June 25, 2017

The Falcone Years: 1927-1967

Falcone comes to MSC

In 1927, an event took place which was to have a profound and important effect upon the history of the Michigan State Band: Leonard Falcone was appointed Band Director.

Falcone was to become noted not only as the Michigan State band director but also as the world’s leading euphonium horn soloist. He would remain Director of the Spartan Marching Band for the next forty years.

During his tenure, the Michigan State College of 2,700 students became Michigan State University of under 40,000 students. Under his baton, the Spartan Marching Band grew to 144 members and performed for three U.S. presidents, at the New York World’s Fair, at the 1954, 1956, and 1966 Rose Bowl games, and for countless fans both at home and away. The Spartan Band truly became Michigan State’s musical ambassadors.

The SMB & The ROTC

Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, the band remained part of the college ROTC program and wore military khaki and olive uniforms. Besides playing for football games in the fall, the band performed year-round at ROTC weekly parades and drills, and at public concerts. The band was based in the MSC Armory building, which coincidentally stood where the Music Building stands today. The military parade field occupied roughly the same space that Landon Field occupies today. Concerts were also given in an elaborate band shell that had been built on the banks of the Red Cedar in 1937. The shell stood until 1960 when it was demolished to make way for construction of Bessey Hall.

The Shadows

A word should be said here about the introduction of MSC’s new Alma Mater, “The Shadows”. Arranged by the MSC Music Department Professor H. Owen Reed. It is based on a tune from the Donizetti opera “Lucia di Lammermoor,” with words by former Spartan coach Bernard “Barney” Traynor. “The Shadows” was introduced by the band in 1948, and it replaced the old alma mater, “Close Beside the Winding Cedar,” which had been borrowed from Cornell University. “The Shadows” took its place alongside the “Fight Song” (composed back in 1919 by MAC “Yellmaster” F.I. Lankey) as favorite songs of Spartans everywhere.

MSC Enters the Big Ten

In 1948, Michigan State had been admitted to the Big Ten athletic conference, with competition beginning in fall 1953. MSC firmly took its place in the Big Ten in its very first year of competition: the Spartans won the 1953 Big Ten football championship, and the football team and band went on to the 1954 Rose Bowl. The Band’s trip to Pasadena–by train–was sponsored by the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors. Along the way West, the Spartan Band stopped to perform parades and concerts in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, El Paso, and Tucson.

Following the Band’s appearance in the six-mile Tournament of Roses Parade and at pregame and halftime of the Spartan’s Rose Bowl victory over UCLA, the Band traveled to San Francisco to perform at the Jan. 2 East-West Shrine game. Fans and press lauded the Spartan Band everywhere. On the way home to East Lansing–again 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 6.

The Band’s First Non-Military Uniforms

The Spartan Band donned their first non-military uniforms in 1952, following a two-year fundraising drive by students, faculty, and alumni. These were the first green-and-white uniforms ever worn by the MSC Marching Band. Accented with a decorative white cross-strap, white hat, and green-and-white plume, these uniforms would be worn for the next twelve years.

Falcone had hired C. Oscar Stover as his Assistant Director in 1953 (the band called him “Oscar the Charter” because he ended up charting the drills) to help with the extra work MSC’s busier athletic status brought the band.

MSC Becomes MSU, Roses are Green

1955 brought the celebration of Michigan State’s centennial year–and another big change. After years of debate, Michigan State College’s name was officially changed to Michigan State University, to reflect the new universal goals and responsibilities of this rapidly-growing educational institution.

And what better way to celebrate that new name than with another Big Ten football title? For the second time in three years, the Spartans were on their way to the Rose Bowl. Again sponsored by Oldsmobile, the band traveled to California by train, whistle-stopping for concerts and parades in Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson, Dallas, and St. Louis en route to and from the West. The 130-member band also made a guest appearance on the CBS-TV “Bob Crosby Show.” The Rose Bowl game, held that year on Jan. 2, 1956, resulted in another Spartan victory over UCLA. It was the first Spartan Rose Bowl in 1954 where the now famous “Kick-Step” was first introduced.

Patterns in Motion

In 1960, William Moffit became Falcone’s Assistant Director of Bands. Under Moffit’s drillmanship, the Spartan Marching Band became internationally famous for its distinctive “Patterns in Motion” marching style. A Moffit brainchild, “Patterns in 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 in Motion” would sweep the nation as the new style in marching with college, university, and high school bands everywhere adopting the style.

Spinning the S

But none could quite match Moffit’s special brand of fancy footwork coupled with special musical arrangements (he was later to become famous, too, for his “Soundpower” series of published marching band arrangements, many of which were pioneered by the MSU band). The influences of “Patterns in Motion” are still being felt today, and have led to many more changes in marching band style. Moffit is also credited with inventing the “spinning of the block-S” with which the Spartan Band still traditionally opens its pregame show.

Block-S Uniforms

In 1964, the Spartan Band received new uniforms: a dark forest green with a white vinyl overlay. A large block-S appeared on the front of the overlay, and a shield-MSU on the back. The overlay could be removed, resulting in a concert dress uniform. White hats with green-and-white plumes completed the marching uniforms.

Also, in 1964, the Spartan Band had the opportunity to perform at the New York World’s Fair during Michigan Week activities. Sponsored by Oldsmobile, a delegation consisting of most of the bandsmen traveled to New York to give concerts at the Fair, at Rockefeller Center, and at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. For the first time, the Band traveled by air in converted cargo planes.

Falcone steps down, Begian is Hired

In 1967, Falcone’s 40 year tenure as director of the Spartan Marching Band finally came to an end, and Harry Begian became the sixth director of the band. Begian stayed on as SMB director for the next three years, until 1970.

In 1969, William Moffit left MSU to become Director of Bands at the University of Houston. Joe Parker was named Assistant Director of Bands by Dr. Begian in the 1969-70 school year. He left in the fall of 1970 to become the band director at Royal Oak Dondero High School.