Strike up the band!

December 7, 2008

Part of my job as Chair of the UCLA Music Department is to know about all of our large and small performing ensembles. One group that is probably what most of the world thinks when it thinks music and UCLA is our marching band.

Yesterday Daniel and I spent from dawn to dark at the Rose Bowl as guests of the UCLA Marching Band. The main attraction for everyone else was UCLA versus USC, a long standing city rivalry that I personally never cared about but was amazed to see in full force. The mere fact the we both had UCLA blue jackets made us involved in the town rivalry. And when we walked through areas of only USC colors (red and gold), we felt a bit uncomfortable. How silly.

We arrived before 9 am and there were already miles of RVs with rugs in front, full bars and lots of chairs with people already drinking and barbequeing. We were misdirected and nearly had to be locked in the purgatory known as stacked parking, but we kept saying “NO! We have to be in the M lot.” They’d shake their heads and tell us to go to the opposite side of the stadium. Some police then gave us another set of bad directions and we started getting a bit cranky. We stopped again and a motorcycle policeman got out. He looked at our pass and said, “OH! You’re really going to M, eh? Ok, I’ll take you there.” We then got a police escort to Lot M.

After parking, we went to watch the UCLA Marching Band rehearse in a large parking lot, this was now 9 am. The Director, my Vice Chair in the department, looked professional, was cool, calm, and in control. He runs a tight ship. Controlling over 200 undergraduates while playing their memorized music and stepping through complex steps all over the football field is an amazing ability. Wow!

When Gordon realized that I was there, he announced to the amassed players that I was there and that it was the first time in 20 years that a Chair had come to a rehearsal and game with the band. I waved, they whistled and shouted.

After an hour and a half of rehearsal we wandered over to the Chancellor’s tent. This was a huge tent with terrific food catered by Bristol Farms, with a free open bar, a coffee bar, and lots of tables. This is a perk of being a donor. And if I heard it right, each of these people contributed at LEAST $10,000. And the place was packed. That’s when I realized how powerful school/team spirit is, or can be.

We sat down with a retired couple and had a lovely chat. Members of the band came in and entertained us for a while. I got to visit with the Chancellor’s wife, Carol Block who is a marvelous and bubbly person.

After the reception we went into the stadium, and since we were apparently on the A list, we had access to everything. We went down on the field during the pre-game show, wandering up and down the sideline until we were told to go back to our seats. We sat in front of the band near the 30 yard line, and with good earplugs, it was tolerable. The audience was deafening when the cheerleaders would call for NOISE. An incredible phenomenon–an audience of 40.000 (?) all screaming some loud sound that, together, adds up to an amazing cluster of terror, done to distract the USC offense.

Just before the end of the 2nd quarter, Jennifer Judkins, perhaps sensing I was in melt down mode from the sheer volume of everything, grabbed us, and walked us down on the field. It was a bit surreal. The game was still going on, and we tip toed around the edge of the field, cops saw our badges and waved us through, walking in front of a huge section of USC fans. Would they boo us? Would they throw something at us? Two little blue spots moving along a sea of red and gold. THey didn’t. We then stopped at the corner of the UCLA end zone and just watched the game from the field. It was marvelously QUIET. The view from the field is vast and quite beautiful. The sun was starting to go down as well, so everything looked beautiful.

We then watched the half time show. After hearing the two bands, it is clear to me the great job Gordon does arranging and running the band. UCLA did, appropriately, a suite from West Side Story– perfect for town rivalry. After the show, Jennifer fetched us again as the players came back on the field and took us up to the press boxes hovering above the stadium. We went into the media room and watched the announcer, and everything involved in keeping the score board up to date, and the various video feeds.

Next to it was the Chancellor’s room where donors were allowed to watch the game from a privileged room and schmooze with the Chancellor. I greeted him and chatted with Carol again, had a hot dog with Sheila, Jennifer and Daniel and then got into our cars, leaving a bit early to avoid the rush.

USC beat UCLA 28 – 7. I’m over it. I had a great time and suspect everyone else did as well. I’m not ready to up my quotient of “Bruin Spirit” but I’m glad to have learned that many take it very, very seriously. We were exhausted when we got home. It is a lot of exercise: walking all over the place, standing most of the game, clapping with the cheerleaders, cheering, watching, shouting at each other. I had no energy to sit through the Beethoven 9 at Royce. We came home and collapsed, pooped, but exhilarated.

Go Bruins!

[Photo by Daniel Shiplacoff: RB watching UCLA Marching Band rehearse]

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