March Madness

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS
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Illustration by Mark Steele

View a slideshow of band memorabilia here

It’s been said of the Columbia Lions that if they didn’t have Sid Luckman ’39CC, they’d have no luck at all. But with the arrival of new head coach Peter “We Will Not Be Defined by the Past” Mangurian, who led the improved 2012 Lions to a 3–7 record, the team has received its marching orders. The goal is excellence.

Will the band follow suit?

Tough call. Sure, the Columbia University Marching Band has made its share of fumbles, incompletions, and last-second scrambles. Sure, when the Lions lost to Cornell in 2011, giving the team an 0–9 record that threatened to produce its first winless season since 1987, the band performed a send-up of “Roar, Lion, Roar” that began, We always lose lose lose / By a lot and sometimes by a little — leading the athletics department to ban the band from the final game against Brown. But don’t say this group can’t find the end zone: after nearly four years of research, the Columbia University Band Alumni Association has compiled a comprehensive database of its hundreds of living graduates and is establishing a nonprofit foundation to provide financial support for the students’ antics.

What took so long? “We just never got our act together,” said association president Samantha Rowan ’96BC.

On October 19, Homecoming eve, more than seventy-five active band members, former ones (“bandcestors”), and friends gathered for the first time in the Columbia Alumni Center. The evening’s festivities were set against the backdrop of a display-case exhibition of marching-band memorabilia curated by Dan Carlinsky ’65CC, ’66JRN; J. Donald Smith ’65CC; and Stephanie Tarras ’10BC. Among the clippings and posters and pictures was a 1904 photograph of the eight young men — seven undergraduates and a high-school clarinetist — who founded the band that year. Surely those gentlemen could not have anticipated that their humble ensemble would someday create such socially engaged spectacles as the 1979 birth-control show, immortalized in a newspaper photo showing the band in the formation of a chastity belt. Steve Holtje ’83CC recalled a tribute to the rhythm method in which he and his compatriots formed a calendar. “Given the band’s geometric skills, it probably wasn’t recognizable,” he said.

Former head manager Stan Adelman ’67CC remarked that the band stopped marching in precise formations and began its familiar “scrambling” technique in 1964 when they got to the Yale Bowl just fifteen minutes before the half. There was no time to drill. “The drum major blew the bugle call, we went on and off in five minutes, and that was the beginning of the scramble,” Adelman said. “It worked so well we kept it in. We knew we couldn’t take the field with a two-hundred-piece band, so we decided we had to do something different.”

“It’s a unique sense of humor,” said band member Alison Murdoch ’16CC, who uses a drumstick to beat a pot adorned with stickers advocating the legalization of another kind of pot. (She chose this particular vessel, she said, because of its “very good diversity of sounds.”) This is a group that plays such other quasi instruments as the washboard and the “world-famous lenthopipe” (as in “length of pipe”) and celebrates touchdowns by performing pushups under the whip of head manager Peter Andrews ’14CC. Yes, the whip.

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