McGINN 'N' JUICE: It's Time to Shine For Harvard's Band

Not quite two years ago, in the wake of yet another Harvard disappointment at the Beanpot, the Northeastern News’ sports page turned its attention from the ice to the stands, launching an unexpected and at times incoherent attack against the Harvard University Band. Wielding the wit and maturity of the average five-year-old, its author, Jack Weiland, alternately referred to the Crimson’s musical backers as “nerdy” and “dorky,” forever endearing himself to those of his readers who share his poorly masked inferiority complex regarding Harvard students in general.

But—almost certainly in spite of himself—Weiland didn’t miss the point completely. Something about the band isn’t quite right, and hasn’t been for as long as I can remember. No, the problem isn’t its members’ individual personalities, as Weiland suggested, nor is it that their attitude towards Harvard athletics is lacking.

Band members are, after all, usually among the very few fans to make long road trips to follow major Crimson programs like the football and men’s hockey teams.

At issue instead is the band’s undeniable failure to involve other fans in the game, thanks in no small part to a self-indulgent schtick that is lost on most of the rest of us, coupled with a music playlist that offers few selections with the potential to genuinely excite and engage the crowd.

Leveled at the average fan, that’s a pretty harmless criticism. No one would even think to badmouth the guy who goes to two or three games a season and just fools around with his friends in the stands without starting up a single chant of “de-fense” or singing a tune the rest of us will join in on.

But what’s the point of even having a band show up if its members won’t perform even those most basic tasks? That’s what the band is there for, after all, isn’t it—to provide a sizeable mass of loud and rowdy individuals the rest of the crowd can rally around right before a big play and immediately following a game-changing moment?

But that’s not exactly what the Harvard band does. Sure they play “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard” after a Crimson score, but what are they doing, you know, the rest of the game? Generally—at least from where the rest of us are sitting—nothing. Nothing we’re remotely interested in anyway. I mean, it’s great that they’re tossing homemade confetti in the air and in our faces in the fourth quarter and all, but that doesn’t really do it for most of us.

After all, the band has drums! Horns! Cymbals! Other musical instruments! We—the other ten or so thousand fans sitting nearby—would kill to have all that at our disposal. We have a cowbell. Maybe two, if we’re particularly coordinated that day.

And, despite our numbers, we can’t make that much noise, not just because we are saving our voices for section, but because we are an unorganized mass in search of a leader who will channel our collective vocal capacity towards one transcendent goal. Turns out that leader is you, guy who can bang the drum really loudly on crucial third downs as the rest of us—temporarily forgetting that we are saving our voices to dazzle our TFs—shout, “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” Yes, you will be our leader. And the guy who plays the short musical accompaniment to “Charge!”—which we will also scream as loudly as possible whenever he does so—will be your subordinate.

Now we know how much you like to show off your versatility by playing popular songs like “Toxic” and “Born to Run.” We appreciate it. Really, we do. They’re well organized and actually sound pretty good most of the time. And we can deal with that during, say, television timeouts and the halftime show, which we don’t really understand but are willing to overlook. But, mid-game, those songs aren’t really doing much to fire us up. We want songs we can sing along to. You know that song where you play for a few seconds, then everyone shouts “Hey! You suck!” because we’ve just scored and the other team needs to know that it does, in fact, “suck”? We love that song. Please play that song.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.