Before he guest conducted the Oregon State University Wind Ensemble in a variation of Robert Schumann’s “Happy Farmer,” the ensemble’s former director Dave Becker talked about how he chose the piece. It connected to the university’s agricultural history — and his parents’ history of meeting while they were university students and his dad was studying agriculture.
When Bill Chisolm, a member of the OSU class of 1972, came in to guest conduct the marching band’s performance of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” his introduction was a little different.
“I’d like to do some program notes like Dave Becker, but I don’t know anything about ‘Radioactive.’ I hadn’t heard it until last Friday night, so I’m gonna wave my arms around until the band stops playing,” he said drawing laughter from the audience.
The two introductions encapsulated the two halves of the concert celebrating the 125th anniversary of the creation of OSU’s band:
• The first by the wind ensemble was a smaller group of musicians playing classical style music to perfection.
• The second was an energetic performance by the couple hundred strong OSU marching band, which played arrangements of pop and rock tunes in a performance full of movement and color.
The event was held Sunday afternoon at the LaSells Stewart Center as a way of celebrating the OSU band’s establishment in 1891.
James Douglass, who was OSU’s band director for 31 years of that 125 year history and was in charge of all its band programs, was the first guest conductor of the show.
“We are the oldest Pac-12 band in the conference,” he told the Gazette-Times on Tuesday. “We’ve had some fine musicians through here.”
Douglass, who was director of bands from 1968 to 1999, said the marching band was not very good when he came to the university, but in his time with the university it developed to a program that was invited to play all over the world.
Douglass, 80, said he has many highlights from his time as band director, such as when in the 1970s they played at away football games at Stanford University, University of Washington and University of California, and then would the next day play at NFL games at nearby stadiums. He added that some of the band’s international trips were very memorable, such as trips to Taiwan and Costa Rica in the 1990s. He also recalled a football game OSU played against University of California, Los Angeles in Japan in 1979 in the Olympic stadium before 100,000 people.
“The Japanese were interested in marching bands — they didn’t know about football, but they liked marching bands,” he said.
He said they played three full-length shows during that game, before, at halftime, and after and they played in large parades in the next week.
“There were some great experiences we had and great experiences for the students, and I think that’s worth a lifetime of fun and enjoyment,” said Douglass.
He said Tuesday that he would rehearse with the wind ensemble for an hour Thursday and before the concert Sunday.
“The kind of music we play, you don’t just step on the stage and play,” he said.
When Douglass came out to conduct Sunday, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Jay Chen, a trumpet instructor at OSU who was in the audience Sunday, said Douglass recruited him to the OSU band from China in 1988 and even let him live in his house as a student.
“The man changed my life,” Chen said.
Chen said OSU’s band has drawn musicians from all over the world, and the program has a significant legacy in its music education program.
“You go to K-12 band programs all over Oregon, and there are a lot of our grads making bands sound great,” he said.
He added that he thought Douglass was impressive in his guest conducting.
“You will always feel his energy no matter what,” Chen said of the conducting style.