In 1972, the year women finally infiltrated the marching band, Nancy Gillpatrick was on the field, a Big Red Forever freshman from Norfolk blowing a trumpet.
And Harold Chase carried his tuba all the way to 17th Street in the ‘50s, before the Pride of all Nebraska was something to toot your horn about -- or at least that’s the way he sees it six decades later.
Dwight Haupt can lay claim to blowing his horn during the blowout years -- the 72-to-zip years when the UNL Marching Band nearly blew its lips off playing “Hail Varsity” after all those Mike Rozier and Irving Fryar touchdowns.
For 37 years now, musicians from the good years and the bad years and all the in-between years have come back to One Stadium Drive.
They come with creaky knees and bad backs, with less hair and more girth, for one more glorious romp on the football field.
The 2012 Alumni Band Reunion Tour is coming to you Saturday -- live and in red Ts and khakis -- reprising all of your favorite fight songs.
“It’s kind of neat, because you hear stories from all different eras of the marching band,” says Kevin Nelson, alumni band general manager and secretary.
“It’s kind of like a class reunion.”
As a fellow musician, I’ve always appreciated the marching band. And by fellow musician, I mean failed musician – six months of torture, otherwise known as piano lessons at 10; giving up the guitar six years later because the strings hurt my fingers.
So I appreciate the band’s hard work – I hear the hard work catapulting across downtown on autumn mornings like a pigskin siren song.
Haupt is a piano tuner now. He worked hard in the band as a tuba section leader. But as an alum from the class of ’84, he just shows up for the fun.
He makes it nearly every year, along with Lorraine, the girl who played piccolo in the band and became his wife.
“I used to say, ‘Oh, look at all the old people,’” Haupt says. “Now I’m one of the old people.”
Another 247 old and young former band members have signed up to show up this year.
They will come from as far away as Salem, Ore., and Coral Springs, Fla., and from as close as across town.
Gillpatrick, one of five female students to add estrogen to the band in ’72, is driving down from Omaha to speak Friday night at the group’s pre-game picnic.
She had no idea Title IX meant the band was letting women in when she auditioned for what she thought would be a spot on the symphonic band.
But her name showed up on another list, populated with 180 or so male musicians.
“I thought, ‘Oh, what have I gotten myself into?’”
Her fellow trumpet players welcomed her, the music teacher said. Although there were a few fifth-year seniors who gave the women “a bit of a cold shoulder.”
Her two band years were the best years. Bowl trips to Florida and Texas. The time she took a snowball to the thigh when the band played in Boulder.
Keep playing if you get hit, band director Jack Snider told them.
“But I had to fake playing, it hurt so bad.”
She comes back for the camaraderie, she says. That goose-bump feeling when they all take the field -- the same way it felt 40 years ago.
“It’s kind of a euphoria, that sea of red around you.”
Harold Chase, 79, the tuba player from the early 1950s, comes back year after year, too.
It’s a reflection of his pride in the university, he says, on display in the horn section.
He played when the band was made up of all ROTC fellows. Those years they marched through downtown, past O Street shoppers, who paused outside of Hovland’s and Gold’s to watch them blare by.
His back won’t let him march this year. But the former farm boy from Pawnee City planned to stop by the picnic and reminisce about the Big 6 and the Big 7 away games on the train and his first taste of lobster.
“It was a lot of fun, and, of course, music is an excellent discipline.”
They will need to be disciplined again Saturday. Band practice starts at 6:15 a.m.
And yes, Nelson admitted, the early start does provoke a few groans.
But the 248 musicians who can play the “There is no place like Nebraska” in their sleep seem to get it.
“It’s a part of band.”