "Wintergreen."
The snap drill formations also came to Cambridge in 1932 when Guy V. Slade '32 took over the drillmaster post. Prior to that time it was customary for the band to form a large "H" in midfield at the half, and perhaps the first letter of the name of the opposing college. This simple maneuver, plus the musical offerings, was all the band had to offer the Saturday fans.
The revolutionary and intricate word maneuvers, recently climaxed by the formation of 60 letters in one seven minute session, soon spread to other colleges. The 1936 demonstration in Princeton was so effective that Tiger Alumni blushed with shame at the inadequacies of the Nassau musicians and immediately raised $1,000 for their band.
Financial woes have troubled the Crimson musicians also. Up to 1937 all the band expenses came out of the pockets of the members. Although independent of University Hall or the H.A.A. the group now receives contributions from alumni through a graduate trust board.
Unique among College organizations in its life-long membership provisions, the band is complemented during the football season by some graduates who have been marching onto Soldiers Field for as long as 15 years. The lure of "Wintergreen" and a free ticket to the Stadium bring back alumni year after year.
Meeting the hundreds of requests of alumni and other colleges for recordings, the band waxed the "Ivy League Album" last winter as the first step in its new all-year schedule. Under the guiding hand of Holmes, who has remained associated with the band since his own undergraduate days, and manager Walter J. Skinner '48, the musicians will make a spring tour of neighboring colleges and are looking forward to bigger and better seasons adding color, life, and originality to the College musical scene.