Charlie DePascale ’81
This weekend the Harvard University Band celebrates its 100th anniversary. Along with meeting my wife, my time in the band remains one of the two happiest memories of my four years at Harvard. Actually, my memories of the band begin with the end of my junior year of high school.
It was the summer of 1976, the Bicentennial Year, and a high school classmate told me about this Summer Pops band at Harvard: anybody can join, they rehearse one night a week, and there are two concerts at the end of the summer – one in Harvard Yard and one at the Hatch Shell, where the Boston Pops play. OK, sign me up.
During that summer, on stage at Sanders Theater with a couple of hundred people of all ages and musical ability, I had my first interactions with Tom Everett, director of Harvard bands. Until that summer, I had no intention of applying to Harvard. Harvard was for other people. But during that summer with Tom, I remember thinking, hey, if this is what Harvard people are like, I could spend four years here. So, I applied, was accepted, joined the band and the wind ensemble, and quickly learned that there were no other people at Harvard like Tom.
Despite that, my decision to attend Harvard was a net positive (did I mention meeting my wife), and my experience with the band was definitely positive. In my short time with the band, I enjoyed performing at the Kennedy Center, traveling to New York City, Washington, DC, and Montreal, performing a song conducted by the legendary Arthur Fiedler, playing for Jackie Onassis, and on one magical December night witnessing the beginning of a major collegiate point-shaving scandal and fulfilling my childhood dream of playing Amen in the Holy Cross basketball band. Dare to dream!
And then there are the lessons learned that extended well beyond my years in Cambridge.
First, there are a few practical takeaways:
- A wool jacket can absorb several times its weight in rainwater and still be fine the following week – a clarinet, not so much.
- If you’re tired enough, you can sleep anywhere – on the cement floor of a game room in Ithaca, in an end zone at Princeton, sharing a sofa bed with a virtual stranger in an apartment in Montreal, or on a bandmate’s shoulder during a long, late-night bus ride.
- At least one time in their life, everyone should experience walking through a dark tunnel into a sunlit stadium to hear and literally feel the roar of 60,000 cheering people.
And then there are the larger life lessons that have served me well throughout my career.
- Illegitimum non carborundum – Enough said.
- Lines (1) – Sometimes when the gun sounds and you are jumping, or scrambling, from one formation to the next you end up on the wrong 45-yard line (they all look alike, you know). When that happens, just fall into line with the trumpet section, play the song, and rejoin the clarinets for the next formation.
- Lines (2) – Everything and everyone is fair game for the halftime humor of Harvard Band – even the band itself. However, there are times when you know you are crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed – for me, it was the formation that paired Ted Kennedy with a popular Bee Gees song. Don’t shy away from the line, but try to stay on the right side.
- “The Game” Syndrome – Every week, the halftime show had to fit into a tight window. When our time was up, we were off the field – this wasn’t American Pie (reference is to the 1971 song; we can discuss the resemblance of the HUB to the early 2000s movie franchise at another time). That limit was a good match for our practice of rehearsing the show for the first time the morning of the game. The Harvard-Yale game, however, had a longer halftime, which provided a few extra minutes for an extended halftime show. Of course, the temptation to turn our show into a Super Bowl-worthy extravaganza was too great to resist – often with the same result as recent Super Bowl halftime shows. Forty years later, there are still nights when my dreams are haunted by giant royal stick figures trying to “walk” across the field. Dream big, but know your limitations.
- A Dedicated Core – Every volunteer organization, whether it is a college band, a town Democratic committee, a regional educational research organization, or a national professional association cannot function without a dedicated core of passionate people who are willing devote way too much of their own time to doing all of the big and little things that must be done so that everything runs smoothly when the rest of us just show up. Treasure those people.
- Leader of the Band – With the right person leading them a group of 200 community members, or 150 Harvard students looking to have fun, or 50 student musicians grateful for one more opportunity to keep playing can each make such beautiful music. It takes a special person to know how to pick the right music, create the right environment, and effectively structure a limited amount of rehearsal time to get the most out of each of those groups and individuals; teaching and gently moving them in the right direction with humor, skill, grace, and wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience. Thanks, Tom.
So yes, I’m with the band and the band will forever be a part of me.
Happy Anniversary HUB! Here’s to the next 100 years.