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The Harvard Band: After Today, What?

By Robert Decherd

THE LAST time that the Harvard Band was arrested for disturbing the peace, New Haven residents were overly upset at the Band's impromptu parade through downtown New Haven at 3 a.m. on the night before the Yale game. That was in 1962, and since then, the Band has changed considerably.

Last year, the Band decided that the best way to treat the Yale Band and Yalies in general was to ignore them, so they made a point of not mentioning Yale in their halftime show at The Game. Plans for today's Harvard-Yale game were still in the formulative stages Wednesday night; to be blunt, the Band hadn't thought about their plans at all.

When most Harvard students and alumni think of the Band, they think first of its traditional Saturday afternoon antics at Harvard football games. There is no doubt that the Band is now as much a part of Harvard football tradition as Bobby Leo or Chub Peabody.

But there is more to the Band than halftime skits and raucous bronx cheers. In the spring of 1965, for instance, the Band played before 1,800 people at Carnegie Hall.

But, despite its leanings toward more serious music in recent years. the Band's main source of notoriety remains its performance at Harvard football games. During dismal football seasons, such as the present one, the Band is always there on Saturday to entertain those Harvard supporters too disgusted with the football team to pay any attention to the game.

Through the years, the Band has conjured up some memorable halftime shows. Usually, the shows are some disproportionate blend of social commentary and smut; consequently, the skits attract much attention.

After the Band had staged one of its more smut-oriented shows at last year's Princeton game, Playboy ran a pictorial on the show and placed it under the category "Wish We Were There." The Band also appeared in Playboy in 1961 when it formed a full color "Bunnie" for one of the magazine's layouts.

Mickey Mouse has been the football Band's preoccupation in recent years, and last year at the Dartmouth game, the bandsmen erected a monolith from which Mickey Mouse emerged to end the halftime show. This year, the strains of the Mickey Mouse Theme were repeated and have reaped some adverse reactions.

According to Sports Illustrated, the Band's rendition of the Theme backfired at the BU game early in the year. They quoted BU quarterback Pete Yetten, after BU's 13-10 upset victory, as saying, "When the Band struck up Mickey Mouse it made us a little mad."

Band director Jim Walker, A.M.T. '63, explained the Band's choice of songs by saying, "We just couldn't think of a last formation, so we did Mickey Mouse. People who take this all so seriously really are Mickey Mouse. Sports writers make these fantasies out of football player's remarks and act as though something like Mickey Mouse really enrages the players. We enjoy it."

"There's not much left to be gained from pushing Mickey Mouse. I think we've pretty much finished off the novelty aspect of Mickey," Walker added, perhaps forecasting Mickey's demise.

Perhaps the Band's most successful halftime show came at last year's Dartmouth game. The final skit of the show began with the formation of a stick figure with a pentagonal head. As the Band played Alice's Restaurant in the background, a narrator said that the Band thought the Pentagon was losing its head over the war in Vietnam, and the stick figure's head fell off. As the narrator called for defeat by the enemy and general disarmament, the figure's arms came off. The skit ended with the figure's arms forming a peace sign inside of the smoothed-out head.

"That show was the first time that everyone seemed to be in tune with us," Walker recalled. "In the past two years, we've moved away from a lighthearted approach at football games. The guys are making a definite commitment to themselves to help change the present political situation."

Band manager Tim Feige smiles wryly when asked about the nature of the Band. "The Band probably has more fun than any other organization on campus. When we're playing during football season, we're mostly out for a good time. During concert season, we concentrate on playing good music well, but we still have fun," he said.

The Band's football game shows are all the more unbelievable considering the fact that the Football Band practices only once a week. The one rehearsal takes place on the day before the game when the bandsmen go over the show's music for the first time. The halftime skits are written during the week and are read to the Band at the rehearsal. The only time that they practice the show formations is on Saturday morning.

Each Saturday of home games, the Band congregates behind the Freshman Union in the Hulbut Parking Lot at 10 a.m. They then march down Mass Ave. and through the Square to the Stadium, where they rehearse the show. By the time the fans begin to arrive for the game, the Band is munching away on box lunches in their midfield seats.

While the Harvard cheerleaders loll about on the sidelines doing push-ups when the Crimson scores, and the Harvard fans leisurely sip on their Scotch-and-waters, the Band vehemently eggs the Harvard charges onward with traditional cheers like "Shove that Ball" and "E to the x! dy! dx!/E to the y! dy!/cosine, secant, tangent, sine/three point one four one five nine/come on Harvard, give 'em the digit!" The latter cheer is called "Engineers."

Whenever an official makes the mistake of offending the Band with a bad call, chants of "The ref beats his wife" and "Elevator, elevator, we got the shaft" inevitably drift onto the field from the Band's direction.

After the game, win or lose, the Band serenades the Crimson gridders outside of Dillon Field House with their football game repetoire of "Ten Thousand," "Harvardiana," "Gridiron King," and so on. Then they "march" up Boylston Street to the Square leading any stragglers that care to join them. The major consequence of these post-game parades is a quasi-massive traffic jam in the middle of Saturday afternoon. No one seems to mind, though.

The Band's routines may appear scatterbrain at times, but they always work out in the end. The Band disclaims any semblance to the hordes of uniformed, ultra-high precision bandsmen who blanket the field from one end of the other at halftime in Ohio State's nationally televised spectacles.

"Other bands exist for themselves only and they're not at the game in support of anyone," Walker said. "I sometimes wonder if the Band (Harvard's) is not too egocentrically oriented itself-they have such a good time that they almost forget that they are supposed to be at the game in support of the football team," he continued.

"The Band is the best sounding of the Ivy League Bands because it does not have a harsh drum and bugle corps. Also, it is staffed with good people," Walker said when asked to compare the Band to other Ivy schools.

The Band no longer pursues rivalries with other Ivy bands (the last Band riot was at the Dartmouth game in 1956), but they do have definite opinions of their counterparts. Cornell is purportedly a frustrated Big Ten band, Brown and Princeton are traditionally the filthiest bands, and Dartmouth is the scum of the Ivy League.

When Fred Reynolds organized the Band in 1919, its main function was to support the Harvard football team. As the Band celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, it has expanded to include a 60-piece Concert Band and a select Woodwind Ensemble. Its members are talented musicians; "hacks" no longer infiltrate the Band's rank and file.

"People coming into the Band over the last ten years have been much better musicians," Walker said this week. "When I came here, the Band was principally a light concert band. That pretty much changed in 1960; since then, the Band has played every major piece originally written for winds," he continued.

To commemorate the Band's fiftieth anniversary, the Concert Band performed a specially commissioned piece by Virgil Thompson entitled "Suite" for the annual Dartmouth Weekend Concert in Sanders Theatre. The Band also released an anniversary album that includes music from each era of its 50-year history, and published a ten-page booklet that recounts the Band's history.

The Band membership now totals about 140, and it is divided into three groups. The Football Band is the largest, and best known, of the three. The Concert Band consists of the Band's more serious-minded musicians, and the Wind Ensemble is made up of the 30 best Wind players in the Harvard community.

A certain transformation has occurred in the Band's priorities since Walker became director in 1960. Feige said of Walker, "He's got to be the best thing that could possibly happen to the Band. He knows what he's doing musically-he's a very good conductor-and administratively, he's sufficiently quiet so that the undergraduates run the organization. He's exactly what the Band needs."

About the change in the Band's direction, Feige said, "I hate to think that the Band's main function is playing at football games, yet football games give us the most exposure. Everyone around here thinks our main function is playing at football games. but it isn't. People come up band ask us what we do after football season. I really don't know whose fault it is that people don't know about our concert season."

The Wind Ensemble originally developed as a separate group, but the Band management has now taken the responsibility for it. The Ensemble began its season on November 2 in a joint concert with the Radclifle Choral Society, and its next engagement is on December 14.

The Concert Band played at Sanders for the Anniversary Celebration, and it has another concert scheduled on December 7 at Tabor. "The Band does so many things." Walker said Wednesday, "but its year is mainly divided into the time during football season and the time afterwards. I suppose that the Wind Ensemble is an outgrowth of the schizophrenic nature of the Band organization."

The Band's organizational structure includes the manager, who is ultimately responsible for the group, seven assistant managers, two student conductors, a drum major, a librarian, a props manager and "Mom." "Mom" is Alice Tondel, a Cambridge artist who acts as chaperone, Band artist, and general friend. Her son played in the Band while Malcolm Holmes was director, and she has retained an interest in the group over the years.

The Band has produced several well known musicians, including John Green '28 and George Thow '29, but the most famous of former bandsmen is Leroy Anderson '29. Anderson is one of America's more successful jazz composers, and his "Bugler's Holiday" has been recorded by everyone fromAl Hirt to the Boston Pops. Anderson directed the Band for six years during the period 1929-1936, and wrote original marches for the Band for years afterwards.

The Band's sources of finance are varied. Harvard supplies half of their $15,000 annual budget, and record sales, concert fee sand solicitations through the Athletic Department make up the rest. But, as Walker put it. "We just try to break even."

The Band annually plays at the Red Sox opener at Fenway Park and at other functions in and around Boston. Each spring the University pays them to provide music during commencement and Reunion week. Two years ago, the Band was asked to participate in the Patriots' Day Parade in Concord, Mass:: so they marched with a British flag to complement their red Band jackets. They were not asked back last year.

A specialty concert with a single unifying theme such as peace music or the work of black composers is in the offing for this spring. according to Feige. Feige passes the Band's leadership to an assistant manager at the Yale game today in a traditional Band ceremony.

Jim Walker probably best caught the spirit of the Band when he said Wednesday. "There's probably nothing anyone could say to describe the Band. It's just a great deal of fun for everyone concerned. Nothing happens the way it's supposed to with the Band, but it does happen."

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