March Madness

by Thomas Vinciguerra ’85CC, ’86JRN, ’90GSAS
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Perhaps a strain of sadomasochism is to be expected, given the gridiron history, but bandcestors can also point to a tradition of insufficient funds, a paucity of instruments, inadequate rehearsal space, and poor togs, which at one point included discarded Coast Guard outfits. Once, in the late 1980s, just three band members — on violin, kazoo, and cymbals — showed up to play and form a “C” at halftime. “The three of us lay down in staple shape,” said violinist Catherine Censor ’90CC. “I broke two strings.”

The high jinks of the self-proclaimed “cleverest band in the world” have long extended beyond Baker Field (now the Robert K. Kraft Field). In 1994, the band played outside the Ed Sullivan Theater, demanding admission to the Late Show with David Letterman. That got the host’s attention. “You know how in your heart of hearts,” Letterman told the audience, “everybody really hates marching bands.” He was just kidding. He let the band march through the studio, and, seeing its mismatched attire, which included an inner tube and a cow outfit, he delivered a $2,500 check (the money went toward new sweaters). Every April 15, members serenade last-minute income-tax filers at the main New York post office across from Penn Station. And, of course, the band noisily storms Butler Library twice a year on the night before the organic-chemistry final in what the Spectator this semester called one of the “best Columbia arts traditions.”

A rich legacy, sure, but one not always appreciated. A 1951 report issued by concerned alumni declared, “There is absolutely no incentive for a student in Columbia College to become a member of the band.” And though the athletics department reversed its decision to bar the band from the 2011 season finale after band manager Jose Delgado ’12CC apologized for “the incident” involving “Roar, Lion, Roar” (the Lions, blessedly, won the game, to finish 1–9), the charges of poor taste were nothing new. In 1968, in a letter to the athletics department, Joseph Lang ’19CC assailed the players for calling Vice President Hubert Humphrey a “soda jerk,” suggesting that “last Saturday’s garbage might well have been composed by the SDS, so vicious and vile was the content, and perhaps it was.” He concluded, “Do what a band is supposed to do: MAKE MUSIC!”

The day after the Alumni Center reception, at the Homecoming game against Dartmouth at Kraft Field, the Lions took a 10–7 lead into halftime. Then something else peculiar happened. Figures in blue-and-white rugby shirts darted onto the field and raced chaotically around each other, while the announcer paid tribute to the visitors from New Hampshire:

“This year the rush yield was higher than expected, meaning that an estimated 99.99999 percent of the Dartmouth population decided to go Greek! Of course, this has nothing to do with Hanover’s social scene. Everyone knows that Dartmouth students rush frats because a constant flow of cheap beer is the closest thing Hanover has to running water!”

Then, “in honor of all the Dartmouth pledges who will be blackballed,” the scurrying members congealed into a pentagonal structure somewhat resembling a frat house. Then they played Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” (Then Dartmouth beat Columbia, 21–16.)

According to Peter Andrews, today’s bandcestors applaud the current group’s edginess. “A lot of the alumni want us to push the envelope even more,” he said. “They say, ‘In my day, we burned Baker Field to the ground.’”

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