A Military Band is Formed
The University Band began in 1880 as an aid for the drill work of the University of Nebraska Cadet program. Bands in the 19th century were often military bands, and the University was not an exception. The Proud Tradition section discusses this martial trend in bands and the history of marching bands in general. The Cadet Band section addresses the University's band program development in its very early years until it was renamed the R.O.T.C. Band, at which point financial and social factors began to change the role that the band played in the history of the University.
A Proud Tradition
The marching band as we know it today would not exist without the influence of the military. Famously, bagpipes and drums were used for 13th century infantry units (5) but the traditions of pairing instrumentation with martial activity did not begin to set the stage for modern marching bands until the armies of Edward III and Louis XIV took the field (6). In the United States military bands were formed as early as the American Revolutionary War and their popularity as entertainment and sources of local pride continued to grow over the next century (3).
However, most bands at this time were only military in terms of style and technique. "The military-style band chooses a marching tempo which is approximately the same as that used by military units..." writes a 1950s marching band method book. "This type of band strives for dignity and stateliness in the military tradition (4)."
In the late 19th century marching bands suddenly became very popular in the United States. "As colleges and universities sprang up across the land, marching bands were organized," explains Vincent Scurro in his book (3). Many of the forming bands were neither associated with military organizations or universities, being instead sponsored by a town or community.
In Nebraska between 1868 and 1900 there were 36 bands known to have formed. Of these, seven were strictly military bands (such as the Pawnee City Military Band), three were considered to be school bands (among these the University of Nebraska Band), and twenty four were community or city bands (2). Still, while the vast number of bands were not military bands in origin, they would have been considered military in style.
The Cadet Band is Formed
In 1876 the University of Nebraska began a small military department at the request of the War Department. The program was plagued by a lack of discipline and funding from the beginning. Drill practice was optional, as were uniforms, and the Cadets' enthusiasm for attending the non-compulsory drill was understandably low. In 1879 Lt. Isaac T. Webster sought to create more excitement for the otherwise doldrum military drill with the creation of the University's first band. Twelve volunteers with no musical background volunteered and the University of Nebraska Military Cadet Band was created (1).
Very soon the Cadet Band found its services being requested by clubs, political rallies, funerals, and baseball games. By 1883 it became clear that the popular, though rather unmusical, group would need more musical direction and D. F. Easterday was hired as a director for the fledging band. He would serve in that capacity until 1898 (1).
Much of the band's time in the early years was occupied by military pursuits. Drill practice and parades were required of the band, but outside of classes they played at athletic events and local gatherings, often gaining individual compensation for their pains.
After Easterday, the band was directed by several people including Earle Wehn, Mortimer Wilson, August Hagenow, and Claire Brown Cornell (1). During these years the band membership grew drastically and began to take on a much more central part in university affairs. The Cadet band went on away trips, played at football halftimes, and put on free concerts.
Though the functions at which it performed were quite diverse, it was clear during its early years that the Cadet band belonged within the military department. But when the Band was retitled as the R.O.T.C. band, the band's wide circle of activities continued expanding and the military department began weighing the personal benefits of the band for their program against its high financial costs.
The R.O.T.C. Band and Growing Popularity
The University of Nebraska Cadet program was changed forever by the Great War in Europe, World War I. The formation of the Student Army Training Corps posed a threat to the membership and numbers of the Cadets and Cadet band, though the band was still quite active on campus, even raising $400 to support the war effort (1).
December 1, 1918 the R.O.T.C. at the University of Nebraska was born. The war was over, the S.A.T.C. was disbanded, and the government stepped in to send the military program on the right post-war path. In 1919, 97 people auditioned for the previously 27 person band and the R.O.T.C. band's numbers grew almost unfeasibly large for a marching music ensemble at that time (1).
In only a short amount of time, the band which had begun traveling with the football team as a Cadet band became tied to the football team as an indispensable pep organization. The band's on field drill grew from block marching and ragged N formations to words and simple shapes. The R.O.T.C. band was praised as a concert organization as well as an athletic and military one, and its popularity with the campus and state began to grow.
The growing popularity and numbers of the band members, however, began to lead to problems in uniform and instrument procurement. These issues along with pressure from the community to include the band in more travel and distinguished activities, began to place strain on the military department's relationship with the R.O.T.C. band, a strain which would eventually push the band to break away from the military department for good.