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Bill Plaschke

Red-Leather Day

The Stanford Band has long been a noteworthy group, even if the notes that come out of it aren't considered worthy by many on the campus.

January 01, 2000|Bill Plaschke

You should read books by noted thinkers Hermann Hesse and Martin Heidegger.

You should keep up your grade-point average among a group whose average SAT score was, at most recent count, 1,510 out of 1,600.

You should be resourceful enough to pour that intelligence into something other than a book.

Every song played by the Stanford Band is arranged by one of its members, unlike most bands.

Every script and formation is also designed by band members, even if the weeklong discussions sometimes result in disharmony.

"I once got into a fistfight with another member over whether we should form a semicolon or a colon," Spartacus explained. "He was grammatically incorrect."

When they do actually play, well, it doesn't sound that terrible, perhaps because the new musicians undergo intense training, and partially because the band also has musicians who turned down band scholarships at other schools.

Joey Pritikin, a mellophone player who turned down a chance to attend Julliard, said he chose Stanford because, "It just felt like me."

Spend an afternoon with members of today's most important team, and that is the feeling you get about all of them.

For all of its politically incorrect blunders, the Stanford Band remains a unit of bright and witty kids who can discover and expand themselves in an environment where they are neither outcast nor nerd.

For all the criticism--much of it well-founded--the Stanford Band remains something that seems not merely fun, but necessary.

"The anti-band," Meagher said.

The school seems to also recognize this, leaving the band to run itself while fending off critics.

"Juxtaposed with the reputation of the university, the reputation of the band is so different, it makes them seem more strange," said Bob Carruesco, assistant athletic director. "But while they are not under our control, they are not out of control."

Carruesco hears the criticism from half of the school's alumni, and the overwhelming praise from the other half.

"On one hand, they make us wince," he said. "But on the other hand, that's their style. This is a way for the Stanford students to poke fun at themselves and society."

Take the tree.

It's the school's mascot only because, when forced to drop "Indians" as a nickname for sensitivity reasons, a couple of band members pulled it out of nowhere while in a sort of think tank.

"They were driving down the road, thinking about mascots, and passed a McDonald's, and very nearly picked, 'French Fries.' " Henderson said. "But then they saw some trees, and thought that would work even better."

The Tree--it changes shape and style every year, depending on how the bearer wants to build it--runs around the Stanford sideline, doing silly cheers and striking silly poses and acting very unlike a mascot.

"Hey, I'm not going to be like these other mascots and try to fool the people into thinking I'm actually a bear or something," said Meagher, who dresses as a palm tree, but with arms and legs. "I mean, I'm just a guy with a tree on his head. Nothing more, nothing less."

You wonder, is the tree hot?

"Well," Meagher said, "I consider myself reasonably attractive."


Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:

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