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The Marching Band
Refused to Yield

Written October 16, 1965, when I was a college freshman,
to a former high school classmate


Here's another thrilling episode in the continuing series of "What's Wrong with the High School from Which We Graduated?"

Consider the Richwood/North Union band.  It's generally agreed that this organization has been in a state of decadence ever since Mr. Shoemaker left at the end of our freshman year.  Frankly, no one seems to care much any more.  There are a number of people who wish that the North Union band were better, but no one is fired up enough to do anything about it, and there's some question whether very much could be done, anyway.  Apathy.

Now, Oberlin College has never even had a marching band.  This is not because a band would detract from the educational purposes of the college, but rather because most of the highbrow musicians in the Conservatory up here aren't interested in that sort of meaningless marching around on Saturday afternoons playing non-classical music. 

But this year, somebody decided to organize a "pep band" which would play at the home football games.  This seemed like a good idea; several people were interested, the group was organized, and today was their first appearance.

They marched in and sat in the stands during the first half, playing during the time-outs a chorus or two of "Bill Bailey" or "In My Merry Oldsmobile." 

This wasn't too bad; their big mistake was in deciding to perform on the field at halftime.

Of course, they had to follow the visiting Lake Forest band, an excellent 64-piece all-brass outfit with flashy uniforms.  Lake Forest put on a fine ten-minute show, except for a rather corny ending:  marching backwards slowly off the north end of the field playing "Exodus."

Then it was time for Our Band!  Out they came from the south end of the field, all sixteen of them, attired in dark slacks and crimson blazers, marching all the way to the 50-yard line to the cadence of the snare drum.  They made a very sloppy left turn and came down the 50 towards the home stands, stopping at the hash mark.

[Apparently the previous year’s edition of the band made no attempt to wear slacks-and-blazers "uniforms."  In the picture below from the 1965 yearbook, the musicians are lining up in the south end zone before turning right and marching onto the field.  The roof in the background is Burton Hall, my freshman dorm.]

There they were, the Oberlin College more-or-less-Marching Band!  And there they played; they attempted some sort of jazz-rock sort of thing, all the while standing very still in their compact little four-by-four group.

Meanwhile, since Lake Forest's show had been so long, the teams were about ready to go again.  The referee blew his whistle at Our Band, but Our Band kept playing; they weren't done yet.  Lake Forest's team went out onto the field and lined up to receive the kickoff; Our Band kept playing.  On the other side of them, Oberlin lined up to kick off; Our Band kept playing.  The head linesman stood with his hands on his hips and stared at the sight:  sixteen musicians rooted to the 50-yard line, surrounded by football players, continuing their concert bravely despite the gathering storm clouds.  The referee seemed to be wondering, "What sort of a silly conglomeration is this, anyhow?"

I have a feeling that if Our Band had been bigger, the officials would have left them alone.  But what are sixteen against a College Football Game?  The referee tried to shoo this inept little crew off the field like so many stray dogs.  No one in the band knew what to do, but one girl in the front row eventually stepped forward timidly, and then the whole band walked off the field.  They managed to come off in formation, though—more or less—and they were still playing.

And how we cheered them!  They were Our Band.  Our football team is the New York Mets of the NCAA anyway — we lost the game 43-14 and haven't won one yet — and this musical outfit fit right into the image.  After the game, President Carr himself congratulated the bandsmen, and we cheered again.  We loved them.

Now, then.  North Union's band isn't so hot, right?  And it seems doomed to perpetual mediocrity, right?  After all, not too many more Shoemakers are going to find their way to the little village of Richwood, and without a strong director the band's going nowhere.

Assuming this, those North Unionians connected with the band are going to be continually frustrated, and the fans are going to be subjected to a series of blah halftime shows.  Therefore, it would be better to avoid the frustration and the blah, right?  It would be better to quit trying, right?  Right?

A little rinky-dink band like Oberlin's wouldn't require much effort.  It wouldn't be expected to be good, so no one would be frustrated by the fact that it was terrible.

And, most important, it would give the fans a good laugh.  Ha-ha is more to be desired than ho-hum, runs the old Chinese proverb.

Then North Union would have something to be proud of!  We can never boast of the best band in Central Ohio, but we can have the worst one!  All it takes is a little less effort.

2002 update:  the Oberlin College Marching Band still exists!  I saw it in person.  Click here for other pictures.

2013 update:  the band also existed ten years before my time!  In the WOBC Oral History, Frank Porath '58 said:

I remember broadcasting a game from here in Oberlin.  At halftime, the marching band from the other place would come out and they would dazzle everyone.  One time the Oberlin marching band marched onto the field very snappily, then they rolled out a little dolly with the timpani and did Ravel’s “Bolero.”  Then they rolled the drums off and the band smartly marched off and that was the halftime.


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