Features

Band hits 40 years on ice

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The first few notes of the Brown fight song rang out in Meehan Auditorium as the last of the Brown and Harvard hockey teams exited the rink last Friday. Students stood on seats and cheered for the past and current members of the Brown Band — some brandishing trumpets, others weighed down by enormous sousaphones, and almost all on skates — making their way around the ice.

On Feb. 5, the Brown Band celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first show on ice skates. The group is the only ice skating scatter band in the world, according to the group’s Web site.

The spectators at Friday’s hockey game who chose to remain in their seats for an extra half hour were treated to the Brown Band’s first alumni ice show in honor of the anniversary, featuring alums from each decade since the ’60s.

After a round of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” the announcer called out the names of returning alums in between lines of the Brown fight song. Brown Band Alumni Liasion Andrew Leber ’12 said the ice show was modeled after the band’s performances during football games, with the band forming a “B” on the ice at the end of the performance.
This is not the first time alums have returned to play with the band, but it is the first ice show to feature an alum performance as its centerpiece, said President Max Mankin ’11, a trombone player.

“I have probably been back a half dozen times,” wrote Christopher Maden ’94 in an e-mail to The Herald.

To prepare for the ice show, alums like Maden were e-mailed scans of the songs ahead of the performance, Leber said. “Most of them still do play or practice in some capacity,” he said.

The Brown Band was founded in 1924 by Irving Harris ’28, and donned ice skates for the first time in February 1970 — the same year that women were allowed to join the band.
The band performs to a script read aloud by the commentator, though acoustics can sometimes pose a problem, Leber said. Designated members of the band write the script and hand it over to the band’s vice president who then chooses the formations for the band’s performance. Past formations have included a goblet, Pac-Man ghosts and Pac-Man himself, he said.

The band can be spotted playing at Brown’s Homecoming, most home and away football games, and some lacrosse and hockey events. They have also played at A Day on College Hill and at Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day, Leber said. Members of the Brown Band often play in the Brown Commencement Band, along with musicians from other Brown music programs.

Keeping up tradition

For Mankin, the ice show was an opportunity to trace the band’s history through the stories of alums.

“It was really exciting, because the band has a lot of quirky traditions,” Mankin said. “Reconnecting with all these alumni sort of illuminated where (the traditions) came from.”
These legacies include adding verses to their chants, Brown Band mascot Elrod Snidley — who reputedly nearly won a 1970s Undergraduate Council of Students presidential election — and the famous Brown Band buttons.

“I am the ‘inventor’ of the Brown Band Button,” wrote Kenneth Sloan ’69 in an e-mail to The Herald. Sloan suggested making the buttons during a band meeting in September 1967, as a promotion during that year’s football season.

Sloan ordered the first buttons — which read “Jam the Ram” — from his cousins’ company, he wrote. Sloan knew the buttons were a hit when a delegation from the football team asked for their own.

Not all fun and games

The status of the world’s only ice skating scatter band does not come without challenges. “The most difficult thing was getting everyone to stop in the form,” Leber said. “When we’re doing forms in the football field, it’s one thing. When we’re ice skating, people start holding onto others and sliding into position.”

Not everyone was on skates on Friday night since “everyone is at different levels” of ice skating ability, Leber said. During this show, “the conductor was skating backwards” while “some people were shuffling,” Leber said.

Mankin said certain instruments are too unwieldy to be played on the ice. “Two years ago, one player wiped out … her instrument split into several different pieces,” he added.
Weather is another concern for band members. At a performance two years ago on Yale’s campus, “the football game fell on a weekend when hurricane Noel and the Nor’easter were coming in — we got pummeled,” Mankin said. “Instruments were freezing to people’s faces.”

Traveling and camraderie

Friday’s ice show brought back fond memories for the alums. “Coming back, I enjoyed reconnecting with other alums,” Sloan wrote. “I also really enjoyed seeing how old traditions have survived and new ones created in the same spirit. I’m very proud of an ‘institution’ and a tradition that I helped create.”

For Sloan — whose wife Christine Curcio ’72 was one of the original three Pembroke band members — the social aspects of the Brown Band were the most enjoyable. “I was active in writing shows for football games, was an early member of the Hockey Pep Band” and also was one of the founders of the band’s ice show, he wrote.

Maden’s favorite parts of being in the Brown Band were traveling and the camaraderie with the fellow band members. “Much of what the Band does is part of a modern folk tradition,” he wrote. “More than a few of the songs they sing can trace their origin back hundreds of years.”

For Leber, one of the great rewards of being part of the band is “being able to do something that no one else does,” he said.

Mankin said being part of the band “is like hanging out with 50 of my best friends. There’s a collective enthusiasm toward the sporting event, but more importantly toward making band fun for everybody.”