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Students Drum Up Support

After beating down vandals and Yalies alike, the weathered cowhides of the Harvard band’s eight-foot bass drum finally bowed to the cadence of the cold in January, 1955.

The colossal drum—always the envy of other Ivy ensembles—had been a gift to the band from the 1927 Associated Harvard Clubs and set the rhythm for the Crimson varsity teams for 28 years.

“It was always difficult to transport and was the victim of piracy by opposing bands on more than one occasion,” recalls then-band manager Alan S. Novick ’55, who still plays the tuba.

But Harvard’s troop of musicians went to great lengths to support the instrument. A custom-built, bicycle-wheeled carriage regularly chauffeured the regal rhythm-keeper across the river to the stadium, and on one occasion, the drum flew to Princeton in a privately-chartered plane.

While Harvardians pampered the privileged percussion piece, rival schools were not so gentle with the drum. In 1947, an envious Eli attempted to crash through its cowhide face. But with tense skin and resounding timbre, the drum knocked the student unconscious.

Despite its stunning intercollegiate performance, the aging drum eventually succumbed to the unpredictable frost of the Cambridge winter, when one of its skins popped in a sudden rush of cold in January, 1955.

To restore the rhythm, members of the band immediately launched a “Dimes for the Drum” campaign to raise the $1,500 needed to purchase a replacement.

“We have to resort to student help,” band member Arnold H. Aronson ’56 told The Crimson in early February, 1955. “There’s just no other way we can get the money.”

Band members solicited donations in House dining halls, requesting that each student contribute two dimes to the cause. In just one night, organizers collected 1,115 dimes—one-tenth of the total sum needed. In addition to 10-cent contributions, some students pledged to recruit the help of cow-farming relatives in Texas in order to get a hide large enough for the new drum.

After a week, students had drummed up enough interest to collect $321.87, much to the joy of band enthusiasts like Novick.

“We did get a new drum,” he says, recalling the dime drive. “I think the highlight of the campaign was a picture published in The Crimson and the Boston Globe of us parading a cow in front of Memorial Hall with a sign that says, ‘We need your hide.’”

By February 11, just one week after the start of the campaign, a new drum had been ordered. The replacement, measuring 72 by 78 inches, helped the band keep the beat alive.

—Staff writer Wendy D. Widman can be reached at widman@fas.harvard.edu.

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