RPI Pep Band
The RPI Pep Band is a completely student-owned and operated organization at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. They are a group of students who enjoy spreading school spirit at American football, men's ice hockey, and women's hockey games, both at home and away, as well as in numerous local community events.
History of the Band
Prior to the 1973-1974 school year, the RPI Pep Band was run by a salaried manager rather than by student managers. The one and only non-student manager was A. Olin Niles, the arranger of the "Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer" chart that the Pep Band still plays.
From a 12/2/81 issue of The Polytechnic:
"At its founding in the early 1920s, the band had eight members and often had to hire professionals to complete an orchestra. Today, the band fields 76 pieces including 38 woodwinds, 32 brass, and 6 percussion instruments. The roots of the band can actually be traced back to 1923, when a local musician named A. Olin Niles organized the school's second musical group (the Glee Club had been formed about 45 years earlier.) Mr. Niles had been performing in the pit of the American Theatre in the days of silent films. The President of the Union asked him to start a music program at the Institute, and Mr. Niles complied. As the talkies (modern movies) came into being, orchestras such as the one at the American became less popular and Niles was able to devote more time to the Engineer ensemble. In the early days, the band not only played at athletic events, but also gave concerts and played at dances. The group performed for the lacrosse, hockey, basketball and football teams, and would play not only the RPI school song, but also the alma mater of the opposing squad. In 1954, when the hockey team won the NCAA championship, the band took two busses and greeted them at the airport. Membership grew and through the years players broke off to form other musical groups. Niles, who was a big fan of the marches of Sousa, Goldman, and others, retired in 1973 after 50 years of service. Now 88 and living in Troy, he remains an avid fan of RPI sports."
During the 1960s, RPI's band was a marching band, in addition to being a pep band. Of course, it didn't do any marching during hockey season, but it performed halftime marching routines at every home football game and participated in an occasional parade
Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer was the fight song in the 1960s, and it consisted, as it does today, of an introductory fanfare, an eight line refrain, a four line interlude, and a repeat of the eight line refrain. However, there were some differences in how it was performed.
The fight song used to be played at a noticeably slower tempo than it is today. Basically, the marching band of the '60's played the fight song at the same speed as that at which they marched. They would have worn out pretty quickly if they had tried to march at the tempo at which the fight song is played today.
In the 1960s, the band would play the fanfare and the eight line refrain, as it does today, but would then sing the four line interlude, rather than playing it instrumentally. The only band members who played their instruments during that interlude were the drummers, who rattled through a drum solo during the line "Hear the rat-tat-tat of drums that beat." After singing "Hear that might shout of", the band members would bring their horns back up and play the refrain for the second and final time.
After Olin Niles' retirement, there was a period of a year or two when the interlude was dropped entirely, so that the fight song consisted of the opening fanfare followed by the refrain being played twice straight through. Eventually, the interlude was restored as an instrumental version, and it has remained that way since.
It was customary during that time, as it is today, for the band to play the fight song to salute the hockey team's arrival on the ice at the start of the period, or the football team's arrival on the field for the start of a half. While that was going on, it was also customary for all RPI fans to stand up and clap along in time with the music.
The marching band's halftime routine varied from game to game, but the ending was always the same. At the conclusion of the routine, the band would form an "R" and play the alma mater from that formation.
At one time it was customary for the band to play the alma maters of both schools prior to the start of the third period of hockey games. (At least, they did so when they could get their hands on the sheet music for the other school's alma mater.) This was done only partially as a gesture of goodwill toward the opponents. There was another underlying reason for this custom, which eventually resulted in an NCAA rule change.
Harkness always put competitive teams on the ice, but for some reason he always seemed to have a problem recruiting a full roster for his teams. RPI usually dressed four or five players fewer than the rules allowed, which led to fatigue problems for the players late in games. Harkness was known for doing anything he could to offset this disadvantage.
During Harkness' era, the third period would begin in the following manner. The band would salute RPI's return to the ice with the traditional playing of the fight song. As is customary at all hockey games everywhere, the teams would skate a couple laps around the ice to warm up and then gather around to tap their goalies on the pads for luck. Then those players who were not starting the period would go to their benches, while the starters moved toward center ice for the face-off. Finally, just before the referee got ready to drop the puck, the Field House P.A. announcer would intone, "And now, the (name of the opponents) alma mater," whereupon the band would play the visitor' alma mater, followed by our own.
Eventually, opposing coaches figured out that, while this practice had the symbolic effect of showing respect for the visitors, it also had the very practical effect of giving Harkness' chronically undermanned skaters several extra minutes of badly needed rest before starting the third period. After that, an NCAA rule was passed requiring that, if anybody's band wants to play an alma mater, it has to do so before the teams return to the ice.
1975 - 1990
Sometime before '74-'75, the Pep Band wore very heavy red wool jackets. By '74-'75, newer lighter- weight (but still heavy) red jackets were being used. Both styles of jackets had the RPI seal on the front breast pocket.
In addition to playing for football and hockey games, the RPI Pep Band played at men's basketball games (up through '79-'80). The basketball band was quite a bit smaller than the bands for football and hockey games. "[[RPI Songs#Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer|Hail" was played when the team came out and if they won, the usual cheers were played during time-outs, and 5 special short cheers were arranged for when RPI made a basket.
Senior Band Manager: Beth Montalone, Class of '76, Flute Assistant Band Manager: Steve (a.k.a. "Derb") Derby, Class of '76, Euphonium
At a regional meeting of A&P grocery store managers in an auditorium in Albany, A&P kicked-off their new "Price and Pride" ad campaign and the Pep Band was paid to come and play the new A&P jingle. A&P wanted a band with red jackets and they had asked a couple of local high school bands who declined because it wasn't dignified. The Pep Band was paid $400 for this.
Band Manager Steve Derby later became a mechanical engineering professor at RPI.
Senior Band Manager: Dave Cole, Class of '82, Saxophone Assistant Band Manager: Neal Lassinger, Class of '82, Trombone
The hockey team's slogan this year was "Come Watch Us Hustle" and the coach asked that they play "The Hustle" (famous 70's disco tune) during warm-ups. Dave Cole and Jim Koch arranged "The Hustle" for the Pep Band from memory and by calling a radio station and having them play it. Years later it was discovered in the music archives that the Pep Band had already owned an arrangement of "The Hustle" from years past.
Big Red Freakout giveaway = small, round New Year's Eve-type noisemakers. During the second intermission of this Freakout, nine of the female Pep Band Members lined up at the front of the stage and, while the Pep Band played The Stripper, proceeded to remove their pants and other outerwear revealing long, white t-shirts which spelled out "LETS GO RED".
This year (or maybe the next) was the first year that the RPI cheerleaders attended hockey games.
1983-1984: America's Pep Band
The Houston Field House was renovated before the start of this hockey season. The roof was raised, made flat and coated with soundproofing material to improve acoustics along with a new sound system. The stage area was enlarged (the rink was enlarged and moved to the west several feet). The ice surface was lowered several feet to make viewing better and the height of the glass was raised. This last change made it harder for opposing teams to shoot pucks straight into the band - in the past, the back row of the band was in danger of direct hits.
To go along with the renovations, the Field House people wanted to move the Pep Band off of the stage and into the stands at the far northeast corner. At the first home game, they sat in the stands and had a terrible night. Here's a quote from the "Not In The Box Score" column by Mike Hurle in the Poly sports section that following week: "Need I comment on the Pep Band during Friday night's contest. Being a musician myself for over a decade, and as the conductor of the RPI Jazz Ensemble, I know the problems associated with performing. However, there is no excuse for not being able to start the national anthem on the first try. Not only did they embarrass themselves, but they shamed the entire RPI community. Their lack of interest during the latter part of the game only furthers my condemnation of the group. When the fans are not totally excited in what is going on, it is the job of the Pep Band to get things going. That's what the word pep is doing before band. Perhaps the entire group just had a bad night. I can only hope that the situation improves as the season continues." As a result of that night, the position of Conductor was created and Brad Amidon became the first to assume the position. Also, by the next home game, Meri successfully negotiated the band back onto the stage. In the following issue of the Poly, "Not In The Box Score" said "Let me be the first to congratulate on the improvement of the Pep Band at the Olympic exhibition game recently. It was good to hear the sounds of old. Keep up the good work!"
During the regular hockey season, the Pep Band traveled up each of the two days to the two-night Empire Cup Tournament held in Glens Falls. The Pep Band also traveled to the University of Maine (Friday) and the University of New Hampshire (Saturday) and stayed overnight outside of Boston. At UNH, the UNH team fired several pucks into the band during warm-ups (very low glass barrier).
For the semifinals and finals of the ECAC hockey playoffs, the Pep Band traveled to Boston for two nights of playoff games at Boston Garden and stayed overnight in downtown Boston. RPI beat Clarkson and Boston University to win the ECAC Championship. During the second night, there was a brouhaha when Boston Garden officials made the Pep Band move from their ice-level seats to upper-level, obstructed-view seats right before the start of RPI's championship game.
At the home NCAA quarterfinal playoff games against North Dakota, where RPI lost both games, the giveaway was big, red foam #1 hands.
It was during this season when Sports Illustrated ran a short article on the band and called them "America's Pep Band" - in the issue after RPI won the ECAC championship.
1984-1985: "We're Number One!"
Sometime during hockey season (after the shipment arrived), the Pep Band starting wearing red and white-striped rugby shirts with an "America's Pep Band" logo on the upper left chest, each band member purchasing their own shirt.
At the home ECAC quarterfinal playoff games against Princeton University, where RPI won both games, the Pep Band was given RPI engineer hats by the RPI Alumni Association.
For the semifinals and finals of the NCAA Division I Hockey Championships, the Pep Band traveled to Detroit for two nights of playoff games and stayed overnight outside of Detroit. RPI beat University of Minnesota-Duluth and Providence to win the National Championship. In the semifinals, RPI scored with less than two minutes left in regulation to tie the game, which then went into three overtime periods before RPI scored to win. At the end of the game, the band played "Hallelujah Chorus" at the suggestion of Beth Wilkinson (last name now Flanagan), Class of '86.
April 8, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated states, "On Friday, RPI faced Minnesota-Duluth in the other semi, and both clubs must have taken their game plan from the Engineer band, which played "Rock Around the Clock" more times than Bill Haley and the Comets ever did."
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