Creating and Building the Pride of Utah Marching Band, 1940s-1960s

by MACKENZIE McDERMOTT

On October 10, 1940, the Utah Chronicle reported the exciting news that the University of Utah band would present its new “costumes” to the student body “with some display of marching” at the upcoming Homecoming game. The article also noted that the new leader, Joseph C. Clive, promised “new and greater activity for the year.” But it wasn’t until 1948, according to Jay L. Slaughter, that the Pride of Utah Marching Band “reorganized.” That meant that the group, which had been established as a military band to perform military drills during halftime at football games, transformed into a 120-piece “marching unit using fast cadence [tempo, or speed of music] and fully uniformed.” (Slaughter, 8) The band stopped running military drills and started putting on shows that would be performed during halftime; they also started working on music to play at other school events. When the band was reorganized, the organization lobbied to expand the program. The band never competed in formal marching competitions, but was constantly being compared, in quality, to other bands across the nation.

The year that the band made the transition, it began to pick up speed with a guest conductor, Ronald D. Gregory. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on July 12, 1948, that he had been hired to lead the band. Gregory, a graduate of Ohio State University, conducted the band in a six-week course. One of his main goals, as reported by the Salt Lake Telegram on July 12, 1948, and the Utah Chronicle on July 14, was to prepare for a football game in Los Angeles that would be held on September 17. Gregory received $5,000 to purchase new instruments and uniforms for the band. The Utah Chronicle shared some of the ways the University of Utah marching band planned to impress the Southern California Trojans with “showy marching formations and such unusual designs as a moving covered wagon with rolling wheels.” Despite the band being bigger than it ever had been, with 120 people, the Sugar House Bulletin reported in August that the band was still looking for and auditioning people to join.

HomecomingUniversityofUtah

A band marches in a parade associated with The University of Utah’s homecoming celebration. Courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

In 1952, the marching band’s success was still being attributed to Gregory. The Daily Utah Chronicle reported that “much of the credit for a superior band should be given to Ronald Gregory.” According to the article, he was the first in the West to march the band group as fast as 180 beats per minute, and was one of the first to have a themed show for halftime. Marching Utes, members of the marching band in 1952, were also mentioned in the article for forming a block U on the field to create a “brilliant show.” At that time, all 120 members of the band would practice every day for an hour, along with extra rehearsals before games, for one and a half credit hours.

In Slaughter’s The Marching Band, he includes a survey that he based some of his findings on. One of the questions was designed to find out if band directors across the nation preferred men or women for the position of drum major, who are the student leaders of the band. The survey showed that most directors did indeed prefer men to women in this leadership position, although in 1958, the Salt Lake Times advertised for majorette tryouts at the U. The major and majorette auditions in 1958 were open to both men and women, putting the U ahead of many other bands across the nation that required men for the role. Auditions for the position were for university students, as well as high school seniors, who were eligible and willing to try for the position. Drum majors at this time would often twirl batons to infuse the audience with excitement.

After Gregory’s leadership, the Pride of Utah was able to gain high marks all across the nation under the direction of Forrest D. Stoll, who took over in the 1950s. By then, the Ute marching band was being ranked alongside some of the best marching bands in the country. According to a story published in the Chronicle on October 30, 1959, the band was comparable to those at institutions including UCLA and Michigan State University. The campus newspaper acknowledged Stoll’s “fine directorship” and commended his “capable assistant,” Loel Hepworth. “These two men work very hard to maintain the high standards of the Utah band,” noted the reporter. The consistently high standards held by Stoll and Hepworth pushed the band toward greatness. The Chronicle also mentioned the drum major, Lamar Williams, and the baton twirler, Karen Berger, who were strong examples of hard work for the band, as well as the entire university. The band at the time could not have been made possible without the hard work of each of these individuals.

The marching band at the University of Utah owes much of its success to a six-week guest conductor and all of the highly dedicated students who choose to give up their time to play a part in something greater than themselves. Today, the marching band has reached over 150 students under the direction of Dr. Brian Sproul. These students take two hours out of their day, Monday through Friday, and give extra time on days of football games. On game days, the band goes from tailgaters, an event where fans park cars and trailers and often indulge in barbeque before the game; to the Ute walk, where the fight song is played repeatedly as the team enters the stadium; to a performance on the field before the game (pregame); to the actual game and halftime. The University of Utah Pride of Utah Marching Band still performs in home games and across the nation for away games. But the group doesn’t just play at sporting events. The band can also be heard playing in ceremonies at the University of Utah, and welcoming incoming freshmen with the University’s fight song. The band continues to strive for excellence to live up to their name, Pride of Utah.

Mackenzie McDermott is a freshman at the University of Utah, majoring in journalism McDermott has participated in concert bands for seven years in Las Vegas, Nevada. Throughout her time at Cadwallader Middle School and Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, a performing arts high school, she played the flute. She marched for the Pride of Utah Marching Band, and played piccolo, in Fall 2016. She performed in a University of Utah concert ensemble, on flute, in Spring 2017.

Sources

Bob Foreman, “Ute marching band ranks high,” Utah Daily Chronicle, October 30, 1959.

“U. of U. to Conduct Majorette Tryouts,” Salt Lake Times, May 9, 1958.

“The Last March,” Utah Daily Chronicle, December 1, 1952.

“U. Names Band Leader For 6-Week Course,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 12, 1948.

“U band gets guest conductor, $5000,” Utah Chronicle, July 14, 1948.

“Positions Open In Largest Band In U of U History,” Sugar House Bulletin, August 6, 1948.

“Man of the hour! Gregory talk of Uteville after band revamping,” Utah Chronicle, October 7, 1948.

“University Band Elects Chiefs For New Season,” Utah Chronicle, October 10, 1940.

The University of Utah Marching Band: 1965 handbook. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1965.

Slaughter, Jay Leon. The Marching Band. Department of Music, University of Utah, 1950.

 

 

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