(Host) The country’s oldest collegiate band has hung out the ‘help wanted’ sign. Norwich University in Northfield is looking for a new director for its regimental band.
The unit has provided the musical backdrop for the military university’s ceremonies and activities since 1819. It’s also played at several presidential inaugurations in Washington.
VPR’ Steve Zind visited a band rehearsal to find out what it takes to be a director…and a band member.
(Zind) Once upon a time, back in the 19th century when the Norwich Regimental Band played mounted on horses.
Today, the roughly 40 cadet-musicians in the band have their feet on the ground when they perform, which they do often.
There are the parades on campus every week in the fall and spring. There’s music for parents and alumni weekends. And the band has to roll out the familiar ‘Ruffles and Flourishes’ when visiting dignitaries come to call.
(Larry Porter) "Three ruffles: dah dah dah lah dah lah lah’: that’s a three star general or a three-star flag officer."
(Zind) That’s Larry Porter, the band’s interim director. Porter says Norwich doesn’t have music classes and no one is going from here to a career in music.
(Porter) " There are no music majors here; there are no music minors here. So they’re coming basically with the skills that they obtained in high school. And this is approximately a decent high school band."
(Zind) Porter is careful to choose pieces that fit well with the band’s abilities. Still, there are some challenging numbers that any military band has to tackle.
(Porter) "We’re not great at Stars and Stripes Forever, but we can handle it."
"Trombone, baritone, tuba, clarinet (music plays)
(Zind) Band member Sean O’Hara was an all-state high school musician in Texas. His instrument: the tuba.
(O’Hara) "Its fun to be big and loud and noisy."
(Zind) O’Hara is the rare person who has tuba music on his iPod, including a recording of a man playing 64th notes on the instrument.
(O’Hara) "Those are quarter notes, right there (snaps fingers). And then (faster finger snapping) that’s eighth notes and then you split it again into 16th and again into 32 and again into 64. "
(Zind O’Hara says his musical career is probably coming to an end. With the next eight years of his life committed to the Army, he says he has more important things to do.
The sound of drumming then Anchors Aweigh starts
(Zind) Drummer and percussionist Cameron Davis says the band provides a welcome break from studying.
(Davis) "It’s something else to do in your time other than dedicating all our time to sports or all your time to video games, or whatever other students do here in their free time."
(Zind) The regimental band may be a pastime for cadets like Davis, but for the band’s director, it’s a full-time job that involves this unit, and a chorus and concert band as well.
And, in the wake of the retirement of the longtime band director, the job is open. Interim director Larry Porter is among the applicants.
On paper the job description stresses qualities you’d expect in a military college: discipline, morale and motivation. But Porter says for him the satisfactions are pretty simple.
(Porter) "It’s certainly not running the budget. It’s certainly not doing the paperwork, as you can see from my desk. It’s making music and encouraging the students to make music."
(Zind) The academic year is winding down. The band will return in the fall under a new permanent leader as it opens another chapter in it’s nearly two hundred year history.
For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.