In 1979, “Three’s Company” was one of TV’s most popular sitcoms, the Iranian Revolution put the world on edge, and the Skylab satellite plunged back to Earth.
The same year, the university launched what would become one of its most effective ambassadors, the Marching Band
In early December at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center
, the band’s longtime leaders held a 40th anniversary reunion, drawing 250 former Marching Band members who came together to celebrate, reminisce and raise money for new instruments. Several attendees made long trips from as far away as Scotland to reunite, according to the band’s associate director, Deb Huber
Former tuba players, trumpeters and sax enthusiasts gathered and were serenaded by the current River Hawk Marching Band, 120 strong. At its lowest, just before Lutz took the helm and rebuilt its numbers, the band included just 38 students.
alumnus Derek SooHoo ’04 played snare drum in the marching band from 1999-2004 and continued to teach marching percussion for the band for two years after graduation.
He made it to the reunion to “catch up with old friends I played next to.” He called the Marching Band “a great experience and a chance to just keep doing what I love – play music. Not just that, there were higher-level players that made it exciting for me.”
“The best part of the reunion was the current students playing excerpts from their show,” said SooHoo. “It was also a tribute to the whole band, everyone. Some of the charts were the same ones I played, so it was very nostalgic.”
Although the Marching Band has played a few high-profile gigs (notably at a Patriots game in 1983 and for President Bill Clinton in 1994), it’s the bonds formed day-to-day on rainy, scorching hot or frozen practice fields that bring them back, said Huber.
“It was overwhelming,” said Marching Band Director Dan Lutz
. “The great thing about the Marching Band is, there truly is a place for everyone. If you play well, you are respected for that. If you march well, you’re respected for that. If you do neither of those things well but have organizational skills, you are respected for that. The band is something they do at a real foundational part of their lives. They’re a remarkable group of kindred spirits.”
The event also raised more than $4,000 toward a $128,000 effort to replace the band’s sousaphones , the 30-pound brass instruments that are a staple of marching bands. Some that are in use date back to 1962. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and University Events Laurence Siegel
said he was deeply “moved” and that he and the Division of Student Affairs
“want to continue their success and our support” by matching all donations up to $10,000, to go toward new sousaphones.
Student Affairs also supported the effort to buy the Marching Band truck a few years ago.
Lutz has been director of the Marching Band since 1988, but as a composer, he got his first contract with the university band in 1979.
“I was hired to write music,” he says. “The joke is that the two oldest continuing members are the sousaphones and me.”