I am sure 99 percent of the readers of this newspaper do not know the significance of this headline.
Go to the Belmont School and Community Fair parade Saturday morning, and you will see the organization that devised that phrase.
The UW Marching Band, having Saturday off from football, will be part of the parade, followed by a Fifth Quarter performance at the BHS football field. I spent five years in the UW Band, and it was the most memorable experience of my college days, and one of the most meaningful experiences of my lifetime. (“Eat a rock” is an appeal to one’s toughness, as is “Root hog or die” … I think.)
It was the most physical experience of my lifetime, to be sure. Fifteen minutes into my first practice, I thought I was going to die. Fifteen minutes later, death seemed preferable to continuing practice, and this was the first of six marching practices and two music practices over the next four hot, humid and dusty days. (The schedule is tougher now — they now have three rehearsals a day during the week before classes begin.)
When I mentioned this to someone at Friday’s Platteville football game, he mentioned he knew someone in the band after I was who could still play “On Wisconsin.” I’d guess I could play at least 15 songs from my band days because of repetition. (I wish I had counted from the fall of 1983 how many times I played “On Wisconsin.”)
There is no experience quite like double-time marching out of the tunnel into a full Camp Randall Stadium, with 80,000 or so fans cheering and clapping in semi-unison for (it seems) you. (For that matter, there is no experience quite like being booed by 105,000 Michigan fans either.)
Like Badger football fans, I suspect members of today’s UW Band don’t realize how good they have it, with a bowl game and NCAA basketball and hockey tournaments every season. Many people have been quoted as saying, during Wisconsin’s football doldrums of the late ’80s, that they went to football games to see the band, not the football team. I marched in one bowl game and played in no NCAA hockey or basketball tournament. Wisconsin has gotten some bowl game invitations because, whether the football team was exactly worthy of the invitation, bowl game organizers know that a large contingent of Badger fans comes along, some of whom to follow the band.
The band has been described more than once as having an organizational sense of humor. (For instance, every band bus driver is named “Bob.” Now that the band flies to bowl games, the pilots are all “Bob” too.) In one show around Halloween, we were told we could do whatever we wanted marching-wise, as long as it was within correct style and as long as we got back to our spot by the 72nd note of what we were playing — John Philip Sousa’s “Liberty Bell,” the theme song for “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Another show featured Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” in which we formed an old player piano, with the drum major hitting the side of the player piano when it — that is, we — got stuck on the music.
The ringleader of all this is Mike Leckrone, director of the band since 1969, back in the days when the Badger football team was hideous (the Badgers were nearing the end of a 23-game winless streak), the Vietnam War was going on, and students were generally disinterested in anything remotely military, including marching band. (Since I graduated in 1988, I can be said to have come from the first half of Leckrone’s time at UW.)
Today, 45 years later, the Badgers have three Rose Bowl wins (three more than they had when Leckrone arrived) and get bowl berths almost every year, Camp Randall is packed every game, and Leckrone is still there, doing all the show-writing and music-arranging himself (which makes him, he will inevitably say, the Lone Arranger), and literally flying around Kohl Center during the April concerts.
One of the most unnerving things about playing in the UW Band is that Leckrone seems to have total recall of names, which is not insignificant when you direct 250 band members. Many a freshman has remarked how Leckrone knew his or her name within a day of the first practice. That, of course, gets reinforced when the PA system at the band’s practice field amplifies Leckrone’s voice: “MOVE SIX INCHES TO YOUR LEFT, PRESTEGARD!”
Those who never marched don’t realize the feat that marching — constant movement, either in place or marching along with a line of other marchers, constantly watching to the front or either side to make sure you’re in alignment, while playing the entire time — is when one gets to the level of a college marching band. And like athletic teams, we had an eye in the sky — films of each band show, errors revealed in which were noted in the following week’s “Dummy List.” (Which seemed to have my name on it every week.)
I’ve written before here that I got out of band what high school athletes got out of a good high school sports experience. I still have my UW Band sweater, jacket and blanket (the latter awarded to those who marked for four years). And periodically, I have the same dream: I’m supposed to either play in the UW Band Concert, or worse, at a game, having neither music or, in the case of the latter, a uniform or show directions. That had better not happen Saturday.