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History • The Falcone Era: 1927-1967
Researched and Written by Jacob McCormick
In the summer of 1927, Leonard Falcone was hired by Michigan State College to replace Carl Kuhlman as director of bands. The MSC Band received new uniforms and instruments in 1928. Falcone moved the band in a fresh direction with new precision drill and introduced a new formation, the block-S, rather than the spell-out “MSC” formation as had been used the previous three years following the change to Michigan State College.
A replacement for the campus armory, Demonstration Hall, was planned for in 1925 and was completed in 1928 as a new home for the Military Department. The building was used early on for a variety of purposes, among them band concerts and other musical performances. With an interconnected history since their earliest days, the ROTC and Spartan Marching Band are jointly housed in Dem Hall today. Another iconic campus structure, Beaumont Tower, was constructed in 1928 on the site of old College Hall. On June 22, 1929, President Shaw and the Board of Agriculture dedicated the tower, which included a performance by the band.
The Spartan Band Goes to Washington
In October 1930, the MSC Band accompanied the Spartan football team to Georgetown University in Washington D.C. While in the nation’s capital, the band was given the opportunity to perform on the White House lawn for President Herbert Hoover. Music Department director Lewis Richards arranged for this performance. This marked the second instance the band performed for a sitting president of the United States. The ensemble also visited and performed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, and visited Mount Vernon.
On this trip, the band was in the company of the Spartan football team, athletic department officials, College administrators, and members of the Board of Agriculture. What was based around a football game turned into a rather ceremonious occasion for the Michigan State College delegation in Washington.
The Active 1930s
In the period of 1927 through 1940, the seasonal group photographs of the band were taken on the steps of the People’s Church in East Lansing. That is due to the fact that there were no steps on campus large enough to accommodate the size of the band. By 1940, the new College Auditorium was complete and offered steps substantial enough to pose the band upon.
In 1936, the band played for another sitting president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, during a campaign stop he made in Lansing. Roosevelt’s stop in Lansing was made at the Grand Trunk Depot on South Washington Avenue in October 1936. The State Journal reported, “preceding the arrival of the train the Michigan State College Military Band played a few martial numbers.” This marked the third president for whom the band performed.
In 1937, the band’s official title was changed from “Michigan State College Military Band” to “Michigan State College Band.” They also got new uniforms this season and their own practice field, no longer forced to interfere with the football team by practicing on College Field.
The band had a permanent arrangement with the Detroit Lions, performing for its football games in 1937. They appear in several period game programs as a highly-publicized feature of the games.
At the conclusion of the 1937 football season, the Spartan team played its way into the first ever bowl game for Michigan State College. The team played in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1938 versus Auburn. It is not clear whether the Spartan Band attended. The game’s halftime performance was given by an assemblage of 1,100 musicians from local Florida bands.
Also in 1937, the graduating class of MSC gifted a Band Shell to the College. Built with WPA labor, the Band Shell stood on the banks of the Red Cedar where Ernst Bessey Hall now stands (a campus historical marker stands behind Bessey Hall marking the site). The elaborate concrete structure, which was completed in the spring of 1938, allowed for open air performances and was used often in subsequent years. The great green space facing the Band Shell allowed for vast audiences to gather. The popular structure was demolished in 1960 to make way for Bessey Hall.
In 1938, the old Agricultural College Armory building was demolished to make way for a new Music Building, built on the same site. The Music Building was another campus WPA project, including several Art Deco features. Designed by Ralph Calder, the building opened in 1939. It has received updates over the decades and is currently in the midst of a major addition and remodel.
The World War II Period
In July 1941, Leonard Falcone began a one year leave from his post as director of bands, citing exhaustion. Dale Harris, a high school band director from Pontiac, Michigan, was recruited to direct the MSC Band during Falcone’s leave. By September 1942, Falcone was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps and spent eight months as a member of its Air Force Band at Maxwell Field, Alabama. He was later transferred to Stuttgart, Arkansas in order to organize and lead the 388th Air Force Band. In 1942, the marching band was directed by Edward D. Cooley. The “varsity band” was formed in 1942, directed by Arthur Best, to provide an outlet for “less gifted students and women.” However, as the war progressed, the varsity band was forced to dissolve in 1943. At that time, due to the depleted number of male students on campus, the concert band began to recruit female members.
In 1943, Falcone had grown frustrated by his position and requested a release from his duties, appealing that his role as an educator at MSC ought to be deemed more valuable to the country than his work with the Air Force Bands. After returning to MSC in the summer of 1943, Falcone was called back into service just a few months later in September 1943. This time he worked for a short period at a munitions factory in Ann Arbor, playing a part in Michigan’s role as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
By October 1943, Falcone had fully returned to Michigan State and resumed his duties as director of bands and professor. In addition to his normal duties, Falcone also directed the Army Air Crew Band and A.S.T.P. Band. However, with the World War still waging, the marching band was a “war casualty” on campus. Most male students in this era went off to war, leaving the marching band without members. In the fall of 1944 and 1945, there was no marching band on campus. At the time, however, Falcone continued to direct the coed concert band.
In 1945, the Michigan State Band performed at the unveiling of a new campus landmark. President John A. Hannah dedicated and unveiled “The Spartan” statue, also known as “Sparty,” on June 9, 1945. Sparty was designed and sculpted by faculty artist Leonard Jungwirth and placed as a “warrior” or “guard” over MSC’s athletic complex. The size of the band at the unveiling was noteworthy, as shown in this photograph. As there was no formal marching band in 1944 or 1945 given the limited number of student musicians on campus, the MSC Concert Band performed at the dedication. The concert band was the only band on campus in 1944 and 1945. As the marching band and concert band were the same unit in this era, active at different times of year, the concert band dressed in the shared uniform on this occasion. The female members pictured, accepted since 1943, were not uniformed.
In the fall of 1945, in place of the defunct MSC Band, Falcone invited high school bands to perform at Michigan State’s home football games as the halftime entertainment. Those invited to perform in 1945 were Battle Creek, Jackson, Grand Rapids South, Muskegon, Flint Central, Lansing Eastern, and Lansing Sexton.
The band also received new uniforms around 1945, continuing the khaki military appearance of the ensemble.
In 1946, the concert band and marching band became separate units. Women had been actively recruited as members of the concert band since 1943. However, women were not permitted as members of the marching band in this period or for the next thirty years. The two units separated as a result of the different makeup and acceptance of women members.
The varsity band was reestablished in 1946, following its brief existence in 1942-1943. The varsity band was directed by Don Jackson, assistant director of bands. Jackson also assisted Falcone in the direction of the marching band and drilled the band for its football halftime performances. He served as assistant director of bands for six years, through 1953.
Admission to the Big Ten Conference
In 1946, the University of Chicago left the Western Conference (now the Big Ten Conference), creating an opening that Michigan State had been vying for since the 1920s. MSC was widely viewed as the most worthy school for admission to the conference. It was no easy task battling the powers at rival institutions, but President Hannah made it his mission since assuming the presidency in 1941 to get Michigan State into the Big Ten. In the period of 1946 to 1948, a highly public campaign played out with Hannah and Michigan State actively seeking admission to the conference. By December 1948, the conference held a vote and Michigan State College was named a member of the Big Ten Conference, restoring its membership to ten schools. MSC did not start conference play until the fall of 1953.
The “MSC Shadows” was written in 1927 by Michigan State football line coach Bernard Traynor. From the moment it was written the student body fell in love with the song, though it was simply an unofficial college song for more than two decades.
By 1948, the student body had been pushing for an original song to be designated as MSC’s Alma Mater for a decade. A student vote was held in the spring of 1949 and the students selected “Shadows” as the new Alma Mater. The vote was approved by the student council, faculty, and State Board of Agriculture. The song replaced “Close Beside the Winding Cedar” as the Alma Mater.
The “Shadows” was first arranged by Music Department faculty member Dr. H. Owen Reed. The current version of “Shadows,” with its weaving baritone line, was arranged by longtime band director Leonard Falcone. The lyrics were changed in 1955 to reflect the change from MSC to MSU.
The Golden 1950s
Among the most substantial honors of the decade for the Spartan Band was welcoming General Douglas MacArthur to Lansing. The band led the processional from East Lansing to the State Capitol in downtown Lansing on May 15, 1952.
After MSC’s admission to the Big Ten Conference, the campus community spent the next four years on the tall task of obtaining new fashionable uniforms in school colors for the band. The Spartan Band debuted in its flashy green and white uniforms on September 2, 1952.
Also in 1952, the marching band and ROTC cut formal ties. With a new look and no military requirements, the Spartan Band could offer more popular music and dance routines. While some popular music was performed by the band previously, drill and choreography were limited out of respect for the ROTC and military uniforms.
The following season, 1953, Michigan State began conference play in the Big Ten and the band was ready with its new spirited appearance. Also in 1953, the band first received green and white wool warm-up jackets. The jackets have remained the same in design over the decades and Band Jackets are among the most treasured traditions of the Spartan Marching Band today.
In the fall of 1953, football coach Biggie Munn formally thanked the Spartan Band for its “stalwart influence” on the football team. He acknowledged Leonard Falcone’s longtime leadership as well as Don Jackson, who had been assistant director of bands the previous six years, having left the position in mid-1953.
A big addition to the band in 1953 was the hiring of a new faculty member, Oscar Stover, as the assistant director of bands, replacing Don Jackson. Stover was largely responsible for the charting and drilling of the band, as well as the many extra band duties that came about due to the increased athletics responsibilities related to being in the Big Ten Conference. Stover came to be called “Oscar the Charter” by band members.
The Michigan State Band’s famous kickstep was introduced circa 1953. The precise origin of the kickstep is not exactly clear. There are a number of individuals who have claimed to have invented it. The long-told story goes that band members invented the kickstep by playing with drums and running up and down the aisles of the train en route to the 1954 Rose Bowl. They then claim that it was presented to Falcone in California and premiered at the 1954 Rose Bowl. However, there is video footage of the band performing the kickstep during the fall of 1953. Another story ties the kickstep’s origin to Herb VanDyke. VanDyke is said to have created a version of the kickstep in high school and introduced it to his bandmates at MSC. They cleaned up and clearly defined the movements and presented the move to Falcone, who implemented it into the band’s performances. There is no official origin story for the famous kickstep, but several tales of its beginnings. The kickstep has been widely imitated, but never replicated.
In October 1953, the MSC Band was sponsored by the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors for the trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota with the football team. Oldsmobile donated the $16,000 required for the band to make that trip. With such success in the first Oldsmobile-sponsored band trip, Michigan State College came up with a long-term deal with Oldsmobile to be the Spartan Band’s official sponsor.
The 1954 Rose Bowl
The Spartan football team won the 1953 Big Ten football championship in their first season of conference competition. The team, accompanied by the band, attended the 1954 Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California, only the second bowl game ever for Michigan State and the first of the school’s Rose Bowl appearances. The band’s trip by train was sponsored by Oldsmobile, a relationship that had been established this season. Along the way west, the Spartan Band stopped to perform in parades and concerts in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, El Paso, and Tucson.
Following the band’s appearance in the five-and-a-half-mile Tournament of Roses Parade and at the pregame and halftime of the Spartans’ Rose Bowl victory over UCLA, the band traveled to San Francisco to perform at the East-West Shrine Game on January 2nd. Fans and press alike lauded the Spartan Band everywhere. On the way home to East Lansing by train, the bandsmen presented more concerts and parades in Salt Lake City and Denver. A weary but happy group of Spartan musicians arrived back in East Lansing on January 6th. The band received football-shaped commemorative Rose Bowl patches to attach to their warm-up jackets, which started the tradition of coveted bowl patches for Michigan State Band Jackets.
In the Fall of 1954, Michigan State’s first annual Band Day was organized. It brought in high school band programs from across Michigan to perform with the Spartan Band at a halftime performance during a Michigan State home football game. The last annual Band Day was held in 2001.
A Global University & Centennial
The year 1955 was a big one for Michigan State. After years of debate, Michigan State College officially became Michigan State University to reflect the new universal goals and responsibilities of the rapidly-growing educational institution. The same year, Michigan State celebrated the centennial of its founding in 1855. Yearlong events were held to commemorate the major milestone. The Spartan Band, which numbered 130 this season, marched in the centennial parade and used Band Day to put together a celebration of the school’s 100th anniversary. In addition, on March 6, 1955, the Spartan Band held a special Centennial Concert in which they were conducted by Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman. In addition to his stature as one of the world’s foremost conductors and composers, Goldman was a friend of Leonard Falcone.
The 1956 Rose Bowl
For the second time in three years, the Spartans were on their way to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The band remained sponsored by Oldsmobile and again traveled to California by train. Whistle stop concerts and parades were held en route west, just as was done in 1954, this time in Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson, Dallas, and St. Louis. The stops turned into highly publicized events, meeting with local dignitaries and receiving gifts, including keys to various cities. While in California, the 130-member band also made a guest appearance on CBS-TV’s “Bob Crosby Show.” The 1956 Rose Bowl Game, held on January 2nd, resulted in another Spartan victory over UCLA.
Closing a Busy Decade
This decade, the Spartan Marching Band became parade veterans. In addition to two Rose Parades, a parade for General MacArthur, and MSU’s centennial parade, the band closed out the decade with another special occasion. In 1959, the Spartan Band participated as one of 39 bands in the City of Lansing’s centennial parade. The parade marched down Michigan Avenue, from East Lansing to downtown Lansing. The SMB was in Division III of the parade and were led by Leonard Falcone in a convertible just ahead of the ensemble.
As the busy fifties came to a close, big additions and changes were on the horizon for the Spartan Band in the sixties.
The Momentous 1960s
Bill Moffit & Patterns of Motion
In 1960, assistant director of bands Oscar Stover left MSU and was replaced in the position by William Moffit. The decade also kicked off Falcone’s fourth decade as director of bands. Under Moffit’s drillmanship, the SMB became internationally famous for its distinctive Patterns of Motion marching style. A Moffit brainchild, Patterns of Motion featured constantly-changing kaleidoscopic patterns which could be seen and appreciated by nearly all viewers in the stadium. Based on a four-person squad system, Patterns of Motion was first debuted by the Spartan Marching Band under Moffit and quickly swept the nation as the newest style in marching among college, university, and high school bands, with bands everywhere adopting the style.
In this period, the SMB debuted a new feature in its pregame performance. The spinning of the block-S became a traditional pregame element with Moffit’s implementation of Patterns of Motion into the marching band. The “spinning” is only possible through Patterns of Motion’s squad system. Therefore, Moffit is credited with originating the drill design for the spinning of the block-S, which remains a beloved tradition today.
A big year for the Spartan Marching Band, 1964 began with the ensemble’s invitation to perform in New York City, NY at the 1964 New York World’s Fair during the Michigan Week festivities. The band’s performances in January included one at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and another at the famous Rockefeller Center skating rink. Still sponsored by Oldsmobile, a delegation consisting of band members and staff traveled by air for the first time. The trip was made in converted cargo planes.
The World’s Fair was the final time the Spartan Band wore its original green and white uniforms. Together, President Hannah and Falcone took action to replace the tattered twelve-year-old uniforms. The band premiered its new overlay uniforms in the fall of 1964.
In January 1965, the Spartan Marching Band marched in President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s inaugural parade in Washington D.C. The band represented the State of Michigan, as the only band invited, and followed Michigan Governor George Romney in the parade. This marked the fourth sitting U.S. President for whom the Michigan State band has performed.
In 1965, the “Series,” the Spartan Marching Band’s famous “street beat” or drum cadence was finalized. The band uses the “Series” to get from point A to point B, usually in parades. The cadence got its name as it is a series of drum cadences strung together. In the 1950s, there were a couple drum cadences used by the Spartan drumline. The fathers of the “Series” are successive drumline section leaders, Joel Leech and Merritt Lutz. Leech and Lutz each wrote portions of the “Series” and implemented them in real-time during performances, these were added in addition to the older cadences which already existed prior to their time in the band. Finally, the “Series” got so long that band members got progressively more confused and a frustrated Falcone froze it in its final form in 1965. Leech and Lutz put the final version down in writing at that time. It has been updated and minor changes have been made over the decades, but the basic structure remains the same such that alumni from the 1960s can play alongside the current drumline. The fiftieth anniversary of the “Series” was celebrated in 2015 with Leech and Lutz honored during a rare halftime performance of the cadence.
In 1965, Bill Moffit organized the Spartan Brass, a pep band which played at basketball games and other athletic events outside of football. This ensemble was preceded by the varsity band, which had been organized in 1942 then reformed again following World War II in 1946. The Spartan Brass has grown over the years and has developed a great history and tradition alongside the Spartan Marching Band. The two ensembles often have significant overlap in their memberships. Moffit conducted the band for his remaining years at MSU.
Eat ‘Em Up
Bill Moffit composed a new spirited tune for the Spartan Band to play circa 1966. Originally he called it “Eat Them Up,” but band members quickly shortened that to “Eat ‘Em Up” and it became a staple in the SMB’s repertoire. This is another example of Michigan State tradition which spread widely across the nation, as it has become a standard marching band tune for bands far and wide.
The 1966 Rose Bowl
The 1965 Spartan football team again won the Big Ten Conference championship and played in the 1966 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. The band traveled by air, which meant no parades or concerts along the way by train. While in the area, the ensemble played at Disneyland in Anaheim, California on December 30, 1965. Walt Disney himself was the grand marshal of the 1966 Tournament of Roses Parade, in which the Spartan Band marched for the third time. The 175-member band performed the “Star-Spangled Banner” jointly with the UCLA Band. Together, the units were conducted by Falcone on the song prior to the game. The Spartans lost the 1966 Rose Bowl to UCLA, the only Rose Bowl loss recorded by a Michigan State team. The band partook in other activities while in California representing MSU far and wide.
The End of an Era
In the fall of 1966, Leonard Falcone announced it would be his final marching band season as director of bands at MSU. Naturally, the band held a tribute to its beloved longtime director at the final regular season football game in Spartan Stadium.. At halftime of the MSU-Iowa game on November 5, 1966, under the direction of Bill Moffit and with Falcone at center field, the SMB performed “The Sound of Music” followed by “Auld Lang Syne.” Near the conclusion of the show, Falcone turned and walked off the back sideline as the band parted around him, walking away from his band for the final time ceremonially. Falcone’s final game as director was the “Game of the Century,” the famous 10-10 tie versus Notre Dame. His retirement was official on July 1, 1967, but he remained as professor of euphonium and tuba in the Music Department.
Falcone maintained a strong presence as director of bands emeritus until his death in 1985.