The WVU Marching Band

NOTES DA CAPO - By John Puffenbarger
October 1994

The West Virginia University Marching Band traces its origins back almost 100 years when an ROTC band was formed, and it existed as an all-male organization until 1972. The modem era for the band began in the 1950s and 1960s with Larry Intravaia and Bud Udell as directors. Outstanding arrangements, creativity, and planning began to bring recognition to the group. In 1970, Gerald Zimmerman served as director for one year, and later as an arranger and assistant director. In 1971, Don Wilcox came to WVU as director of bands.

Wilcox graduated from the University of Michigan and taught eight years in the public schools before moving into higher education and directing out-standing university band programs in both California and Kansas before coming to WVU. Last summer he conducted the Wind Ensemble on a tour in Japan and also made a recording with the group.

In 1971, the 88 members of the band gave a performance in mid-December on national television at the NFL playoff game between the Colts and the Dolphins. Women were admitted in 1972 for the first time, and a trip to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta capped the season in December. In 1973 and 1974 the band's performance took a large step up to a whole new level due to the band members' attitude, desire, and dedication. Their success and recognition resulted in an even higher degree of public support for the "Pride of West Virginia" as the band grew to 180 members during 1974.

With a brand new set of custom-designed uniforms and 200 members, the 1975 band set new performance standards. They appeared at a Steelers-Bears game, traveled to Penn State, and finished the season at Atlanta's Peach Bowl. The end of the 70s reached several "highs" with trips to Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma.

By 1979, the band had grown to over 280 members. It traveled to New York City for the WVU-Syracuse game, a halftime performance for the New York Jets, and band members attended a performance of A Chorus Line on Broadway. They also performed a "Good-by to Mountaineer Field" show in the old stadium for which they won great reviews.

The 1980s opened with a new stadium, and the band was over 300 strong. During the 80s the band traveled to the Peach Bowl, Gator Bowl, Hall of Fame Bowl, Bluebonnet Bowl, Sun Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl. New uniforms were introduced in 1984 to the delight of Mountaineer fans. Since 1985 the Bands of America's Eastern Regional festival has been hosted by the WVU band, and many of our country's finest high school bands have performed on Mountaineer Field.

(Editor's note: Here's an amusing tidbit on WVU band and orchestra music before the ROTC band was formed. Beginning in 1886 and continuing for several years the Opera House Band of Wheeling provided both band and orchestral music for commencement festivities at West Virginia University. An account in the Wheeling Intelligencer for 10 June 1892 indicates that Wheeling's Gennan-oriented musicians did not find Morgantown's prohibition laws to their liking. It reads: "The Opera House Orchestra returned from the Morgantown University commencement exercises yesterday morning. Prof. Speil says that, notwithstanding the heavy rains, the town was very dry so far as the musicians were concerned. On account of the last election they could find nothing to lubricate their mouth pieces.")