This is a big week for the Harvard University Band. Bigger, even, than its legendary bass drum, Bertha, or its 7-foot-tall, triple-B-flat Besson tuba. And more legit than its honored, if mock, Latin motto: Illegitimum non carborundum, or “Don’t let the … [um, expletive deleted] get you down.” That’s because this weekend the band celebrates its 100th year.
To mark the anniversary, the band that takes the field during halftime of the football game with Cornell on Saturday may swell to more than 400 performers as a number of alumni — or “crusties,” in band parlance — will join student members to play traditional fight songs such as “10,000 Men of Harvard” (composed by A. Putnam ’18), “Fair Harvard” (Samuel Gilman 1811), and contemporary tunes as well.
“The friends you make in band are the friends you keep with you and stay in contact with,” said flutist Jessica Bishai ’20, the band’s 100th-reunion manager. “That’s something I’ve witnessed, talking with alumni.”
Although band reunions take place every five years, as many as 500 alumni are expected this year, according to Mark Olson, director and faculty adviser since 2013. Festivities will include a Friday evening of performances by the Harvard University Band, the Wind Ensemble, and Jazz Band. The Sanders Theatre event, which will be webcast, will feature the newly restored Besson tuba in a commissioned work by Lewis J. Buckley, “Caprice for Great Big Tuba,” to be played by Boston Symphony Orchestra principal tubist Mike Roylance. (The restoration, made possible by a gift from the late Marlowe A. Sigal ’52, M.B.A. ’54, has been a years-long project for Michael Ruderman ’81, the Harvard Band Foundation’s clerk and, like Sigal, a clarinetist.)
This robust showing both on and off the field is testament to a band tenet: Once a member of the Harvard University Band, always a member. The student-run organization is famously welcoming, offering lessons and instruments to those interested, and nonplaying crew positions to potential “bandies” who want to join the fun but lack musical proficiency.
“There’s a place for everybody,” said Olson.