Banging the Drum Slowly

Beast of Burton

Last Saturday's overtime victory by the men's basketball team over Princeton was hard-fought and very, very close. So close, in fact, that anything--anything--might have made the difference; a missed free throw, a bad pass, a torn shoelace, a bad call by the ref, or even a song by the Harvard band.

The band? Well, yes, according to Harvard Basketball Coach Frank McLaughlin. The band, he says, can have a real impact on a contest's outcome: "I think the Princeton game was a perfect example. The band gets the crowd up, and your adrenalin starts going more. They played a major role in our win."

McLaughlin sounds as though he's exaggerating, but his affection for the Crimson-coated concertizers is sincere. "I don't think they get as much credit as they deserve," he insists. "I have the greatest respect for them." So much, infact, that this week he sent the band a thank you letter for its support at the Princeton game and at Sunday's loss to Penn. And he often wears a heart-shaped pin proclaiming. "I Love the Harvard Band."

Some band members think the basketball coach attributes greater power to the musical merrymakers than they deserve, though they certainly appreciate it. "I would really hesitate to say that we have an effect on the game," says April Murphy, the band's manager, "but it must be nice for them to know we care."

More easily ascertained than the band's effect in the game is its effects on the crowd. During the second half of last Saturday's Princeton game, the band lapsed into what sounded like a badly-rendered dirge.


"That was a mess," Peter Reale the band's conductor, said of the group's rendition of "The Imperial March" from "Star Wars." "Leave that as a catastrophe." Reale concluded tersely. "When all the parts are there, it sounds great."

Basketball crowds may not be known for their highbrow taste in music, but the capacity audience in attendance last Saturday didn't need diplomas from Juliard to tell that "The Imperial March" was a mistake. Boos, hisses, and the kind of language normally reserved for referees were aimed at the band which as usual took it all in stride. "We try to be light, entertaining, non-chalant," said one band member after the fiasco. "The more crowd response we elicit the better--bad or good."

Most crowd response is favorable, though especially when the band comes up with an original cheer. After the Quakers made their first basket last Sunday, the Penn fans threw dozens of red and blue streamers onto the court. Minutes later, the band yelled in unison: "Roses are red. Violets are blue: the streamers were cute, but you still live in Philadelphia." The crowd loved it.

Nothing--not the cheers, even the off-color ones; not the infrequent "catastrophes"--dampens the enthusiasm of one of the band's biggest fans, McLaughlin. "They can be as noisy as they want," he says. "This weekend I complained to them: I told them they should play more, not less."

So maybe, despite band manager Murphy's insistence that "they, [the players] play the game, and they win or lose," the band may really have a tangible effect on team performance. After all, the band entertains at nearly every home game played by the men's team, whose record stands at 8-11; it never plays at women's basketball games, and the women's record is 2-18. Of course, the women could use Joe Carrabino, too.