USC’s Arthur C. Bartner, the Spirit of Troy -- and then some
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For many college undergrads, being part of the marching band is less about music and more about community spirit –- it’s kind of a fraternity/sorority for students who prefer to open each school year with Band Camp instead of Greek rush week. Arthur C. Bartner, 71, now entering his 42nd season as director of the USC Marching Band, tells us that students in the USC Trojan Marching Band hail from all majors, including a preponderance of engineering students: “I don’t know why, but there’s a correlation between math [and] music,” Bartner says.
Bartner says that while many music education majors gravitate toward the band, it’s rarely the place for those who aspire to become first chair with a major orchestra. Some of that resistance, he says, comes from private teachers who believe that playing in the band can eat away at precious practice time necessary to beat the formidable competition for every professional symphony seat.
Still, Bartner says, some aspiring performers manage to combine band practice with the demands of pursuing a music major, and those few are invaluable to the band. “They set the curve,” Bartner says. “We don’t have many, but those we have are very, very important.”
A couple of USC music majors who played with the band went on to be principals of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: David Washburn, 52, principal trumpet, and Richard Todd, 55, principal horn player (as well as horn professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami). Both have a variety of musical commitments and are veteran studio musicians who have each performed for hundreds of movie scores (Todd just completed work on the soundtrack for “Mission: Impossible 4”).
Washburn says that his freshman year (1976) band experience with Bartner solidified his intention to pursue a music career. Besides marching, he participated in the USC Concert Band and Bartner’s All-American College Band at Disneyland. His first campus experience was Band Camp, which he called “intimidating, but very fun.” Most of being part of the band, Washburn says, was about developing the skills to become a better person -- but he adds that learning to memorize music and developing the stamina to perform throughout a game has helped him throughout his eclectic career. “When you’ve played a halftime show, you can play anything,” he jokes.
Todd, a freshman in 1973, left the band after junior year because “I needed to get serious about practicing.” He adds that aspiring French horn players need to be particularly careful about participating in a marching band because they are called upon to play the mellophone instead of the horn. “It’s a whole different configuration, it can be damaging –- I tell my horn students to make sure that the horn is the first and last instrument they play every day,” Todd says.
Todd recalls that a major goal of band members was to pull pranks “to see how much we could get the vein on Art’s [Bartner’s] neck to stand out. “ This was the particular mandate of the seniors, who decided on one chilly night to make a bonfire fueled by all the printed copies of the band’s dance drill routine.
Still, when it came time to perform for the crowd, even the seniors would always step up to the challenge. “We knew that we were there to look fantastic at game time –- by halftime, the drummers’ hands were bloody,” Todd says.
Adds Todd, “I look at marching band as a part of my overall college life. Did it make me a better player? No –- but it certainly helped form the type of overall musician I am today.… Art is really one of the great giants of that world. He’s going to be almost impossible to replace.”
-- Diane Haithman
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra members David Washburn, left, and Richard Todd. Credit: Michael Burke