Harvard's Band Gets a Vote of Confidence

In recent years, the band has caught a lot of flak in the local college media (including this very same space) and students continue to bad-mouth it. No, I’m not talking about the folk-rock legends who made a (confusing) capitalized name for themselves backing up Dylan before moving on to a brilliant solo career, but the Harvard University Band, the musical fixture at campus sporting events. So, as this winter comes to an end, and the teams whose games the band frequents conclude their seasons, allow me to submit a defense of the band.

At football games, granted, they’re slightly out of their element. Sticking the fifty-person band in a corner of massive, concrete Harvard Stadium is somewhat akin to trying to lecture in Sanders without a mic, or asking Kenny G to do the halftime show at the Super Bowl.

But put them under a roof, in a four-figure-capacity venue such as Bright Hockey Center or Lavietes Pavilion, and they shine. Now, I’ve heard the criticisms before. They wear their hair too long. They make too many inside jokes. They fail to engage the spectator.

Take for example a choice excerpt from an esteemed fellow Crimson editor: “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?”

Umm, respectfully, no. Why must we always be so utilitarian? (Here at The Crimson, we never overestimate an organization’s responsibility to the community, right?)

The band is there to hang out with their friends, support the home team, and have a good time.

Same reason I’m there, except with my buddies I like to defend Drew Housman as a viable four-year point guard while these kids like to organize some sweet brass and wind arrangements. And I, for one, don’t need a trombone in the background to get excited about a go-ahead goal or a key second-half defensive stop.

If you’re not having fun at a live football, basketball, or hockey game, there’s something wrong with you, not the band.

But the main reason the band is there? They need an audience. They love playing music and they want people to listen. I’m listening. And I’m digging it.

Some would contend the band doesn’t sample extensively enough from the Jock Jams catalogue.

Maybe that’s because that stuff is lame! Instead, the band exhibits remarkably good taste.

To start, the band loves Bon Jovi. Fortunately, so do I. “Livin’ On A Prayer”? Hard to not start singing along. And they give “You Give Love A Bad Name” a good name.

Kelly Clarkson? I’m hooked, I’ll admit it.

Britney Spears’ “Toxic”? I’m slipping under.

Boston’s “More Than A Feeling”? Geographically pertinent and an awesome riff.

Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”? A welcome 80’s throwback.

“I Will Survive”? A well-deserved nod to disco.

Bruce Springsteen? Simply put, the greatest artist since Rembrandt.

However, my personal favorite in 2005-2006 has been a stirring rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

This past Friday, at the Bright Center, I observed two pretty blondes, of different generations, spreading their arms wide and belting out the chorus with all the enthusiasm that was missing from the Harvard’s 5-1 drubbing by St. Lawrence.

In addition, the band throws in a smattering of TV and movie theme songs (think “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars,” “Inspector Gadget”).

The best of which has to be the opening jam to “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” At women’s hockey games this season, loyal fans, subjected to the squad’s at times anemic offense, could be forgiven for overhearing in the trumpet wails a slight lyrical variation—“Where In The World Is Nicole Corriero?”.

As concerns the “Riverdance”-type jig the band routinely unleashes in the third period that epitomizes its wacky exuberance, I’m not sure I get it, but dancing like Flatley in the aisles sure looks like a hoot.

“Look at the nerds,” Northeastern News columnist Jack Weiland instructed in a piece from February 2004 titled “Nerd alert! Harvard band pinnacle of geeks”. “No, seriously, look at them.”

I’m looking, Jack. And all I see is a diverse collection of fellow students playing rocking tunes and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Sure, they’re nerdy. So what? So am I. And if you’ve gotten this far in this column, I’ve got news, so are you.

Oh, and Jack, by the way, I scoped you on Facebook. You’re no Brad Pitt yourself.

—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at jlehman@fas.harvard.edu

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