Band Celebrates 80 Years with Weekend of Festivities
More than 100 alumni of the Harvard University Band marched alongside current members at halftime during last weekend's rout of the Dartmouth football team, in commemoration the band's 80th anniversary.
Marching at the game was the highlight of a weekend celebrating the long history of the band and the lifelong friendships shared among its members. More than 150 band alumni returned for the festivities.
"Everybody is pretty much the same except now they're doctors and lawyers," said Band Foundation President James J. Nicklaus '90.
Nicklaus, who was a drill master during the '89 football season and played the trombone, recalls his band years fondly.
" I remember getting drunk with these people and the idea of these people in positions of responsibility is like, 'Oh my God!'" says Nicklaus, who was also a Crimson editor.
"It was a group that began somewhat ambiguously-talented (musically), out there for the love of it and to show a little school spirit," Nicklaus said.
The band set its own unofficial record at the weekend game with six conductors whose tenures span five decades, keeping time for the intricate half-time show.
"Over half a century there have been many constants and a few changes. In many ways the constants are more important than the changes," said former Band Foundation President Marlow Segal '52, who has played in at least one show every year since 1948.
In the late 1940s the band was nearly twice as large as today's group, with all the young men returning home from the war. In those days, members wore bright red jackets and ties over white pants with a red stripe. Five years after Segal began marching, the band sported its now familiar crimson jackets.
Although some traditions have come and gone since the band's founding in 1919, others have remained with particular tenacity: Serenading Yale and Princeton at two in the morning; yellow chrysanthemums at football games; playing "Fair Harvard" each year at commencement; partying with the University of Pennsylvania Band; planning each week's show; the march down to Soldiers Field and the many pranks and rivalries.
One tradition found its roots decades ago. Because the Saturday football game of the 50s was the highlight of the week's social activity on campus, Harvard men would bring dates to the packed stadium for the weekly event. Band members gave their girlfriends yellow chrysanthemums to wear, indicating that their dates were playing with the band.
The tradition is carried on at the end of every football game, when band members throw yellow flowers up into the air.
Other customs had less-dignified beginnings.
According to Band Director Thomas "Gee-Whiz" Everett, early one Sunday morning in the 70s as the band was returning from the University of Pennsylvania, the bus made an unscheduled stop in New Haven.
The Band was leading a midnight march through the Yale Quad and the streets of New Haven, when police arrived threatening to arrest the leader of the group. The officer's complaint was that the band was leading a public parade without a permit.
When no one claimed responsibility, band mom Alice "Mom" Tondel, a small lady who was in her sixties, stepped out and shouted "I am in charge!" The police officer made an about face, sat down on the curb behind his car, and started laughing. "Go, get out of here," he shooed them through tears.
The band's antics don't end there. Until it became impossible for the band to get ice time at Brighton Hockey center, the Harvard and Yale bands engaged in an annual 2 a.m. hockey game. Two minutes before the end of one now-historic game, the Harvard side was down by several goals. Finally, they sent out their secret weapon: a band members who also started for the hockey team.
In Everett's memory, by the final whistle Harvard had won by six goals. The Yale Band, outraged, demanded that Harvard's star player was a ringer.
"Somebody gave him a trumpet and he stood up and played 'Ten Thousand Men of Harvard,'" Everett said.
Everett assumed his current role of band director in 1971 after many years of musical accomplishment as a bass trombonist with several jazz bands and ensembles, as well as the Bolshoi Ballet, the Boston Pops and the Portland (Maine) Symphony.
Many feared a clash between the band's casual style and Everett's professionalism. But the band members soon found he was accepting and unpretentious, welcoming the fun-loving spirit of the group.
One of the trademarks of the group is its "scramble" performance style, meaning they run, rather than march, between formations.
"One of the great things about a 'scatter band' is that it is such a contrast to what people expect from Harvard," says Morgan A. Goulet '00.
Since his arrival at Harvard, Everett has raised the bar for the quality of musicianship in Harvard ensembles by introducing a jazz ensemble and a performance band, whose members frequently overlap with the marching band.
"We tend to lose people with a strong sense of musicality very quickly," says Melina C. McTigue '00.
However, Goulet points out, "we work darn hard, but we don't put our effort into precision marching. We want people to smile."
Despite a potential conflict in style, Everett stuck with the band, and in the process became "the Band's supreme protector and secret weapon," according to Goulet.
Another story told among band members sprung from an event this year. At the Holy Cross homecoming game, the Holy Cross president asked to review the Harvard band's show. Because the band never has its show for the coming week set until the Thursday before, it did not have time to send a copy of the corrected script to the president before the game.
Because he had not seen an approved script, the president ordered that no Harvard Band members be admitted to the stadium. Everett snuck up to the press box and started screaming until the band was admitted.
"In order to get my point across I had to make my point quite forcefully--in musical terms, 'forte,'" Everett says. "I expect more from our band and our crowd. I demand respect for all bands."
"Whatever scene he makes is always for the good of the band," Daly says.
Everett and the band's members have a great mutual affection for each other. He revels with the band's student leaders--joking and telling stories about band history. His eyes lit up when asked about band pranks and practical jokes.
A sense of humor and an "exuberant irreverance" have characterized the group's history, McTigue said.
As Goulet puts it, "We're like the Lampoon, but we're funny."
The big Harvard bass drum, which is the target of many pranks, has been stolen four times in its history, according to Everett. "One time at the Yale game, a group of Yalies got the drum half way across the field while the game was in play before we got it back from them," Everett recalls.
The best drum-napping story by Everett's estimation was in the 70s, when two people showed up at the Band office with American Broadcasting Company (ABC) identification and asked to take pictures of the drum for a "story" they were doing on Harvard.
When the phony reporters said a background like the stadium would be best for the photo, Everett let them load the drum into their van to take down to Soldiers Field accompanied by one of the Band leaders.
After arriving at the stadium, the band leader stepped out of the van to help unload the drum, and the drivers drove off with the drum.
Everett called Robert Tonis, who was the Harard Police Chief at the time, to report the crime. Tonis was "a Dartmouth grad and a big band and jazz fan," according to Everett.
With the Dartmouth game just days away and the Yale game still over a month away, the most logical perpetrators were Dartmouth Band members. "But Dartmouth students aren't that smart," Everett says.
Tonis put out a four-state police alert and within 30 minutes the highway patrol had pulled over two students with Brown University identification driving a van with the drum towards Providence, R.I. The Harvard Band did not press charges, but the highway patrol did.
The Providence judge who heard the case happened to be a Harvard graduate. After giving the perpetrators a hard time, he let them off with a few hours of community service.
Two weeks later at the Brown game, the big cheer was, "Not only are you losing, but you're under indictment!"
The band is known not only for its cheers, but also for its funny, often eccentric half-time shows.
Although the band plays for football, hockey and basketball games every year, it has played for a swim meet only once.
For that performance in the 1980s, all the instruments except for the brasses and a few drums were lined up along the side of the pool. The brass players were in the pool, a few drums were floated on kickboards and the student conductor sat on an inner-tube.
At the end of their final piece, the student conductor raised his hands in the air and dropped through the middle of his tube. The horns slowly slid underwater, the final note gurgling away.
When the band emerged from the water, an oily slick of valve lubricant coated the surface of the water.
Harvard crushed Indiana State in the meet, and the Indiana team protested the outcome. They claimed that the oil had impaired their swimmers' performance. The victory stood, and the band has been land-locked ever since.
Through the ups and downs of Harvard athletics, the band's presence remains a tradition at games.
"We play our hearts out for a small crowd a lot of weeks. We put a lot into in, but [the band] gives it all back," Nicklaus says. "The band is family. The people in the band I'm going to see for the rest of my life. It's a great support system."
After all of its antics and hours of planning and practice, the band prides its 80-year legacy of friendship and musical excellence as much as its performances.
"The band of the 70s was different from the band of today, and the band of today is different from the band of the 40s and 50s," Everett says. "But wherever the band is playing, you can be sure they're playing Harvard songs with lots of camaraderie and spirit."