Offbeat Band Marches On
With Fight Songs and Fun, Ensemble Does Its Thing
They wear Crimson jackets and play everything from "Under the Sea" to "10,000 Men of Harvard" at hockey games and football games.
They yell at goalies, make fun of other schools, and everyone lets them get away with it.
Who do they think they are, anyway?
They are, of course, members of the Harvard University band.
Harvard's band has long held the reputation as one of the most innovative college groups in the country.
"Our marching band was the first to use actual diagrams, to try to spell out names, and the first to involve humor in half-time shows," said Band Manager Victor Hwang '93.
Because of that tradition, Hwang said, the Harvard band tries to be more relaxed band than bands of other schools.
"We are anything but fascist, we don't wear Q-tip hats or march in formation," noted John A.E. Pottow '93, the student conductor.
Despite this emphasis on creativity, Pottow says the band has "a diversity of musical talent" noting that a number of band members also belong to the Harvard/Radcliffe Wind Ensemble. Potential members must audition with faculty director Tom Everett before being admitted to the band.
Although one of the organization's primary goals is to provide a good time for itself and the crowd, Hwang says that he and his fellow bandies strive for a "tasteful, clever, and intellectual" type of humor.
"We are stupid in a clever manner. We don't try to show as many phallic symbols as we can" said Michael E. Ronan '95.
During the 1991 football game versus Yale, for instance, they showed how the Yalies how they were responsible for many of the World's woes, including global warming, the latest Michael Jackson video, and the recession.
A Respectable Band
Harvard's band contrasts itself with its less-than-respectable Columbia University counterpart, which in a recent Wall Street Journal article was cited as a band that "refuses to clean up its shows."
Ronan recalls watching the Columbia band in action, playing kazoos, pans, and "everything but the kitchen sink."
"We take our music seriously enough that we don't have to march around like that," he said.
Because of controversial half-time performances in the early 1980's (one in particular which addresses the downing by the Soviets of a Korean jetliner) all of Harvard's shows are now reviewed by Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III before performance.
Senior staff members insist, however that Epps is very reasonable and that the band strives for "tasteful" entertainment.
Still, they speak affectionately of "raunch songs" that, according to Hwang, have lyrics that "aren't meant to be printed in papers."
The Band Museum
The band's strong sense of history can be seen in its office filled with memorabilia from its 72-year past. Hwang likes to think of it as "a neoalternative art museum."
Artifacts inside the bandies layer include the biggest tuba in the world, a bass drum named Bertha, as well as pictures of past bands and a number of "borrowed" sings.
Stories of pranks from years ago have passed from generation to generation--including the time in the late 1960's when the band went to New Haven and woke up slumbering Yalies to the sound of Harvard fight songs in the wee hours of the morning.
They were arrested, but had all charges against them dropped when the judge, who happened to be a Harvard graduate, dismissed the case.
"Kidnappings" among band members, group "invasions" of the Yale club of New York, and the throwing of flowers (and occasionally flour) at games are regular occurrences.
A strong tradition in the band has formed a unique bond between present bandies students and alumni. Jokingly known as "crusties," these former members often drop in on the band room, point to pictures or signs on the wall, and tell the stories behind them.
"It's neat to meet a guy who was in the band thirty years ago who sings the same songs as you do, for no apparent reason," said Drill Master Jonathan G.S. Koppell '93.