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Fall 2022

Strike Up the Band

Newly digitized videos showcase nearly 70 years of musical treasures. By Sean Hargadon

Members of the Northwestern University “Wildcat” Marching Band in the mid-1950s.Image: Evanston Photographic Service. Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives

When Erin Gilchrist started digging through hundreds of 16 mm film and VHS recordings of Northwestern musical performances, she discovered some unexpected gems.  

Take the Second Annual Hoffnung Festival, a spoof of classical music concerts that in April 1980 featured a Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble performance on three vacuums, a floor cleaner and four rifles.  

“That was not at all what I expected,” says Gilchrist, a digital curation and metadata assistant. Her work is part of a more than two-year archival project by Northwestern University Libraries to digitize nearly 400 video recordings of the Northwestern University “Wildcat” Marching Band and other musical performances from 1930 through the late 1990s. It is the digital team’s largest audiovisual undertaking to date. So far library staff have uncovered memorable moments from the marching band’s trips to the 1995 Rose Bowl and 1997 Citrus Bowl, performances at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, and Northwestern Bienen School of Music concerts.  

“It’s kind of a hodgepodge,” Gilchrist says of the footage. “There are scenes of the marching band from games and honors band concerts, and then there’s a video where the conductors and students are showing what it’s like behind the scenes, and then they start dancing with Pez dispensers.” 

Watch the first available videos here.   

Marching Band 1
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 2
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 3
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 4
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 5
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 6
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 7
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 8
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 9
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 10
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 11
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives
Marching Band 12
Courtesy of Northwestern University Archives

While the marching band mastered performances of Broadway showtunes and movie soundtrack classics, jazz standards and Motown medleys, the videos are about much more than the music. In fact, many of the videos have no accompanying audio at all.  

“I’m not a band person,” says project manager Nicole Finzer, a digital projects and outreach librarian. “So when I found out half of the videos in the collection didn’t have sound, I thought, ‘What?’  

“And then I talked to a marching band person, and I was corrected quickly. They said, ‘Oh no, you don’t need the sound. It’s all about the formation and the costumes.’ So apparently for band enthusiasts, watching a soundless video of the different formations is really exciting.” 

The intricate formations, which spelled out words and created images of figures in motion, among other designs, were the signature work of legendary marching band director John Phillip Paynter ’50, ’51 MMus. Paynter played clarinet at the 1949 Rose Bowl as a member of the Northwestern marching band. Four years later, at age 23, he became director of bands —  including the marching band, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and the concert and symphonic bands — and held that post for more than 40 years. He went on to become a beloved professor in the Bienen School of Music, where he taught thousands of students the art of music arranging and conducting. Paynter, who also taught music theory, was later named chair of the conducting department. He died in February 1996. (Read more about John Paynter. 

The videos are part of the University Libraries’ John P. Paynter Collection, and the digitization project was funded by a gift from the John P. Paynter Foundation and a gift from Megan Paynter Anderson ’76 and John Anderson ’76, ’77 MBA. Only a portion of the videos are available to the public due to copyright restrictions.  

 

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Reader Responses

  • As my wife, JoAnn, and I prepare to celebrate our 50th first date anniversary, we find the NUMB video on this site from the Homecoming game on that date in 1972. I was NUMB's drum major for that show and met my future wife on a blind date some four hours later to attend the Sha Na Na Homecoming concert. Thanks for helping us to mark this special day!

    Tom Alexander ’73 Akron, Ohio, via Northwestern Magazine

  • I was the field announcer for the Marching Band from 1957 to 1960 under the direction of the most motivational and engaging person I ever knew — John P. Paynter! That experience, without a doubt, provided the most memorable moments of my college days. I am also the baby-faced announcer in the NU Band classic motion picture, "Strike Up the Band."

    Ed Swanson ’59 Prospect Heights, Ill., via Northwestern Magazine

  • This is cool! I was in the band for five years (1961–65) and spent a good part of my career in the band education business. John Paynter was my main mentor. Go 'Cats!

    Henry Neubert ’65 Bluffton, S.C., via Northwestern Magazine

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