Hold That Tuba!

Like coaches looking for promising football players, college bandmasters scout the high schools for tuba players and trumpeters
October 24, 1965

The musical extravaganzas that entertain the crowds at the big college football games seem to grow grander and gaudier with each new season. Drum majors are more flamboyant than ever, twirlers were never more expert or daring. Marching bands are bigger and are darting in and out of intricate formations that would drive a Marine drill instructor out of his mind.

It is not likely that the day will ever come when football games will be played between intermissions of band music. But football is outnumbered right now. For instance, when Coach Bump Elliott of Michigan sends 44 players running out on the field, 206 members of the Michigan Marching Band are already there.

Few bandmasters, of course, are able to indulge in recruiting as the word might be defined by Duffy Daugherty, Woody Hayes or Bear Bryant. But—conceded that most of the collegiate impresarios have inducements to offer that are modest in comparison with those held out to football prospects—the music men attack the task of keeping their marching bands up to full strength with a zeal and a brand of supersalesmanship that would put most of the football mentors and their bird dogs to shame.

Quite obviously, bands like Michigan's are not put together and maintained at full strength merely by posting notices of tryouts on bulletin boards. But Michigan's band director Dr. William D. Revelli insists that he never recruits in the football-recruiting sense.

"We absolutely do not give scholarships for our marching band," says Dr. Revelli. "The music school gives a certain number of scholarships to music majors, but nobody gets a scholarship just to play and march. The only reward is the satisfaction of playing in a magnificent band and a token $40, which is given, as a matter of tradition, to all marching band members at the end of the season."

But the impression among bandmasters around the country is that recruiting is rampant throughout the Big Ten. Don Adcock, band director at North Carolina State, says: "The practice of giving band scholarships is widespread in the Big Ten and, I understand, at such schools as Alabama and Louisiana State. We don't give any here at North Carolina State—not even music school scholarships, because we don't have a music school." Herbert Hazelman, bandmaster of Grimsley Senior High School in Greensboro, N.C., agrees, "The Big Ten actively recruits. I get letters all year long about band scholarships. This fall every one of the merit scholarship semifinalists in our band received a letter from Michigan State."

Nobody got letters offering scholarships, grants in aid or any other plums from Ohio State, according to Dr. Charles L. Spohn Jr., director of the OSU band. "We do contact people and make every attempt to know the top musicians in Ohio high schools. We do this for the university's five bands, including an all-girl band, not just for the marching band. We have an extensive mailing and personal-contact program, but we promise nothing but a chance to try out for one of the best bands in the country."

Michigan State freely admits that half of its marching-band members are on scholarship. The story is told on campus at East Lansing of a boy who got two scholarship offers, one to play on the hockey team, one to play in the band. The boy took the band. That could happen in the case of a hockey prospect at Michigan State. But if the musician had also been a first-rate running back, the band would have got him over Coach Duffy Daugherty's dead body.

However, as things work out, relations between bandmasters and coaches of major and minor sports are generally cordial. Dr. Revelli of Michigan did not protest, some years ago, when Bob Johnson, a cornetist, was recruited right out of the band by the football team. Says Dr. Revelli: "Johnson was a fine young man, but he just wasn't so good as a cornetist that I'd make a fight for him." At Northwestern, Bandmaster John Painter says he usually has athletes from minor sports in the band. Right now he has a tennis player and a wrestler, and once he salvaged an injured football player named Sandy Davis and turned him into a first-rate saxophonist. At Illinois, in the days when Ray Eliot was coaching football, he offered Bandmaster Everett Kisinger the services of a 200-pound tackle named Peter Palmer. Coach Eliot, impressed with Palmer's singing in the locker room, asked Kisinger if he could use him as a soloist. Kisinger said he would be delighted to audition Palmer, who, it turned out, had a rich baritone voice. Kisinger had him sing The Star-Spangled Banner in football uniform before the games and sometimes entertain between halves if Coach Eliot had no other plans for him.

At the University of Miami (Fla.), Bandmaster Fred W. McCall Jr. freely discusses the inducements he has to offer full-time musicians who are not distracted by football and other sports. About 100 members of Miami's 140-piece band receive partial scholarships totaling $70,000 annually—as against $288,000 worth of assistance handed out to football players. "In addition," says McCall, "about 20 of our bandsmen receive some additional financial aid from our Henry Fillmore Special Fund. The boys who get Fillmore grants are those who just couldn't go to college without financial assistance." Bandmaster McCall also counts on springtime auditions, on a five-week summer camp on the campus and an annual concert tour by the Miami band to interest prospective band candidates. "The tour is very productive," McCall says, "and high school seniors either contact us after a concert or write to us later. We have a good file of letters from prospects for next year." McCall adds that it has been some years since he went out in hot pursuit of a musician. "I was on the trail of a French horn player," he says, "but I lost him when another school offered the boy a full scholarship, room and board and a summer study trip to Europe."

The Henry Fillmore Special Fund at the University of Miami is unique only insofar as it is publicly acknowledged to exist. Elsewhere around the country (except in the Ivy League) secret funds have been set up by music-minded alumni to nourish tuba players or any other specialists who may be in short supply.

Incidentally, there never seem to be too many tuba players around, deserving or otherwise. Not many boys take readily to the tuba. It is very rarely a solo instrument, never in a college band. It is not glamorous. Brass tubas (as adapted for marching bands they are called sousaphones) are big and heavy, and it takes a stout fellow to go sashaying down the field with one. Fiber-glass tubas (weighing about 12 pounds, or one-third the weight of the brass tubas) are coming in (even in the Ivy League), but oldtime tuba fanciers consider them an abomination. The tuba is not a romantic instrument. If (as New York Mayor Jimmy Walker said) no girl was ever ruined by a book, certainly no girl was ever tempted beyond her strength to resist by a tuba serenade.

Tuba troubles

Tubas are expensive; brass tubas cost from $700 to $1,000. College bands must supply them because few tuba men own their own instruments. Tubas can also be hazardous. "I've seen a sudden gust of wind," says Band Director Hazelman of Greensboro, "catch a tuba and send a boy sprawling horn over backward. Tubas are also a target for peanuts, wads of empty cigarette packages and paper cups, beer cans and whiskey bottles. I would say the tuba player is in as much danger, taking one thing and another, as the average football lineman. Big college bands hardly ever have enough tubas."

Ronald Broadwell, director of the University of Southern California's marching band, agrees. "We are usually hurting for tubas at USC," he says, "and one year we had to switch a trombone player to the tuba." Such conversions are common. Irving Dreibrodt, bandmaster at Southern Methodist University, says, "We frequently have to flip a boy from some other brass instrument over to the tuba. The boys are very proud of the band and are glad to cooperate.

As an example of a dedicated tuba player who selected the instrument in high school and has stayed with it exclusively, Dr. Revelli points to Dick Bittie, who (his fellow bandsmen say) plays a very hot tuba. Bittle, tall and limber, comes from Sturgis, Mich. and made last year's marching band as a freshman—an achievement that reflects considerable credit on his high school bandmaster, who happens to be his brother Jack, once a drummer in Michigan's band.

At the University of Kansas, Band Director Russell L. Wiley depends on a summer camp and tips from high school contacts to keep talent coming along. He doesn't have much to offer. He is able to get 15 or 20 boys an average of $125 each, and he splits the $2,500 paid to the band by the athletic department among 125 musicians. He also scrounges around to get part-time jobs for students who need them. But sometimes he runs into knottier problems in which money is not the question at all.

"A couple of years ago," Director Wiley says, "I had my eye on two boys in the Winfield, Kans. band. Trumpet player and trombonist. I talked to the boys and thought everything was set. But about 2 o'clock one morning I got a call from their bandmaster. 'You'd better get down here fast,' he said, 'or you are going to lose those boys.' I threw on my clothes, jumped into my car and headed for Winfield. When I got there I found out that some musical bird dogs from some small religious colleges had been telling the boys' parents that Kansas, being a state school, was a heathen institution. Well, sir, I went right out to see the parents, and I gave them a big pitch about all the religious activities on our campus and I predicted that their sons would end up not only playing in that band but singing in the choirs of churches in Lawrence. The parents were impressed with my obvious sincerity, and I got the boys. They came through fine, played at the football games Saturdays, sang in church choirs Sundays."

So it goes with the hard-working, bird-dogging bandmasters—everywhere but in the Ivy League. The Ivy League does not look with favor on strutting and twirling and fast-stepping bandsmen, preferring to depend on pure musicianship and a few refined japes and capers. The Ivy League's attitude toward the other sort of thing was summed up succinctly by a Yale man who was persuaded by a friend to attend Michigan's big Band Day last season. After it was all over, the friend asked the Yale man what he thought of the show.

"It was all right, I suppose," said the Yale man, "but wasn't it terribly middlewestern?"

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