June 25, 2017

The Catron Years: 1979-1987

Catron Returns to MSU

David Catron returned from Wichita State in 1979 to take the position of Associate Director of Bands and Director of the Spartan Marching Band. Chevallard resigned to take the post of Director of Bands at San Jose State University.

One of Catron’s first moves upon his re-arrival at Michigan State was to change the look of the Spartan Band Flag Corps. New white satin skirted uniforms were designed, and the Flag Corps became all women for the first time.

Catron kept the Spartan Band’s traditions of excellence: a respect for the old traditions coupled with a quest for innovations and spirited showmanship. Under his direction, the Spartan Marching Band expanded to nearly 300 members, and the use of new marching techniques and more styles based on drum corps techniques continued.

In 1982, William Wiedrich, a 1980 graduate of MSU and a former band president and band manager, was appointed to the position of Assistant Director of Bands. Wiedrich aided Catron in on-field drilling of the Spartan Marching Band and charting drills and arranging music for the band.

1984 – the World’s Fair and the World Series

In the summer of 1984, a delegation from the Spartan Marching Band was invited to perform at the New Orleans World’s Fair. The 25-member uniformed delegation was sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation, and presented three concerts at the Fair.

More good things were to happen in the fall of 1984. The Detroit Tigers had swept to a stunning American League pennant victory and invited the Spartan Marching Band to open Game 3 of the World Series in Detroit with a pregame concert appearance on the outfield of Tiger Stadium. The band attended that game and saw the Tigers emerge victorious. Two nights later, the Tigers won the World Series over the San Diego Padres.

The Spartan football team also had a good year, and in December 1984, the Spartan Marching Band accompanied the team to its first bowl game since the 1966 Rose Bowl. It was the first annual Cherry Bowl game, held at the Pontiac Silverdome on Dec. 22, 1984, and featuring a gridiron clash between the Spartans and Army. Though the football team was narrowly defeated, the Spartan Band attracted national and international attention when its complete halftime show was broadcast to one of the largest syndicated audiences in the history of sports television.

The SMB Loses a Leader and Friend

In May 1985, the MSU Bands and the world of music suffered a great loss; Leonard Falcone, Director Emeritus of Bands at MSU, known as “The Dean of the Big Ten Band Directors,” died. On the night before his death, a delegation of Spartan Marching Band members had visited him in the Dimondale nursing home where he was staying, serenading him with the “Fight Song” and “The Shadows”. To the end, Falcone was revered by the Spartan Band, and this last concert was a touching tribute to him. His funeral service was attended by former and current MSU band members from across the nation.

The successful 1985 football season led to the Spartans accepting an invitation to the All-American Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 31, 1985. New uniforms were premiered to a national audience watching the game on Superstation WTBS, which broadcast the entire Spartan halftime show. The Spartan team was defeated by the Georgia Tech Yellow jackets. The band traveled home on New Year’s Day.

1987 – A Big Ten Championship & Rose Bowl Victory for the Spartans

The 1987 season brought more changes to the Spartan Marching Band. A fundraising drive throughout the 1986 season, carried out by the Spartan Marching Band Fan Club, the band’s support organization, allowed the band to purchase a giant, 100-foot American flag, which was premiered to the public at the MSU-USC game of Sept. 7, 1987 (this also had the distinction of being the first-ever nighttime game in Spartan Stadium, and was telecast to a nationwide ABC audience). Marching styles continued to evolve, and the Spartan Band utilized some of the newest marching developments, including the concept of “floating drills” (pivot point off center of the field during a rotation).

In the 1987 season finale, MSU defeated Indiana to clinch the Big Ten Championship, sending the Spartans to their first Rose Bowl in 22 years. The Spartan Band flew to California via chartered American Airlines for a week of intense rehearsals and appearances at Universal Studios, Disneyland, Sea World, and the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

The streets of Pasadena were lined with millions as the band rose at 4 a.m. to depart for the starting line of the Rose Parade. The chill of the early morning was soon forgotten as the band performed to high acclaim during the 5.7-mile Rose Parade. A standing ovation greeted the pregame and halftime presentations of the Spartan Marching Band in the 1988 Rose Bowl. Over 300 million viewed the band worldwide during the day’s activities. A Spartan victory frosted this historical day for Spartan fans everywhere.


In 1988, David Catron became Associate Director of the MSU School of Music and head of undergraduate music advising and curriculum. William Wiedrich assumed the title of Associate Director of Bands and the Director of the Spartan Marching Band.