By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Etc.: And On Wisconsin
Fifty UW Band alumni played in the Varsity Band concerts last week. - photo by Gary Smith

Unless you start reading your favorite weekly newspaper on this page, you know by now that two local UW–Madison students played in the final three UW Varsity Band concerts conducted by Mike Leckrone. 

(Tune in to WHA-TV May 4 at 7 p.m. to watch.)

I played too, as one of 50 alumni representing Leckrone’s 50 years at UW–Madison. I wrote last week that after a few years I realized I enjoyed playing in the concerts and marching in football games more than watching concerts and games, so I felt privileged beyond words to be selected to play, for not just Leckrone, but the estimated 5,000 of the UW Band who played during, before and after my time. 

(During my sophomore year, my father met Leckrone, and Mike told him he wished everyone in the band worked as hard as I did. Think that was motivatin for me?)

I’ve also previously mentioned that I rarely have college dreams, but I often have band dreams, in which I’m suddenly supposed to march in a football game or play at a basketball or hockey game or concert, and of course I’m missing several things I need — marching uniform, horn, music, etc. 

So of course I ended up having a moment like that. During “The Music Man” we were supposed to come in during the “Chaos” segment. (That term perfectly describes some of my band moments.) We practiced twice Wednesday. (Leckrone then announced to the band we weren’t going to practice anymore so to not tire out the alumni.) Then came Thursday, when half of the alumni were supposed to line up in the southwest entrance to the floor, and the other half were assigned to the northwest entrance. 

Something seemed a little off, and then suddenly another marcher and I realized we were in the wrong entrance. Imagine two 50-plus men sprinting 100 or so yards down a corridor from one corner to the other, reaching the entrance to find out the people we were supposed to be with (who before we got there realized they were two trumpets short) were already on the floor. So we ran out into the entrance in the dark, then started onto the floor, and, well, by the time we finished marching (a detail we weren’t told before Wednesday) and playing “76 Trombones” and “On Wisconsin,” I was running out of air. 

I drove up to Madison four times in four days (through snow Wednesday, heavy rain Thursday and high winds Friday, with the added drama of finding a place to park on campus) for about four minutes of performance time per night. I was, however, happy to see that I was not the oldest of the alumni there; in fact, two were from Leckrone’s first band, in 1969–70. For whatever reason those who started marching in 1979 seemed to be the best represented years, and while there were not 110 cornets, there were 16 trumpets.

Saturday night was not just the last concert, but also the annual UW Band Alumni Association reception, which had to be the largest of all time. In fact, UW Band jackets (including mine) could be found all over the Kohl Center. We all applauded the band and the other performers, laughed at Leckrone’s band jokes, and got emotional at various spots as the realization sunk in that this was the last of its kind. There will be a new band director next year, and that person will be able to take the program where he or she wants it to go, but it won’t be the same as it’s been.

For those who care about such things, in Leckrone’s 50 years UW went 343–249–10 in football with 26 bowl games, including six Rose Bowls (six more than I marched in); 866–654 in men’s basketball with 22 NCAA tournament appearances, including three Final Fours (22 and three more than I played in, respectively); and 1,103–743–142 in men’s hockey with 19 NCAA tournament appearances, including 12 Frozen Fours and six national championships (total for me: one, zero and zero, respectively). UW had nine football coaches (including Platteville’s own Paul Chryst), nine men’s basketball coaches (including Bo Ryan, formerly of UW–Platteville, and Iowa–Grant’s own Greg Gard), five men’s hockey coaches, and one band director in 50 years.

Wherever we were in Leckrone’s 50 years, all of us had been yelled at (by Leckrone, field assistants or other band members), rained upon during practice, sometimes booed on the road, cheered for wins, despaired for losses (211–194–5 in my five years), performed before people who had seen us for years and some who had never seen or heard us (YES, WE ARE THAT LOUD!), and had, though we may not have realized it at the time, the time of our lives. We learned lessons about hard work as its own reward whether or not anyone notices, fun not being fun without excellence, accountability, confidence, high performance whether or not things go well for the team in red and white, and other things I probably can’t explain, but just do.

The UW Band was the greatest thing I’ll ever be part of. On Wisconsin, and thanks, Mike.