They say it takes a village to raise a child. At the Columbia University Band Alumni Association, we're finding that a village of alumni can do a pretty good job of piecing together the history of an organization with a rich but largely uncollected past.
A lot has happened since seven undergrads and a high school ringer first played for a Lions football game in 1904. When we started bringing together the scattered alumni of Columbia's Marching Band, Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, and Jazz Band, more than five years ago, CUBAA began working to document those groups' written, oral, and musical history. We've gathered loads of material from all eras of our story.
Most recently, we've started to compile vintage recordings for the Audio Vault section of our website. We've put out the word that we're looking for Band history, and happily, our alumni are coming through. The bulk of what we've gathered so far demonstrates the nature of our alumni, who seem never to lose their affinity for the Band: when asked to help, they pitch in.
A former Band head manager, who is a record company executive, miraculously turned up the original master discs of two commercial 78 RPM records that had disappeared promptly after the Band cut them in 1935. He made a careful transfer to digital format, so we can now hear how the Band sounded playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "Roar, Lion, Roar," and "Sans Souci," an astounding 80 years ago. Another former head manager had saved reel-to-reel tapes and a vinyl disc from the Concert Band's two Carnegie Hall concerts in the 1960s; we packaged them into double-CD sets with souvenir booklets packed with photos, publicity articles, programs, and reviews, which Band members from the era can devour with nostalgic relish.
A one-time Concert Band director gave us copies of recordings of performances at the Brooklyn Museum more than 45 years ago. Several pack-rat alumni of the Jazz Band unearthed cassettes of their concerts from the 1970s and 1980s, which other band alumni volunteers with audio engineering experience digitized so people of the 21st century can hear how the old groups sounded. Among the performers are contemporary jazz artists Mark Copland '70CC (who conducted and wrote arrangements for the Jazz Band while in the College) and Dick Hyman '48CC (who, as an already-established piano pro, made several guest appearances with the student group).
We benefit from this spirit of sharing in the realm of video as well. Of course the Marching Band and Wind Ensemble of the past decade are all over YouTube. But we were tickled when a University alumnus generously used his movie studio connections to get us a copy of the archive master of a long-forgotten 1935 film short, Meet the Professor!, in which the Band plays a leading role, while another dug into his closet to find us a copy of Turk 182!, a 1985 movie in which the Band makes a short appearance. We have videos of the Band's TV appearances with Howard Stern (1991) and David Letterman (1994), and on a major Japanese TV show (2004). Sadly, unless someone's attic holds a primitive recording of the 1963 appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson"—which the Carson estate counts among the missing - that one seems lost forever.
But we know there must be 8mm home movies of the Band at a football game out there somewhere.
Interesting in learning more about the Columbia University Band Alumni Association? Check out its website for more information.