Once again, the 300-plus members of the UW-Madison Varsity Band presented a loud, lively and diverse concert at the Kohl Center, musically moving from the semi-classical “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” to a medley from the television program “Glee” to the dramatic score from the musical “Evita.” Once again, guests artists led by former “Tonight Show” drummer Ed Shaughnessy along with a trumpet trio featuring Grant Manhart (’81 BM L&S), Jon Schipper (’98 BM L&S) and Jeffrey Wohlbach (’07 MM L&S) brought the audience to its feet. Once again, the Fifth Quarter had people dancing in the aisles. Once again, the Chicken Dance competition shattered all previous records. The 2011 concert celebrated both the band’s 125th birthday and the Badger football team’s return to the Rose Bowl.
The Wisconsin Band, boasting a grand total of 11 members, was born in 1885—nine years before the University played its first football game. It was a military band with F.O. May conducting at mostly military events. Under the musically demanding Edwin Morphy (1920-1934), the band added quality to its growing traditions and expanding repertoire. The legendary Raymond Dvorak assumed the baton in 1934, introducing many innovations during his 32-year tenure. Most notably, he is credited with the arm wave that accompanies the singing of “Varsity.” Mike Leckrone became director in 1969, expanded the band to its current size and brought national recognition to the group. Innovative shows, precise marching , intense energy and unbridled spirit are the keystones of the band’s success and loyal following.
Prior to Saturday’s concert, nearly 200 donors to the band gathered for the annual tailgate in Gordon Commons, where Mike Leckrone welcomed attendees. The drumline helped feet get into a tapping mood with some fancy stick and cymbal work. Head football coach Bret Bielema also was on hand to thank guests for supporting the band and making it possible for them to travel to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He shared his own experience as an Illinois high school band member. He was the biggest kid in the band so he played sousaphone. When he got even bigger, the band director moved him to tuba. He also remembered his first game in Camp Randall. Bielema was a freshman—playing for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. The coaches warned the players about the tough atmosphere in Camp Randall and the band. Bielema has since traded Iowa black and gold for Badger red and white, and the band plays on.
Wisconsin Public Television taped the 2011 Varsity Band Concert for broadcast at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.