Though today is now most widely known as the anniversary of a gruesome and senseless act of monstrous terrorism, I would like to recall a more personal anniversary that is far more positive and pleasant. It was on this day thirty-four years ago now – Sunday 11 September 1977 – that the Cal Band’s “Class of `77”, as we in the Cal Band style these things, started its first Fall Training Program, better known as “FTP.” This is not truly the day when we joined the Band – that lay a few days in the future after we had passed the audition process – but it was our first day with the Cal Band.
With nearly sixty anxious recruits, the class of `77 was quite a large intake of potential new band members. By the end of FTP there were 53 freshly-minted Cal Band members who participated in the traditional Silent Walk, which concludes the formal induction of new Cal Band members. The numbers are significant, for the Cal Band had 127 members during the 1977 season. I do not know the statistics, but I would think that there has rarely been a class of new members who comprised such a large percentage of the Band (42%.) A large percentage of the Class of `77 stayed on through the next four years to receive their prized Cal Band Blankets.
Many years ago I wrote down some recollections from that first FTP I attended. Some old memories fade, but that week of FTP is still clear in my mind. It is no exaggeration at all for me to describe the experience as “life changing.” I arrived at FTP that Sunday morning a very different person from the one who attended Silent Walk seven days later.
My first hurdle was the music audition. Boy, was I nervous! I had been travelling for almost the entire summer and had not touched my horn in about twelve weeks. I flew from LAX to Oakland early on Sunday the 11th of September, the morning that FTP started. This was the first trip that I had ever made alone in my entire eighteen years — in fact, I had never even been in an airplane until three months earlier. I had to make my own way to the dorms where we stayed for FTP (due to the fact that BART did not run on Sundays at that time.) I had to take a cab and was scandalized at the cost. If memory serves, it came to a whopping $12.00 with tip.) But the driver had been extremely pleasant on the trip, and told me tales of students he had met, mentioned that “the Band up at Berkeley was pretty sharp,” and wished me luck. He also turned off the meter at Channing Circle, despite having two more blocks to drive. I felt that things were off to an auspicious start.
Once I arrived at Deutsch Hall in Unit One where registration was taking place, I was directed to get a horn from the Room Q coordinator — for some reason I seem to recall that Larry Espinosa (Clarinet, `74) was involved — and report to auditions.
The auditions were held in a room at the end of the corridor on the second floor of Deutsch. I remember waiting out in the hall with other anxious freshmen, and I remember being so nervous I could hardly speak since my mouth was so dry. I had not played a tuba since high school graduation twelve weeks or so earlier, and I had not yet even had the chance to run through a few scales, so I was in mortal fear that I would fail and thus have to return home in ignominy. I remember the fellow ahead of me asking if I was nervous, and I assured him that I was. We got to talking and made introductions. He was Scotty Dreisbach (trumpet, `77) and he was also from Southern California (Anaheim.) I discovered that our high schools had competed in the same band competitions in Southern California, and so we began to feel a little bit less alone in this new and unfamiliar world. Scotty told me not to be nervous, since four years of high school tuba playing should make me a competent candidate. I informed him that I hadn’t played a note in three months. Scotty said, “blow air through the horn.”
“What good will that do?” I demanded.
“It’ll keep you busy.”
Scotty was then called in for his audition, and I grew more and more nervous as I listened. By the timeScotty came out, giving me a thumbs-up gesture, I was a basket case; I was dry-mouthed, shaking, and tongue-tied. Mr. Briggs, the director, invited me to sit down. The first thing he noticed was that my knees were bouncing up and down like springs. He astutely surmised that I was quite nervous, and he spent a few minutes asking about my summer and such small talk in an effort to get me to relax.
I honestly cannot recall just what the audition consisted of. After Mr. Briggs handed me some music my mind is a blank until he finished and told me that “because I want us to march ten basses” the band needed me. I have always thought that smacked of squeaking by, and I wonder whether he saw beyond my wretched audition to perceive a greater ability or if he simply was desperate. Later that evening he told me that he was confident that I would be up to snuff by the end of the week. Whatever the case, I think that it must have been a truly terrible audition, and so those details have mercifully faded from my mind.
I honestly had no idea of just what I was getting myself into. After the audition I had to check in to my dorm room. I was rooming with Dave Lowrey (bass, `76) who was the bass section Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Fall of 1977. Naturally this added somewhat to my apprehension, but Dave was friendly — if somewhat brusque — and I figured it would work out fine. Dave poked his head into the room long enough to introduce himself and then turned to speak with some other TA. At that point and at others that morning the conversation was peppered with “colorful” adjectives. It struck me at the time — though it seems quite silly now — just how much vulgar language was being used in casual conversation; I recall wondering if I really was suited for such a crowd. Of course, sad to say, I soon acclimated. The coarse language was simply one of those “college things,” I guess, and it really wasn’t all that terrible by today’s standards.
At noon we had the “New Men’s” meeting. At that time incoming Freshmen, regardless of gender, were referred to as “New Men.” And bandmembers were collectively “bandsmen.” In 1977 the Band had only passed one full “generation” with its women membership. (That being a school “generation” of four years, since 1973.)
At the New Men’s meeting we were told some basics about the Band and its policies, the rehearsal commitment, and its high standards. Then they played a film of some pregames and halftimes from previous seasons. Suddenly I felt very uncertain about my future. I had assumed that marching would be a piece of cake compared to the music audition, and here I saw a Band of unbelievable, extraordinary speed and skill, playing and marching in drills and routines so complex that it would take months to master any one of them! I was unable to see how I could ever learn to march like that, and certainly not inside of a single week. I was not the only one who was in awe by any means. I think just about the entire crop of Freshmen were thunderstruck.
After about forty minutes we broke for lunch. I recollect that despite the best efforts of the “Old Men” to mingle, the table I was seated at was composed entirely of New Men. I sat across from Barbara Holliman (mellophone, `77) who was wearing a T-shirt that said “Cello Power.” I was impressed by her confidence that we’d all be able to manage to march like pros by the end of the week.
You see, the end of the week was hugely important, as we had been amply made aware, because the first pregame and haltime performance (not to mention post-game, which was charted way back then!) was the following Saturday for the Cal vs. Air Force game. Thus we did not merely have to survive FTP, we had to succeed. The point had also been stressed that the pregame block would be just 92 bandsmen, and so competition for a place in the block would be intense. In fact, that block size greatly influence that entire Fall season as we’ll see later.
At 2:00 we started the first field rehearsal. All of the TA’s formed a block and did a remarkable and impressive drill involving the fundamentals that we were to cover that first day. I and most of the other New Men were once more in awe, for these exemplars of marching style were also putting out more sound than most 100 piece high school bands (I think that there were about twenty TA’s that year.)
That rehearsal started one of the most intense and demanding three days of my life. I do not mean simply the intensity of FTP which was certainly present throughout that week. Rather I mean the intensity of realizing that one has a personal challenge to face. That first rehearsal was tough, both physically and mentally demanding, and personally nerve-wracking because I had never been very agile or particularly well-coordinated. I was not then (and I never really have been) a “quick study” when it comes to choreography and the like. Yet the Cal Band was teaching fundamentals that demanded both physical exertion and rapid mastery. By the time 5:00 rolled around, I was tired and frustrated and more than a little scared. Tired because of a three-hour workout in the warm Autumn sunshine, frustrated because I was not picking up the fundamentals rapidly, and scared because I was afraid I would fail to pass the marching audition. Suddenly, even after just one day, I wanted to be in the Cal Band more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. And I knew that it would require more hard work and dedication than anything that I had ever previously been involved in.
I still look back on that Sunday afternoon, walking back to Unit One (a pretty long hike, so plenty of time for reflection,) and I can vividly recall resolving that I would make it. I said to myself that no matter how much work it took, I was going to be a part of the Band and I would learn my fundamentals. I do not know if I then realized it, but it certainly is the Band’s emphasis on its fundamentals that made it possible to take a batch of raw recruits and turn them into reasonable marchers inside of five days. And since everything builds from the fundamentals, those amazingly complex drills do become learnable. But whether or not I understood the long-range benefits of the fundamentals, I knew that I had to get them down. And I clearly recall resolving to make it. I really think that this was the first time in my life that I had so clearly aimed at a goal which was — to me at that time — so uncertain. I grew.
When I got back to Deutsch Hall, I found that my sister Anne was waiting for me. She was driving from central Washington down to Southern California, and she stopped to have dinner with me. We ate at the Round Table Pizza on University, and she dropped me back at the dorm just in time to make the evening music rehearsal.
Another intense experience, of course. It seemed that none of the Old Men needed music even though we played for three hours! I was once more unsure that I could ever get to that stage, but as I said, I made up my mind that it must be possible. By the end of the rehearsal my lips were painfully “buzzed,” but I was having a great time playing my horn again. I also liked the fact that we sang as well as played, and that Mr. Briggs gave a short history of each of the songs we were learning. I realized that this was an organization with a long and cherished history, and that appealed to me: to be a part of a tradition that spanned nearly a century! That was a fine prospect indeed.
I walked back to Unit One with Dave Lowrey, Kip Parent, (bass `75) and two other New Men, Dan Blick, (bass, `77) and Carlos De Los Rios, (bass `77.) Despite the alleged 11:15 lights out, all of the New Men seemed to be up for hours “kicking the walls” to practice highstep. I remember being aware that my legs were already a bit stiff.
What a week lay ahead!
Animis pariter certantibus omnes dant cuneum densaque ad muros mole feruntur! — Publius Vergilius Maro
(They are keen and form a wedge and they march!)