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The Band Has The Big One: Keeping Tradition at Harvard

By Abraham C. Marcus

Harvard football games are more than just athletic events; they are a tradition. For almost everyone besides the statistician, a large part of that tradition is the marching band's half-time show. And the Harvard Band itself is steeped in tradition. Some band traditions, like the hand-shivering excitement cheer, are silent, and others, like band "Mom" Alice Tondel, are unseen (unless, of course, you try to sit in the band's seats during half-time). One tradition that is neither silent nor unseen looms over all others. For those of you who have never been to a football game or band concert, that tradition is the band's symbol: The Big Drum.

Some hecklers from the audience may cry out, "Just how big is the drum?" If Johnny Carson had boned up on his Harvardiana and was here to answer he'd say, "Well, I'll tell ya, it's so big that it bears the distinction of being 'The Largest Playable Drum with Plastic Heads East of the Hudson.'" The hard data on the drum, puchased in 1955 for $4000, is that it measures seven feet in diameter.

At each football game (home and away), the men and women in white suits, the prop crew, escort The Big Drum onto the field at half-time. Besides lugging the monster drum around, they are responsible for its protection from various lunies and Yalies who sometimes try to knock it down or even steal it.


Although it has never been stolen during a half-time (are you kidding, with all those witnesses?) it has left Cambridge on a few occasions other than for away games. The most recent "liberation" occurred last year before the Yale game, when a group of Elis, in the stealth of the night, overcame the elaborate security measures of the band room (barred windows, a heavy chain around the room and a separate, locked room) to spirit the drum away to New Haven.

The drum was soon returned and band members are determined to keep it secure. After all, the Harvard Band without The Big Drum is like Anita Bryant without her fruit.

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