Joanna Lustig: For Bruno and for Brown

Friday, May 24, 2013

Joanna Lustig ’13, center, marches with the Brown Band.

This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

The football team had just secured a win against Columbia in the last game of the 2012 season. The players and fans celebrated the win that beautiful November afternoon as the Brown Band played “Ever True to Brown” with the spirit and volume that can only come from a victory to end the season. I started with my typically energetic count off, but found that my arms felt heavy in conducting the familiar two-four pattern, and I was unable to sing with the rest of the band through the tears I could no longer hold back. This marked the end of a three-year era of being conductor. Keeping it together was simply not an option.

I started my journey as a wide-eyed freshman who responded to the call of “Join the Brown Band” at the activities fair with, “Don’t worry, I pretty much already have.” My dad had been president of the band back in the early 1980s and raved about it with a nostalgic glint in his eyes throughout my childhood. As an alto-sax-playing band geek, I thought it was a good choice of student group. In retrospect, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

At my first rehearsal, I realized that the group was entirely student-run. Undergraduates booked trips, scheduled events, handled finances and, to my amazement, were entirely in charge of the musical direction of the band. By the end of that rehearsal, I had decided I would try out to be conductor.

I was chosen as the new assistant conductor and learned from the experienced assistant as well as the head conductor. I made a three-year commitment that would end with me in charge. Over my time as conductor, my ear became more musically trained as I nitpicked incorrect rhythms and notes in rehearsals and brought songs from the initial sight-read to performance. I memorized the correct cutoff points of nearly 60 songs. I became more confident in my leadership skills and discovered the patience required to get a room full of college students to rehearse that measure just one more time.

Most of what the band taught me was the true meaning of spirit. It’s impossible to put into words what it means to work with a group of people so dedicated to their school that they are happy to get up at eight in the morning on a Saturday and spend their time playing, cheering and scrambling on the field until late afternoon. At a school where most non-athletes are only vaguely aware we have varsity sports, it was incredible to lead a group of people whose mood rose and fell with the team’s wins and losses. I was able to connect with the school I love so dearly through music — and what a timeless way to do so! While few students know the words to our fight song, I know that a rousing rendition of “Brown Forevermore” will give me a pang of nostalgia well into old age. Serving as conductor of the Brown Band has been a huge part of my identity here.

That’s why on that fine November day, during a time of triumphant glory and celebration, I had to count off our Alma Mater in between sobs. That’s why I’ll be humming the Commencement March as I walk through the Van Winkle Gates. And that’s why, when I think back, my best memories of Brown are from my time with the band.

Joanna Lustig will attend Boston University for her master’s in school counseling this fall.