As Cal Meets Ohio State Today, A Reflection

Today the University of California Golden Bears meet the Ohio State University Buckeyes on the gridiron in Columbus, Ohio. The football teams have no especial rivalry, though they have met a few times in the past century, but there is an old and deep connection between the two schools’ marching bands. To a significant degree, the Cal Band as we have known it over these past six-plus decades is a direct result of one meeting between the Cal Band and the OSUMB. More than sixty years ago Cal met Ohio State in the 1950 Rose Bowl game, playing to a capacity crowd of 100,963. [1] Because January 1st fell on a Sunday in 1950, the contest was held on Monday the 2nd.

The game was frustrating for Cal fans, though the closely fought contest had been tied until late in the 4th quarter. The Bears had been successful in shutting down the Buckeye running game, though a bad punt gave Ohio the ball on Cal’s 13-yard line. When the boys from Columbus could not overcome the Golden Bear defense, they used “an old pro trick,” intentionally drawing a procedural penalty in order to get into good field goal position. The Buckeyes made the field goal putting OSU ahead, 17 – 14 for the final victory. [2]

There is a four-page photo spread of the bowl game in the 1950 Blue And Gold. One cannot help but notice that the one picture of halftime shows a precise, high-stepping Buckeye Band. [3] The Cal Band is nowhere in evidence.

Compounding the frustration of the gridiron defeat, Cal also came up a distant second in the match up of the two school’s marching bands. So striking was the contrast between the high energy and flashy performance of the Ohio State Marching Band and the rather visually unremarkable and incomprehensible production by the Cal Band that something of a minor scandal erupted. A veritable storm erupted in the California press. Even the mild-mannered Blue And Gold staff could not but damn the Band with faint praise; in the 1950 Blue And Gold, the caption writer for the Cal Band’s page could only say that the Band was “perhaps at its best for rallies,” and also mentioned that the uniforms that year (the infamous “mustard-yellow pants” uniforms) were “bad.” [4] Criticism was everywhere, and it persisted. In the wake of the controversy generated by the Cal Band’s showing, several changes were instituted.

It probably comes as no surprise that a partisan source, the Ohio State Marching Band’s 1989 centennial-plus-ten history book, makes note of the Cal Band’s humiliation at the Bowl. Script Ohio states “Ohio State’s Band performed almost perfectly that afternoon. Pitiful by comparison, the California band received only a polite applause.” [5]

The exciting 180-beat per minute entrance of the OSUMB wowed the Rose Bowl audience, according to Script Ohio, and their high-speed, driving pregame which featured five formations in six minutes just amazed the crowd. At halftime, “The ‘Show Business’ theme topped all previous halftime shows ever presented.” [6]

Was this simply partisan hyperbole? Evidently not.

In the Cal Band history book, The Pride Of California, this episode of Cal Band history appears under the title, The Rose Bowl ‘Fiasco.’ There is a sidebar quote from Bud Barlow (Clarinet, `46; DM `49) stating, “We were so far outclassed.” The 1950 Rose Bowl is described as “the most important event in the history of the Cal Band since 1923.” [7] And throughout Pride references to the 1950 Rose Bowl performance continue in the same vein. [8]

And even at the time, starting the day after the Bowl game, newspapers throughout the Golden State made much of the Cal Band’s inadequate representation of California to “The East.” On January 3rd, the Long Beach Independent referred to the Cal Band’s “loss” against the OSUMB and noted that “California’s performance, impressive by Pacific Coast standards, nevertheless fell far short of that staged by the Buckeyes.” [9] The Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner all weighed in with commentary. The Tribune observed that the California Band “had suffered in comparison with the sparkling exhibition of the 120-piece Ohio State band at the Rose Bowl game.” [10]

In this day and age where band’s seldom garner much attention from the news media, it is literally astonishing to read how much ink was spilled over this issue, and how widely.

Who would have thought that such attention would have been paid to a band of all subjects? It is notable, that in 1950, a great many Californians felt that their state’s University was an important reflection of the state as a whole, and it’s reputation in all areas genuinely mattered. (In those days, they also consistently voted to fund the University adequately, too. They wanted quality for their investment!) Even the small Oxnard Press-Courier featured a lengthy editorial the day after the game:

“The demonstration of band superiority Ohio State gave was more convincing than in football superiority. In Ohio last week we were told that Ohio State’s band was the best in the Big Ten, and we will believe what we have seen. The fancy stepping has to be perfect, for white shoes below black pants would make any mistake stand out. One of our informants says the reason the band is so good is that – practice is mandatory. A man can elect to play in the band instead of drilling in the R.O.T.C., we – are told, but he must put in the same number of hours weekly.

And won’t somebody please ask the Cal bandleaders to change their uniforms? They look like street cleaners.

We are told that television cameras, trained carefully on the Ohio State band, pretty much ignored the field maneuvers of the Cal band. If you were watching on television and wonder what you missed, it wasn’t much. The definitive demonstration of maneuvering, dancing, and what not was given by the Midwesterners. Cal tootled just fine, but didn’t prance around much in the process.” [11]

In an especially acidulous editorial the week after the game, The Daily Californian deplored the Cal Band’s showing and called for changes to be made immediately. This editorial famously quoted University of California President Robert Gordon Sproul (Horn, `09; DM, `11) as saying, “That band smells,” [12] which was just the sort of “sound bite” that was destined to be repeated across the country over the next several days, and repeated it was.

The uproar continued for several days. Inevitably, there was fallout. The front page of the Oakland Tribune on January 9th trumpeted: “U.C. BAND HEAD QUITS: Row Ranges From Stodgy Spectacles To Mustard Pants.” The article reported on the scale of concern and controversy that the Cal Band’s Rose Bowl performance had generated, and reports, “Ed Welch, director of ASUC activities, said that Brutus Hamilton, athletic director, will confer with musicians on campus on the possibility of developing an outstanding marching organization.” The Trib quoted Welch as saying, “We may have to bring in a professional director,” and noted that “he added that officials are considering giving academic credit for band work. Students do not now receive such credit for playing with the band.” [13]

Of course, there were those who did not feel that the Cal Band deserved to be attacked so vigorously. On January 11th, one opinion piece in the Tribune asserted: “Aspersions cast upon the University of California band don’t bother us for we still think the band is great and always was. If it doesn’t strut with the best of strutters, what of it? All we ask of the band is that it hide in the tunnel out at Memorial Stadium for a while and then, at exactly the right moment, come roaring out with that “Tum, tum, tum for California” song. That always makes us choke and feel as if we were 40 years younger!” And the editorial summed up this point of view with, “As for bands that perform maneuvers and do a lot of fancy steps, well, we always say that if a ballet comes to town we can stay away from it and it’s the same with a band.” [14] And yet, this apparently positive opinion seems pregnant with ironic criticism.

As a result of the controversy, Cal Band Director Dr. Charles C. Cushing, (Clarinet, `24; Captain, `27; Director, `34-`50) resigned on 9 January 1950. Dr. Cushing’s letter of resignation is, unsurprisingly, rather defensive, and he emphasized the primacy of musical performance over “stunts.” Dr. Cushing was a serious musician with impeccable credentials, but he was decidedly not a stunt coordinator. In his letter, Cushing forecasts that if the Cal Band were to aim to compete with bands such as Ohio State, student control would certainly be lost. [15]

An editorial in the Oakland Tribune of 24 January 1950, expressed its support for the UC’s plan to improve the Band, saying, that it “had been met with approval by people in all walks of life,” but worried that it was not far-reaching enough. [16]

After Dr. Cushing stepped down, the ASUC asked the music Department to provide a new director for the Cal Band. James Berdahl (StuD `37; Director `50-`71) was asked to fill the post on a temporary basis while a permanent director was sought. [17] (On the Berkeley campus, it seems, “temporary” means a couple of decades at least) With James Berdahl at the helm, things began to turn around for the Cal Band. It was not an instantaneous process, and it took immense amounts of effort from scores of people. The change came not as a top-down, officially imposed overhaul, but came from the Cal Band members themselves. Ultimately the process required several years. Yet this controversial episode was indeed one of the crucial pivot-points in the history of the Cal Band.

It is important to note, that Dr. Berdahl himself felt that the Cal Band had been unfairly made a scapegoat by all of the controversy. I took part in a Cal Band oral history project interview with Dr. Berdahl in 1986. During the course of that conversation, Dr. Berdahl took some issue with the common view that the Cal Band was so terrible at that Rose Bowl game. “But then after the Ohio State game, and in the frustration of losing that game, when they should have won it, really, some questionable refereeing and so on, there’s always been some controversy about that game, but they did know, and the sports writers were so frustrated, so they took it out that the Ohio State Band was so good and the Cal Band was so terrible. Now that’s the legend, that the Cal Band was so terrible and blah, blah, blah. It really wasn’t. I wasn’t there, so I can’t personally say, but I know the kind of band that it was, and they played very, very well.” [18]

Yet other folks close to the actual events, including many long-time Cal Band supporters, echo the more “canonical” assessment. In another interview, former ASUC Executve Dirctor Forrest Tregea (served 1959 – 1968) stated “The Band had poor performances in 3 consecutive [Rose Bowls.]” [19] However well the Cal Band may have performed musically, the preponderance of opinion was that things had to improve. And with James Berdahl as acting director, things began to get better.

Almost exactly a year after the 1950 Rose Bowl, on Christmas Day 1950, the Long Beach Press-Telegram featured a sports-page opinion piece which humorously began:

“AT BERKELEY this Christmas Day resides a man to whom such a fate should never have happened. I can see him now — quivering with the shakes, worried by fear of the unknown, now knowing whether Michigan will spring the two-platoon or two-bassoon system against his forces come New Year’s Day — a man bedeviled by alumni pressure, California’s band director, James E. Berdahl.

Remember his predecessor, Charles Cushing?

Professor Cushing’s team, you may recall, was outmanned, outfought, outmarched and out-maneuvered by such a considerable margin in the main side-show at the last Rose Bowl game (by Ohio State, to Jog your mental processes) that the guy gave up the ghost and quit.

That’s when this fellow Berdahl moved center stage.” [20]

As we now know, the Cal Band *did* improve dramatically, so that by 1958 the Band was invited by the State Department as a representative of the United States at the World’s Fair in Brussels. And the Band’s performance at the halftime of the 1959 Rose Bowl was widely acclaimed for its creativity — A huge rose was formed by coordinating the Band with the card stunts — its musicality, and its remarkable marching precision — the show opened with a marquee that displayed the game’s current score!

The change had not happened overnight, and so many people put in so much effort to make it so that it is not possible even to begin to give them adequate recognition here. All the same, such recognition is indeed due. We have an organization which can rightly be called “The Pride Of California” because many committed people worked hard to make it so and to keep it so.

There is one aspect of this whole story that has stood out with striking clarity in my mind from the very first day I joined the Cal Band: we who were prospective incoming Band members were told this part of Cal Band history on our very first day in the Band! During the evening of Sunday, 11 September 1977, a brief history of the Band was presented by a couple of Band Alumni. No “warts” were skipped. We learned that President Sproul had declared “That band smells.” And we learned that committed people with vision and determination had learned from the experience and had risen above a less-than-stellar past.

I remember thinking at that time how unusual it was for an organization to hold up its past for clear examination. It is still rare for any organization to acknowledge past foibles or mistakes. I have always admired an organization which can forthrightly and honestly examine its past, and pay proper attention to both its brightest days and its darker hours, giving each subject its due. I honestly believe what this plain and honest approach taught me has been of consistent and applicable value in my day-to-day dealings ever since.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Dixerat, atque animis pariter certantibus omnes
dant cuneum densaque ad muros mole feruntur.

— Publi Vergili Maris, “Aeneidos,” Liber XII

The band are keen; they form a wedge; they march.

— Vergil, “The Aeneid,” Book XII, lines 772-773, Trans. Mandelbaum, 1971



[2] Blue And Gold 1950, vol. 77; pp. 192 – 195

[3] Blue And Gold 1950, vol. 77; pp. 192 – 195

[4] Blue And Gold 1950, vol. 77; p. 164

[5] Script Ohio, 1989; p. 58

[6] Script Ohio, 1989; p. 58

[7] The Pride Of California, 1993; p. 27

[8] The Pride Of California, 1993; p. 85, p. 88, & p. 109

[9] The Long Beach (Calif.) Independent, January 3, 1950, p. 13

[10] The Oakland Tribune, January 9, 1950, Front page, “U.C. Band Head Quits”

[11] Oxnard Press-Courier, January 3, 1950, Editorial Page

[12] This article in The Daily Californian is referenced in at least a dozen contemporary news articles in papers from both California and Ohio, and the Sproul quote is included. I cannot locate the original article, however. Some claim that Sproul never said this and that The Daily Californian had misquoted him. Sproul himself later said “I never said I hated the Band. I hate those mustard pants!” That seems to me like “spin,” though, as it deflects rather than addresses the original quote.

[13] The Oakland Tribune, January 9, 1950, Front page, “U.C. Band Head Quits”

NB: Cal Band members have never received academic credit for any Cal Band activities; the Cal Band remains a student musical activity and membership is on a wholly voluntary basis.

[14] The Oakland Tribune, January 11, 1950, Editorial page, “Other Fellow”

[15] The Pride Of California, 1993; p. 27

NB: The Ohio State University Marching Band is not now nor has it ever been student run, though the students are directly involved with that Band’s operations and organization as band staff members.

[16] The Oakland Tribune, January 24, 1950, Editorial page

[17] The Pride Of California, 1993; p. 26


[19] Unpublished Dan Cheatham interview with Forrest Tregea, August 1991

[20] Long Beach Press-Telegram, 25 December 1950, p. A-11, “In The Spotlight”
It is well worth reading the column in its entirety.

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