Nowadays, most people readily associate music and sports. Whether in person or on TV, live or recorded, sports teams and their fans often use music to incite fervor in spectators or drama in the game itself. Nowhere is such musical showmanship more evident than at high school and college football games, where marching bands in glittering uniforms accompanied by baton twirling majorettes and colorful flag corps members keep fans cheering and pageantry unfolding on the field during halftime.
But it wasn’t always this way. The oldest college marching band, the University of Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish, was the first to perform on a football field in 18871. The first college halftime show was performed by the University of Illinois Marching Illini band only in 19072. Dating back to October 1892, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have played football every fall in what would come to be known as the Oldest Rivalry in the South. In November 1924 a very big game was about to occur. Played on Thanksgiving Day on Lambeth Field, over 15,000 fans were in attendance, the largest gathering of sports fans ever assembled in Charlottesville till that time. Both Governor E. Lee Trinkle of Virginia and Cameron Morrison of North Carolina were invited to attend the game, along with their families, staff and a host of students and fans from both states. A gala luncheon at the Carr’s Hill home of UVA President Edwin Alderman preceded the game. A short concert by the Municipal Band preceded the meal itself and afterwards the Band led a parade of dignitaries the short distance to the playing field. No less than three bands provided “pep” for the game, the student bands from both schools and the Municipal Band, which was seated in front of the dignitaries’ stands at mid-field. At the end of the contest the home team Virginia Cavaliers had defeated their Tarheel rivals 7-0.
Two years later in November 1926 the Cavaliers took on the then-highly ranked Washington and Lee College Generals. From news accounts of the time it appears that the Municipal Band largely represented the musical interests of the University of Virginia, while W&L brought their own 40-piece student band. At halftime both bands paid their musical respects to their opposites, each playing the other’s school songs, and the W&L band formed the letters “V” and “W.L” on the field to the cheers of the fans in attendance. Virginia won that game 30-7.
In October 1928 the Municipal Band again provided music for a Virginia football game, this time with the Cavaliers taking on the South Carolina Gamecocks. The visiting Gamecocks won the game 24-13.
Finally, in November 1928 the Cavaliers once again took on their rivals, the North Carolina Tarheels. However, this was no ordinary college football game. Among the almost 20,000 students and fans in attendance were U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife, along with the governors of both states, the presidents of both schools, and Mrs. Edith Wilson, former First Lady of the United States and widow of President Woodrow Wilson. These and other dignitaries attended Thanksgiving Day services at First Baptist Church, after which everyone enjoyed lunch at the Carr’s Hill home of UVA President Alderman. Following lunch, the guests proceeded to Lambeth Field, led by the Municipal Band and an honor detail from the local Monticello Guard. The Band provided music throughout the game, but despite the Cavaliers’ best efforts, the home team this time lost to the Tarheels 24-20. This event, however, marked the first of seven occasions for which the Municipal Band has provided music for a sitting U.S. President or President-Elect.
Decades later another sports-related event with international connections involved the Band in 1996. On June 21st of that year the Olympic Torch passed through Charlottesville on its way to the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA. Ten local residents were selected to carry the torch along a path through the city and the University Grounds. A brief ceremony was held on the east portico of the University Rotunda, and the Municipal Band was there to provide music for the event. Torch bearer Doug Clay of Stanardsville, VA, carried the flame on its last stretch before reaching the Rotunda and told the Daily Progress: “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. When I rounded the curve, and the music was playing and all the people were yelling and screaming, I just got all choked up.” A special flame cauldron was constructed for the Welcoming Ceremony at the University Lawn. In his remarks Rennie J. Truitt, senior manager of the torch relay, told the throng gathered on The Lawn: “This flame is the fire of passion that burns in our souls… It is the flame of hope, for this is the Olympic ideal. As we stand here together, this moment in time, we all become part of history.” That moment also became a memorable moment in Municipal Band history, a stirring one all who participated in remember proudly.
Finally, in 2015 baseball fans around Charlottesville were excited for two reasons. First, the University of Virginia Cavalier baseball team, after a grueling season in which they barely were able to make it to the NCAA tournament, went on become national collegiate champions. Second, for the first time since 1974 a collegiate league baseball team from Charlottesville was in the Valley Baseball League. The Tom Sox, as the team was called, featured several UVA players who would eventually go on to play professionally, and the Tom Sox 2015 season added much sports excitement to the area. Capitalizing on all the baseball mania, Municipal Band Music Director Steve Layman added a “seventh inning stretch” to many of the Band’s summer concerts. For a few minutes before the final couple of numbers on each program, Mr. Layman would invited the audience to stand and sing along to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” played by the Band. If there was any exciting game news that evening, he would also relay that to the fans in the audience. It proved to be a nice way to foster audience participation in the Band’s music, as well as promoting interest in the local versions of our National Pastime.
These are just a few examples of how, over the years, the Band has “hit one out of the park” and demonstrated the kind of involvement in community activities that Band founders Sol Kaufman and Ed Joachim intended. Play ball! Or perhaps that should be play ball and play music, too!
1College Band History, The Little Band Man Company, 2013. Webpage: https://web.archive.org/web/20170724171249/http://littlebandman.com/college-band-history