Band Celebrates 35th Anniversary of Showboat Drills and Serenades

Tubas, Trips, Tradition Surround Dying Drum

They rounded the corner, stealthily advancing on the girls' dormitories. Suddenly, on the bridge ahead, there appeared the figure of a single policeman, outlined against the dawn. 'Where do you think you guys are going?" he barked. Nobody heard, or at least nobody listened, for they continued to advance. Finally, frustrated by the incongruity of 170 red-coated, instrument-bearing Harvard bandsmen, marching irresistably in the early light, the Cornell policeman yielded, "There's over a hundred of you, and only one of me," he admitted dourly. "I can't stop you."

It has taken more than the law to stop the Harvard Band, which celebrates its 35th anniversary tomorrow afternoon at the Columbia game. Its formations, combined with those of 115 alumni, should be truly a cumulation of 35 years; according to Alan S. Novick '55, present band manager, the theme of the anniversary is almost as big as the band itself: "Time and Chance Happen to Us All, but the Spirit of the Harvard Band Goes On and On."

It started going on and on in 1919, with considerably less band, but just as much chance--and spirit. When the first band, an offspring of the University's Banjo and Mandolin Club, developed a lack of clarinets, director and organizer Frederick L. Reynolds '20 wasn't long stymied. He borrowed violins from the dance orchestra to play the missing parts. The stringed additions brought the membership to 45 men. But even by 1929, when there were 60 regular players, improvisation was sometimes necessary. The late Malcolm (Mal) H. Holmes '28, beloved conductor of the band, was pressed into service on a bass drum, although his musical experience had been previously limited to the violin. Leroy Anderson '29, then conductor of the group, and now a widely known composer and arranger, asked Mal to fill in on the drum. "But I don't know anything about the drums," the violinist protested. "You're a musician, aren't you? You can count can't you? Strap on the drum."

Holmes, who died in 1953, left a far more resounding impression on the band, however, than a few clouts on a drum. After his death, the Boston Globe wrote: "Holmes was the man who brought the Harvard Band from nothing to where it now is. He was the envy of more than one football coach at Harvard. They always wondered how he produced the technical skill, and, more important, the clean which distinguished the Harvard toot ensemble. . . It takes something extraordinary. . . It takes something extraordinary to inspire college undergraduates these days. It takes something special to get off a death bed and bring down the house as an after-dinner speaker (at a band banquet) with a talk on the Decline and Fall of the Glockenspiel. . ."

The glockenspiel, by the way, inspired one of the better-known of Mal's remarks to the band: "That sounds like an anvil calling its mate." On the eye of the 30th reunion, he came up with another: "It's squad with depth. We should be able to employ both offensive and defensive glockenspiels. The show should be tremendous. In fact, it will probably sound like a dozen factories in action at once."


While no one complained of such a clamor, there is no doubt that the band, now under G. Wright Briggs '31, has come up with unusual sound provoked b y unusual musicians out of unusual instruments. The best-known of course, is the mammoth bass drum obtained in 1927. That year the band played for the Associated Harvard Club meeting in Philadelphia, and in appreciation, the group told' the band to go out and buy itself a bass drum. It did go out and buy a bass drum. The biggest one in the world, in fact, specially made, at a cost of about $2000. The band bas not played for the Associated Harvard Clubs since 1927.

Even larger than the six-foot six inch drum (eight feet high on its special carriage) is the band's gigantic sousaphone, one of the largest in existence. No one is sure just when it was purchased, but it seems clear that some enterprising bandsman picked it up for a mere $100 when it was unintentionally put on an inventory sale. Its mate, made by an English locomotive factory for John Phillip Sousa, is now in a New York music store, definitely not for sale at any price.

The big eight-foot tuba provided the bandsmen with opportunity to display almost unparalleled ingenuity. When the massive horn was dropped last year outside Symphony Hall, managers were seriously puzzled as to how to fit it--within the band budget. They finally got a satisfactory repair job, cheaply, an auto body repair shop.

Ingenuity has been as much as trademark of the band as its drum and tuba, especially in "visuals," the half-time formations at football games. One of the more memorable drills took place at the 1949 Dartmouth game, when the visiting Indian band formed a beer stein, the content of which gradually diminished. The Harvard Band, aroused by the challenge them formed a champagne bottle, which tipped and poured into a thin-stemmed glass complete with bubbles. For this they received a tremendous ovation, a protest from the WCTU, and a mild reprimand form the administration which felt than an 'Indian' on the field should not have reeled so realistically.

The band concentrated mainly on music until 1930, and over since then has been famed more for the quality of its musical cadenzas than its marching cadences. But nonetheless, when Guy V. Slade '32 took over in 1930 as drillmaster, visuals became an important part of the halftime repertoire. At about the same time, Anderson was writing the first of his famous college medleys. These met with such unqualified success that soon afterwards he took a tune from the hit Of Thee I Sing and converted it into a Crimson Wintergreen, which has since become a sort of colloquial alma mater.

Some of these medleys have become the best known numbers in the band's repertoire, further underscoring the musical emphasis. Band members have to compete for their positions and pride themselves on the difficult music they attempt. The wide sale of the ban's three records (ivy League Album, Up the Street, and Through the Square) attested to their success. In fact, a good deal of the organization's $15,000 yearly budget is obtained from the sale of these records.

But despite apparent successes, black-ink--unless it is on the music--is not widely used in the office below the Varsity Club. This year's Princeton trip costs, for example, will depend on the success of the annual Dartmouth concert. In spite of such horn-to-mouth finances, however, the band as missed only two varsity games since its organization, one trip to Cornell and the trip to Stanford in 1943.

While these trips have been high points of each year for most of the bandsmen, at least one of the most love members of the group can't make them. He is Paul Touchette, a Cambridge fireman, who has been with the bend since 1947 in a top trumpet-playing capacity.

Touchette also brought another member into the band--his young son, who until recently was employed sitting on top of the big bass drum wielding a mammoth beater. The days of socking the huge instrument are almost over, however; the gargantuan hides are in soggy condition, and the entire frame needs overhauling. Estimates of the drum's value have varied. "When I was a freshman," says Novick, "it was worth $6000. The next year they sat $7000. Last year it went up another thousand. Actually, it's closer to $2000, but even then we have to find a cow with a hide big enough to provide drum heads that large." Frankly, the organization just doesn't have the money to replace the drum. And the band has not played for the Associated Harvard Clubs since 1927.

Falling Water and Dusty Walls