Loud and Proud, Band is Back for 85th Reunion

BAND OF BROTHERS
Jessica E. Schumer

Herman C. Quirmbach ’72 and members of the Harvard Band performed both Friday night and at the football game Saturday.

All throughout Lowell Lecture Hall there was a buzz, as old friends got reacquainted over their former love.

The band was back together.

For some of the attendees of the Harvard University Band’s 85th Reunion Weekend, it had been ages since they donned the crimson sport coats and hoisted their instrument of choice at a concert or football game. Despite the lapse of time, the memories forged during the alums undergraduate years remained as vivid as the day they left.

“I feel like it’s kind of a time warp,” David Horn ’65 said. “Inside my body I feel like it’s still 1964, but I look in the mirror and I see all the old alums around, and I’m like ‘shoot.’”

As the band alumni gathered in Lowell Lecture Hall on Friday afternoon for rehearsal, the time warp officially got underway.

Director of Bands Thomas G. Everett stepped up on the stage in the front of the room and attempted to reign in the group of well over 100 people that had already arrived.

“Let’s see what kind of sound we can get together,” Everett said. “B flat.”

Many were.

A round of frantic adjustments ensued.

After a brief warm up with scales, the group moved right into its first piece—The Star-Spangled Banner.

Alums and students flipped through their sheets looking for the right composition.

“Who needs music?” asked a helper scrambling among the rows of chairs.

The drums began to beat and the cymbals clashed. The rich sound of America’s national anthem filled up the hall and leaked out the windows. The message was clear.

The band was back together.

The scene shifted to Sanders Theater later that evening, as the band was performing at its 85th Reunion Concert. The group, now nearly 200 strong, would take the stage at the end of the performance, as The Harvard Jazz Band and The Harvard Wind Ensemble—which included the much anticipated playing of the world’s biggest tuba and an appearance by Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71—kicked off the evening’s events.

Downstairs in Loker Commons, alumni and students alike camped out waiting for their turn. Some passed the time checking e-mail while taking in parts of the playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, but most remained bunkered in the Loker classrooms making necessary last minute preparations.

As Gross wrapped up his narration and the wind ensemble finished its final piece, a thunderous beat of drums rose from the floor below the stage. Band members began ascending the steps up to the main platform, pouring onto the stage in a measured fashion. More and more took to the stairs until the stage was completely full. The alumni and students crammed closer together in order to fit everyone in, a feat that was made more difficult by the presence of bulky instruments such as tubas and drums.

The band broke into the Harvard Medley and proceeded to go through all of Harvard’s traditional fight songs, from “Harvardiana” to “Fight Fiercely” to “Gridiron King” with a different alum conducting each piece. Current student conductor Josh Rissmiller ’06 was the last to take the podium, as he was given the honor of leading the band’s staple piece—“Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.”

“If there is an anthem of the band, that’s it,” Rissmiller said. “It just tugs at your heartstrings a bit.”

At the conclusion of the concert, the band members young and old made their way back down to Loker for a reception, giving many old friends a chance to catch up.

“They really enjoy being back,” Band Manager Matt Katcher said. “We’ve seen a lot of groups getting back together and a lot of people who have kept these ties over the years.”

DEW, SUNRISE AND THE HARVARD BAND

It’s Saturday at 6:45 a.m., but as most of the Harvard world sleeps, the band scurries around its 74 Mount Auburn Street home, loading equipment into trucks and tuning their instruments.

“It’s too early,” Horn joked.

“Where’s my coffee?” mused Evelyn Tate ’74.

There aren’t too many people that would be happy with a pre-dawn wakeup call on a Saturday, but the band is all smiles as it prepares to take to the streets in its customary march to the stadium.

For the alums, the memories of marches past came rushing back.

“We used to block up near the freshman dorms starting at Greenough and wake everybody up,” Tate said as she glanced down the empty thoroughfare. “This isn’t as much fun, because there aren’t that many people around.”

A thunderous beat of drums breaks the silence of the still morning. After a quick warm up, the band marches out into Mt. Auburn Street and blasts its traditional fight songs, surely violating several Cambridge noise ordinances and providing a bit of a shock to heavy-eyed residents of Lowell and Claverly.

Does the band have any qualms about serving as a de facto 7:15 wakeup call for a portion of the Harvard population?

“They should come out here and join us,” said Assistant Director of Bands Mark Olson.

And why so early, wouldn’t it be more convenient for everyone if the march took place closer to gametime?

“We’d love to do an 11 a.m. march down,” Drill Master Clark Rosensweig ’05 said. “But it’s more difficult to get permits for later in the morning, because by 11 a.m. the traffic is a lot more hectic.”

The route calls for a sharp left onto Plympton Street, taking the band past Adams. Another left onto Massachusetts Avenue takes the marching orchestra past Wigglesworth as it belts out the Latin verse to “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.”

“Illegitimum non Carborundum; Domine salvum fac,” the band sang, probably to the stunned consternation of the residents of the south yard.

A quick U-turn at Out of Town News turns the band in the direction of the river. Rosensweig runs up and down the line holding up signs to indicate which song is next on the list.

“It’s pretty tiring,” Rosensweig said. “I’m not in shape enough for a band of this size.”

The walking wakeup call rounds the bend at Brattle and Mount Auburn Streets taking it directly by the Harvard Square Hotel and The Charles Hotel. A morning runner halts his jog to get a glimpse of the sea of crimson and brass which has executed a hostile takeover of the highly-trafficked street.

Finally, the band makes its way past Kirkland and Eliot Houses, across the JFK Bridge and down North Harvard Street to the stadium. A line of cars extending back across the bridge into Cambridge follows closely behind.

What would a traffic helicopter call this quagmire?

“A band bottleneck,” Rosensweig joked.

As the band heads out to the practice football fields to prepare for the day’s festivities, a few members grab chunks of ice discarded from Bright Hockey Arena and make a run at Drum Major Matthew Dewitz ’05.

“You have to sacrifice the drum major to ensure good weather,” Rosensweig said.

“It used to be water,” added former drum major Becky Strong ’99. “I’d have been much happier with snow or ice.”

THE GRAND ENTRANCE

With the increasing number of members bolstering the band’s ranks, an opportunity for a special pregame entrance presented itself.

Instead of entering from the endzone at the open end of the stadium, the body would be split into two groups with one entering from the closed end as well.

“Apparently the two side thing has been done before,” Dewitz said during the morning practices. “But the biggest difficulty will be keeping the musicians in beat. We’ll have to try it with instruments and see how it goes.”

Those concerns did not manifest themselves during the actual performance, as the band nailed the entrance.

“It was really great,” Dewitz said. “I was a bit concerned after rehearsal, but the two sides seemed to be together. I think any deviance was just in the echo.”

With the first major hurdle cleared, the focus shifted to the special 85th anniversary halftime show.

“Every week we plan a halftime show, but this one took two weeks to plan,” Katcher said. “The Drill Master [Rosensweig] is in charge of taking ideas and coming up with something fun from those.”

This week’s theme would take a look back to the predictions of the Harvard University Band, as the members scrambled all over the field into different formations such as an “85” or a big “H,” while performing such songs as “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“It’s crazy conducting for so many people,” Rissmiller said. “I’m used to a much smaller group, but it’s a once and a lifetime opportunity to get to do this.”

But even after the successful halftime show was completed, the band’s traditions weren’t quite complete.

With 10:30 to go in the fourth quarter, the group released little squares of paper torn from programs and halftime marching orders to the shout of “Confetti”—much to the dismay of those fans seated downwind in sections 33 and 34.

As the final knee was taken to close out the Crimson’s 34-24 victory over Cornell, the band once again broke into its beloved anthem—Ten Thousand Men of Harvard.

Soon after, the band once again took to marching, as it crossed the bridge back into Cambridge, leaving Harvard Stadium and Greater Boston in its wake. The indelible image that the group had left on the day’s events would not soon be forgotten by any of the students or alumni lucky enough to return for the weekend of time warps and reverie. As the tune of Fight Fiercely began to fade, one thing still remained clear.

The band was back together.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.

Multimedia

BOOM SHAKALAKA

BOOM SHAKALAKA

PAPER FALLS

PAPER FALLS