Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum

For the Harvard University Band, The Game signals a changing of the guard

Titus Jahng

Harvard-Yale marks the end of the fall season. The Band's new board takes the reins at halftime.

Most Harvard students up early on the morning of The Game were probably pounding shots of tequila in the warm cocoon of their dorm rooms. For one set of drowsy yet dedicated undergrads, however, the morning played out quite differently: by seven a.m. the Harvard University Band was already outside braving the sub-zero temperatures at Harvard Stadium, without a mimosa in sight.

By this point, the rest of the prep work had been taken care of: they’d arranged the music, written the storyline, and constructed the props. One crucial detail remained—the drill routine. The only person who knew it by Saturday morning was Max S. Mishkin ’09, the Band’s drill master. It was up to him to make sure that by the end of rehearsal, everyone would be ready for the show. This routine would be Mishkin’s last for the Band. In fact, by the end of the halftime show, an entirely new senior staff would be ready to lead the Band through the second half of The Game, and into the next year.

For the members of the Band, The Game is not only the highlight of the season, but the changing of the guards. While the (victorious!) event ushered seniors out in style, it was just the beginning for the juniors who are now running the show.

CALM BEFORE THE STORM

As charged as they were on Game Day, just 48 hours before, Band members were displaying an entirely different tone. In the basement of Harvard’s Office for the Arts, instead of a chaotic assortment of Band members scrambling in every direction to complete last minute preparations for their show, the scene was calm and relaxed. An episode of the canceled TV show “Freaks and Geeks” was playing on a flat screen TV hanging on the wall. A few Band members lounged on a brown, sagging couch that looked older than their ages combined, chatting instead of watching.

The only moment of tension in the relaxed office came when I unwittingly trod on an enormous piece of cardboard that covered the floor—a part of the Band’s time machine prop, a central feature of the halftime show plot. Although props are a fixture at many games, they are especially important for Harvard-Yale. “There are so many Yale students yelling that no one can hear what we say,” says Band manager Grace E. Schroer ’09, “so we try to get a reaction through the props.”

Past the scene of my crime, a narrow corridor is lined with evidence of the Band’s lengthy history. Pictures and plaques accumulated over 89 years cover every inch of available wall space. The progression from black and white portraits of austere-looking men to bright colorful candids of newer, more diverse guards reflected the Band’s changing demographics. At the end of the hallway sits a room filled with the Band’s peculiar form of record: rows of shelves laden with boxes, each home to a collection of student-arranged music that has been used in past halftime shows.

Although the props and even the Band may change year to year, there is one perennial fixture on the field at The Game: a six-foot bass drum fondly referred to as “Bertha”. November 21 was the first time all season that the legendary drum, gifted to the Band in the ’50s, has made an appearance on the field. Over the years, the drum has become central focus of The Game. Every year, the Yale Band goes on a mission to steal Bertha from their rival, warranting maximum security. “We have about four to eight people around her at all times,” says Thomas G. Everett, the director of the Harvard University Band. Everett learned his lesson the hard way. During his first year with the Band, he unwittingly aided students from the Brown Band in their theft of the drum. After realizing his mistake, he called a sympathetic HUPD officer who then alerted a state police officer for assistance in catching the bandits. The thieves were soon apprehended.

CHANGING CHORDS

While the Harvard-Yale game marks the end of the Fall season for the Band, there is no break at all before winter season starts up. By the second half of The Game, a new board had already taken the reins. Manager Alex J. Ahmed ’10, Drum Master Brad E. Oppenheimer ’10, Student Conductor Hannah M. Horowitz ’11, Drum Major Caitlin L. Lewarch ’10, and Schneider Shaun T. Vigil ’11 became the new leaders of the Band at halftime. According to Everett, the transition during a game can be challenging. “When they take over right after, they have no time to learn the new positions.”

“I thought I would be nervous because I had never conducted the entire Band before,” says Horowitz, who enjoyed a smooth debut despite being thrown into the position. “Everyone was having a good time, which made me more comfortable. I had a great time.”

But despite a successful start, the new leadership has a long year ahead. Ahmed is looking forward to a stable year of steering the Band. “I think the Band is at a very good point right now,” says the Band manager-elect, pointing to the Band’s annually increasing ranks, “I don’t see there being any major changes this year.”

Although Everett notes that the new guard will be taking on tough, time-consuming positions, he seems to hold a similarly rosy view: “the staff that just retired was excellent, it was a very good year for the Band,” he says. “We’ve really got very dedicated people who are taking over the Band.”