DU History / History

The marching band’s last hurrah

Photo from 1961 Kynewisbok

When the football program filed out of DU in 1961, the Pioneers marching band — a 45-year institution that launched scores of alumni into musical careers — followed suit.

On Jan. 9, 1961, Chancellor Chester Alter announced that football would be discontinued because it was “prohibitively expensive.” The program operated at a deficit of $100,000 a year, he said, and unduly occupied playing fields that could be used for other programs.

While the football program had been declining in achievement — in 1959, Denver Post columnist Jack Cranberry suggested that DU drop football from its sports picture entirely — the marching band was enjoying success and popularity.

The Kynewisbok called the marching band season of 1961 — the band’s last — the “most successful season since director Ralph Srouf has been at DU.” The 88 playing members, four twirlers and one drummer performed half-time shows around the state and in Wyoming in “sparkling new uniforms,” according to the yearbook.

Although the pep band — a group of about 12 students who were chosen from the marching band to play at pep rallies and basketball games — continued after football ended, continuing the marching band wasn’t an option without a venue as large as the stadium to play in.

Marvin Feldman (BA ’63, MA ’67) played the trumpet that final season. He regards the band as a crucial part of his college experience and one that influenced his career teaching music in Littleton Public Schools.

“Playing for the band was the beginning of my livelihood teaching music appreciation,” he says. “We had a very fine music history department. DU was a very good music school, and as far as I’m concerned, it was a lot better than CU.”

Indeed, the University of Colorado at Boulder’s marching band and football program were a source of rivalry for years.

Bill Smyth (BFA ’49), a member of the marching band from 1946-49, recalls the last game that DU played against CU in 1947, before CU changed divisions.

“CU beat DU, and I’ve been mad at CU ever since,” says Smyth, who played the clarinet. “We called them ‘Big Time Charlie.’ Since we were at our DU stadium, we pulled out our red handkerchiefs and waved them at them [and yelled] ‘Go home Charlie!'”

Smyth continues to play in bands around Denver. He returned to DU as an alumnus to watch football games until the team disbanded, noting changes in the band throughout the years.

“After I graduated … they got themselves a new conductor [who] put everything in double time,” he says. “When I went back to watch the games, I thought to myself, ‘Man, am I glad I graduated!'”

Even 46 years after the band marched out, band alumni recall playing for DU with fondness.

“Playing with the band was really a lot of fun [and] educational,” Feldman says. “They were wonderful years.”

Comments are closed.