Interview With Larry Austin
- Version 1.1
- Larry Austin
- Tim Castro
- Date of Interview:
- March 6, 1991
- Dave Tanabe
- Date of Transcription:
- May 1, 1992
Tim Castro (TC for the CBHC): I thought today I’ll be sticking pretty much to the questions I E-mailed you if that’s fine with you.
Larry Austin (LA): That’s fine.
TC: I guess we’ll just get right into it. You had written before that you do have your history available at UC Berkeley. I was wondering, perhaps, if you could give me a quick overview of you musical history or your musical life, just really quickly. It doesn’t have to be anything really in detail, just for the record.
LA: David Yuen’s American Composers is the book that has my early background, but briefly it was -- I discovered the trumpet at nine years of age and it became my friend and I then started composing, that is, arranging, for the high school chorus and had a dixieland band and so forth. So I took pretty much a discovery route in music. Improvisation is important in my life but also studying at Texas Tech. University in my sophomore and junior years of high school. I then went on to North Texas State College as it was known then. Now it’s the University of North Texas. I got a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree there, graduating in ’52. I went into the army for two years, nine months and twelve days, serving mainly in San Antonio, Texas where I was an arranger for an army radio show in the 4th Army Band at the same time. We had a studio orchestra with strings and everything, so it was nice duty during the Korean War. Vic Damone, the singer, was in our outfit. And I was composing all this time as well as doing arrangements and I wrote, in fact, my first big serious band work, Fanfare and Procession, then. I had always wanted to go to the University of California, so I went after I got out of the service in 1955, went to UC Berkeley, where, in the summer of ’55, when I studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills and at the same time going to school working on a Ph.D. in Musicology there and had in a sense hung up the trumpet I had played in the army. But a friend of mine, I recall, a composer, had a piece including trumpet, so I was playing it in a rehearsal right next door to Jim Berdahl’s office. He heard me and so I was drafted to be his assistant in the concert band that next semester as a T.A. -- Teaching Assistant. Subsequent to that he created a position, Assistant Director of Bands for Cal Band, and that was when I started writing for the Cal Band as well as being Assistant conductor, conducting at half times and so forth. So that’s basically the background up to that time. Of course I was composing all the time, and then my career as a composer is really, as a professional composer, began around 1958 after I had left the university with my first pieces being performed in San Francisco a the composers’ forum and then on beyond that more widely performed in both the United States and Europe in orchestras and so forth. Is that what you wanted?
TC: Yes, that’s great. That’s perfect. A lot of history covered there. So you pretty much fell into music at an early age then, just playing first then getting more into arranging. Was there anything specific that attracted you to arranging and music theory in general as opposed to performance?
LA: Hmm. Well, I think it was my music making in general. I liked to improvise and liked to make music with other players and found that my own ideas about what should happen were very fulfilling and so I began to be audacious and compose my own pieces and one thing led to another.
TC: All right.
LA: It’s a fairly natural phenomenon for composers to find themselves wanting to make music themselves.
TC: I see. You talked a little bit about -- your first contact with Jim Berdahl and a little bit about the responsibilities of being an Assistant Director for the Cal Band. Like I mentioned before, that’s a position that doesn’t exist anymore, and I was just a little more curious if perhaps there was any more detail to this exact position of Assistant Director. You mentioned you conducted at half time shows and you also helped out rehearsing and arranging.
LA: There was the administration of the band.
TC: Could you elaborate on that a little bit, like what other things were you responsible for?
LA: Well, one thing we did in fall of 1956 which was the first season, my first season with the band, writing and being Assistant Director, was that we had gotten, we had new uniforms for a few years after the disastrous Rose Bowl. A few years before they had gotten a new set of uniforms modelled after the Michigan Band, I think it was.
TC: Ohio State Band?
LA: Was it Ohio State? Actually the Michigan Band has similar ones too, with the cape on the back and everything. And that left the old uniforms which came from the 30’s and 40’s in storage and so forth. As you well know when the band makes its trek to UCLA on special occasion and the Battle of the Bands -- Cal Band and the UCLA Band -- at least it was then, I can’t imagine it’s changed, there’s a great deal of rivalry there, and so the guys on the Stunt Committee came up with the idea that they wanted to have Bermuda shorts and stockings and the whole thing, and do the Southern California number, really something. So they wanted to cut off all the old band uniforms and make Bermuda shorts. Well, my wife did all that sewing, and that was quite a task. That’s one of the things that we did behind the scenes. We also straightened out the library. As I recall, it was in the latrine or in the men’s room before -- at the end of the hall -- and it was a horrible mess, and we straightened it out. A lot of the things and the things that students knew should be done but no one wanted really to get involved in that.
TC: I see. Gosh. So a lot of the really behind the scenes, really dirty work?
LA: That’s right. And of course section rehearsals and things like that. Things that the Director would do.
TC: Now, every section, then, would you participate in every sectional then?
LA: Oh, yeah. We organized sectionals and Jim would conduct one part of the band and I would conduct another, and at some time or another I would usually go through the arrangements for the week that I had made and I would take them through that once and Jim would take over, as I recall. Sometimes he would take it through first and then I’d take it through. But then on the field I would be on one side and I believe the Student Conductor on the other side, or maybe Jim. I’ve forgotten. But I was used in tandem with the Student Conductor quite a lot. There was plenty to do and I was underpaid and overworked and all that, but it was a glorious time. I really enjoyed it.
TC: I see. Wow. So a lot of other things. If I could just go back to something you were talking about before: the rally shorts or the cut offs that you were talking about. Those were the gold uniforms, right? The gold pants?
TC: Yeah, they’re still around.
LA: They’re still around?
TC: We still use them every now and then for rally shorts.
LA: I guess the Straw Hat Band uses them occasionally.
TC: Well, more so for rallies up to the Greek Theater.
LA: Well, they’re good old wool. Lasts a long time. Well, my wife did those and hemmed them up.
TC: Next question had to do with something that came a little bit before your time. Specifically when James Berdahl took over for Charles Cushing. I wonder if you had any information on that or if you remember anything about that time and all the turmoil that was going on in the band at that time.
LA: That was ’55, wasn’t it?
TC: Well, Berdahl took over in ’51.
LA: Oh, that’s right. He took over in ’51. I came in ’55. O.k. He took over in ’51 and well, it was still resonating, the so called disaster Rose Bowl. In alumni minds I’m sure it was a disaster. I think in Charles Cushing’s mind it was not a disaster but simply the new wave coming in and he didn’t agree with it, the way they conducted themselves. He had, I think, an image, really, of an ivy league band, very low key, low profile and marching sedately and so forth. And they were completely blown away by this Ohio State Band, and so I think there was more pressure from the outside than internally. I guess that -- I don’t know the details of the transition between, the sudden transition between Charles Cushing and Jim Berdahl. I think Jim, though, was an Assistant or had some role in the band, and had been a band member, and I suppose had been a Student Conductor and so forth. So he was kind of on the spot as man on the spot and so was tagged to be it. I don’t think that -- by the time I got there the band had restored its reputation, or let’s say, made a new one. They were quite proud of it, and Jim was working hard to redeem the band’s reputation. I don’t think it was such a scandal -- it didn’t last all that long. He took over and did a fine job. I think he knew he was closer to the spirit of the band than Charles Cushing was. It was just two different styles.
TC: So you would say that the general mood of the band by the time you got there was a positive one, then, among band members themselves?
LA: Oh, indeed. Well, they were quite proud of the band, quite proud that they had come through that, in fact, a lot better for it and so forth. It’s like being defeated in war and winning the peace. I think that is what really happened in the Pac Ten there. They were certainly the best band by the time I joined them. The best band, the best show band. Meanwhile UCLA was continuing in the rather more sedate tradition that was more like what Charles Cushing represented. So, I think the Cal Band had a great influence on all the other bands in the conference, for sure, through those years, and now I think, and heightened the competition quite a lot. We weren’t afraid of anyone by the time I was there in 1956.
TC: Do you remember USC at all? How were they then, during that time?
LA: They were Hollywood-ish. They were a good show band, as they are now, I think, and -- not to my taste, but awfully well organized and so forth. The Cal Band, though, looked thoroughly professional in their shows and conception and how things ran and everything. I was very happy to work with the Stunt Committees and Jim and so forth. I think, though, probably the biggest change must have been the ascendancy of the student-run band. I’m sure that was it. By the time I came there I was amazed that, this was the first band I’d ever been in where the students were running every aspect of the production of shows and that the conductor was a, respected certainly, ran the rehearsals certainly, but all the creative aspects were in the student’s hands, some really bright people, and I’m sure they continue to be very bright people. Very creative.
TC: If I could just ask a question. Do you remember specifically, what the officers and offices were during the time you were involved in the band? Right now we have a Senior Manager and Public Relations Director and a Student Director. What were the offices back then?
LA: Well, I think they were about the same. I don’t remember the Public Relations Director, but there was the Manager, and in fact I’m not sure if he was called the Senior Manager. I think he was just called the Manager of the band. There was an Assistant Manager. Certainly the Student Director, and Chairman of the Stunt Committee was a very important person.
TC: And was that person called Drum Major?
LA: No. As I recall there was a Chairman of the Stunt Committee, and that wasn’t the Drum Major necessarily. Separate from -- yes, that’s definitely the case. The Drum Major was on the Stunt Committee but was not the Chair. I remember Bill Colescott was the Chair of the Stunt Committee. He also then became Manager the year following. He was a very assertive guy, very creative. Let’s see, what officers -- secretaries and things like that, but those were the main ones. Stunt Committee was the main thrust of the marching band.
TC: As they are still today.
LA: That’s where all the work was and -- everything revolved around that.
TC: I see. Also, talking about the Executive Committee, the Director is also certainly a member of the Executive Committee, and I was wondering. You’ve already mentioned James Berdahl a little bit in talking about him, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about James Berdahl and some of your impressions of him and any funny stories you remember and general impressions of James Berdahl.
LA: I’d have to think a while to think of a funny story. But I don’t think I can recall, I mean, any funny stories about it. He as a thorough musician and a fine conductor and had a love for band, the medium of the band; was proud of his work with the marching band and with the concert band as well; was highly respected by his colleagues; was very supportive of my efforts and very sensitive of nuance in band music and had very good taste in, for instance, choosing works for concert band or the chamber band to play, and that carried over into the work in the shows on the field. I think it is claimed that he originated the concert formation idea, of giving a concert piece -- performing in a semi-circle and simply playing a piece without standing in any sort of formation. In that time I remember a piece, The Navy Hymn Lita, that I arranged that was particularly stirring and it had a wonderful effect on the audience at the game. The time usually came towards the end of the half time show at the climax, and the fans got used to that particular thing, and they had quieted down, amazingly, and had listened to the music. Bill Ellesworth would be the announcer. He set it all up very beautifully. Is Bill still around?
TC: No. He passed away.
LA: Oh, he did?
TC: Mm Hmm.
LA: Do you know when that was?
TC: No, I’m not sure.
LA: Oh, you know who I’m talking about, though. Anyway, Jim was also a very kind man, very kind to me and Edna, and in a way adopted us as his kind of proteges, we and our children. And we had many wonderful times together, personally as well as professionally. I can’t think of any stories. Maybe something will occur to me.
TC: How would you say he related to students? Or specifically, bandsmen?
LA: Oh, very well. That was my impression. I don’t have any indication from the students, and I was around them all the time, that there was any problem there at all. “Relating” was not a word we used in the ’50’s. That’s a ’70’s - ’80’s word: relating to somebody. Oh, the students had a great respect for him, and a love for him, and that’s the best kind of relationship I think. He was not “one of the guys,” if that’s what you mean. It was an all male band then. He was not necessarily “one of the guys” because of the age difference primarily, but I think that was proper in his role as Director. Oh, not keep his distance, but not be “pal-sie wal-sie” and hang out and all that kind of stuff. That goes into “relating” with the students. That’s not to mean -- that’s not to say he was cool at all, he was a very warm man. But as far as I know everything was fine in regards to the students.
TC: I see. Perhaps you might have heard that now-a- days there’s a lot of friction between the Pac Ten bands, say like Cal and USC. Definitely seems like USC - UCLA and maybe even a little bit Cal and Stanford. How were those relationships -- what were they like in the ’50’s when you were around? Was there a lot of friction as there is today? Or how did the bands relate to each other?
LA: Ha! Now I have some stories to tell. I can tell you a story or two. One I particularly remember, I don’t know if this tradition is still going on or not, but we used to have all Cal, All University Day. Is that still going on?
TC: I don’t think so, no.
LA: When UCLA and Cal play it becomes All University Day?
TC: No. We don’t call it that, it’s just a game.
LA: Well, it was All University Day, and all university bands, including the UC Davis band, UC Santa Barbara band, UCLA and Cal would gather, come together for those weekends, and so it would be four bands, and we would have a combined formation. Of course Cal would do its half time show, abbreviated, UCLA would do theirs, abbreviated, then we would come together for one big formation and so forth. To show unity and so forth. That doesn’t happen now, right?
TC: No, nothing like that.
LA: Well, maybe it began in one year, I think it was 1957. It was at Berkeley that this All University Day was happening, and so we meet at 10:00 o’clock in the morning before the game to have the rehearsal, right? Everyone’s there, and being the arranger for the Cal Band and the host band in charge of the music and show and so forth, well -- There was each of the conductors, then Clarence Sawhill and Jim Berdahl would conduct the combined bands, meaning that here was Clarence Sawhill conducting the Cal Band. It was something else. And also Jim Berdahl conducting the UCLA band, in effect. So their conducting styles were different, and so forth. Well, I was the Assistant Director, right? So I didn’t conduct except they were playing my arrangements in one of three or four arrangements that were mine, including an arrangement of Sons of California that I had made. They had their own arrangement of Sons of California, of course, in the same key, but quite a different style.
TC: Very UCLA?
LA: Right. Any rate, we had provided my arrangement to them so they were supposed to do that, right? O.k. We’ll play my arrangement. So Sawhill gets up and starts conducting, and he has a -- I don’t even know if he’s still alive -- but any rate then and perhaps now he has this unique way of waving his elbows, kind of like a bird. And Cal Bandsmen couldn’t follow him. And so it was getting to be a disaster, and so I thought “Gee, I can help this out.” So I climb up on the tower and joined him up there and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Sawhill, let me address the Cal Bandsmen.” I did this really stupidly, I said, “Now, Cal Bandsmen, his down-beat goes like this,” and I went through this and so forth. Well, this didn’t set too well. My explaining his down-beat not only didn’t set too well with Clarence Sawhill, and not only made Cal Bandsmen kind of laugh, but the UCLA bandsmen were just eclectic (?). They couldn’t stand this, “who’s this guy saying Our band director doesn’t know how to conduct?” So I had put my oar in when I shouldn’t, and of course Sawhill was really angry with me. But then comes the half time and so that moment arrives and they pull a trick on us, and play a different tune during one of the pieces, so there was this cacophony of tunes. Then Sons of California had two different arrangements going on at once. So they played that trick on me there. And it was my fault, it wasn’t Jim Berdahl’s fault. I’ll never forget that. That was one incident -- I think that incident caused the All University Day not to be harmonious. That may have been the end of what could have been a pretty good thing. I remember though, that when I was the conductor, the Director of the Cal Aggie Band after 1958 we did continue to have the All University Day, but I would go down, of course we, or little band the, would join them and I had a different attitude about things at that time, having direct responsibility over things. That’s one incident. As far as the Stanford Band, we hated them, of course, and we thought that they were just a bunch of rowdies and didn’t know anything about band.
TC: So what was their style then? What kind of shows?
LA: Oh, it was a very hang loose, very ivy league. They came out there in their blazers and kind of slouched around and, do a mock half time, and it was just exactly the other extreme of what our big huge productions of “Carousel” and so forth. I remember doing “Carousel” down there one night -- we had props all over the place -- incredible --the Big Game. Oh, we held the Stanford Band in total disdain. Completely. We were the best band in the world. So, that was the feeling then.
TC: A very healthy attitude, then?
LA: Oh, absolutely. As far as USC is concerned, I think we probably always thought that they were kind of toy soldiers. They had such absurd uniforms. And that they marched like little toy soldiers. And there was an incredible chauvinism in the Cal Band, there probably still is, deservedly, I think. That they’re simply the best.
TC: Interesting. If I could just go back to talking about the all UC Day?
LA: All University Day I think it was called.
TC: All University Day.
LA: Jim could tell you what it was called.
TC: I think I remember Bob Briggs telling me a story of how UCLA’s version of “Big ‘C’” came around, and perhaps you remember the Kelly James arrangement of it. Does this ring a bell at all?
TC: O.k. Anyway, Bob was telling me that Kelly James was UCLA’s Assistant Band Director, and so he had arranged a version of “Big ‘C’” very UCLA-ish --
LA: -- That’s right --
TC: -- for them to play and they brought it with them to one of, I guess, one of these All UC Days, and it didn’t hold very well with the Cal Band.
LA: This may have been the incident that I was talking about. I said “Sons of California”, now it could have been “Big ‘C’”.
TC: Oh, I see. Yeah.
LA: It may have been the same thing, yeah.
TC: Yeah, actually.
LA: They -- I think that they pulled a stunt on us and played their arrangement instead of ours. Which is alright. I think that’s what the Cal Band would have done.
TC: Now Bob Briggs was telling me that James Berdahl didn’t like that arrangement, the UCLA arrangement, very much. In fact he wrote letters to the UCLA Band Director asking him to stop using and playing it that way and --
LA: -- Oh, yeah. It was very Hollywood-ish, and wasn’t in the tradition of a fight song that -- as we knew it, as bands would play it. Yeah. I certainly agreed. My arrangements of the fight songs and things were pretty straight forward at that time, probably because I understood that tradition pretty well. I didn’t like Kelly James’ arrangements either. But I guess it fit the L.A. style.
TC: I see. So do you remember any more -- anything else that came out of that incident?
TC: Or is that pretty much it?
LA: That’s about it.
TC: And do you know to this day UCLA still plays that version?
LA: Oh, I’m sure.
TC: Yeah, they still play it and our students hate it and our band hates it. In fact, now we often use it as a spring board for ragging on their band and playing a song in that style to rag on the UCLA Band as being very Hollywood- ish -- with lots of bell tones and very weird chord progressions which was very much of Kelly James’ style.
LA: Oh, that’s great.
TC: So we get a big kick out of doing that. In fact, that was something, one of my little projects, too, that I was able to do, so that’s a lot of fun. Anyway, I digress. That’s very interesting, the whole All UC Day. Talking a little bit more about performance during that time, the emergence of high step was something that was kind of new, it started in the early ’50’s, and you were talking a little bit before about how the Cal Band was very proud of what it was doing and they had a good feeling about it. How did the audiences react to this new high step, and what were your general impressions of the marching style?
LA: Well, it was already well established by the time, it only takes about one college generation for something to become a tradition.
LA: So it had become a tradition, so I simply accepted it. I know from the -- the influences were Michigan and Ohio State, the Big Ten schools -- so I understood that, and I had seen them on t.v. and so forth. You know, I think that in fact it was widely accepted by the fans and they were quite proud of the high stepping and the fast paced marching. I think it was great, it showed a great deal of energy and precision which is so important. It wasn’t controversial at all, at least by that time. It may have been the first season or two. I’m sure that it probably was, ’52 - ’53. You’d have to ask Jim about that.
TC: I see.
LA: It probably was controversial, they probably said that, “Aw, that looks like a bunch of pansies strutting around.” But it was completely accepted by the time I became associated with the band.
TC: I see. How about -- what are your impressions of people trying to play their horns while doing this kind of a marching step? Because it is very physical, and it is very hard to play and that is a problem which still exists today. Do you have any memories of that, of things sounding a little strange?
LA: Oh, they hated my arrangements when they were too hard, because they had all that physical stuff to do. I was just thankful that I wasn’t out there having to play and march at the same time. Oh, gosh, that was probably the challenge and the fun of it, though. I think the woodwinds had probably more trouble than anybody keeping that darn -- keeping control of their instruments -- and I wrote some pretty hard parts for them. The brass seemed to be all right. The drummers loved it. And of course, as I recall, the sousaphones had to do that twinkle. Is that what its called?
TC: Mm Hmm. Yes.
LA: Yeah, they still do that, huh? That’s tough.
TC: That’s a lot to concentrate on --
LA: Well, you know, no one complained about it. I didn’t hear anyone saying, “Hey, let’s don’t do this anymore.” Nah. No, that was the trademark by that time. That was the challenge of being in the Cal Band was -- you knew it was demanding physically and mentally too. They were tough shows as I remember. I’m sure you use computers now.
TC: Actually, no. They’re still done by hand. Although they’re just starting to break that ground.
LA: Oh, really?
TC: Well, not so far as computer generated, but computer aided shows, where the continuity is thought out by a real human and then fed into a computer so he could see what it looks like on the screen -- before -- Well, we’re still kind of dragging our heels, with technology, but that’s fine. Maybe -- I’ll -- More on -- just a few more years. By 1959 you said you had already left Cal and you were already at UC Davis. Is that correct?
TC: As I said in my E-letter, my E-mail letter, 1959 was a real big year for the Cal Band as far as their last Rose Bowl, and the Straw Hat Band went to the NCAA tournament, and there was also the Brussels Tour --
LA: -- That was in ’58 --
TC: Mm Hmm, yeah. But that whole 1958-59 season. A lot of stuff was going on. I was just wondering if you remember any of that or if you were involved in any way either by helping out with your arrangements, or do you remember that specific time?
LA: Yes I do. And I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to join the band in Brussels. It was supposed to be my last hurrah with the band, but it cost each band member, I think, $500 or something, and I had just gotten a job at UC Davis and couldn’t afford the expense of going along with the band. Though I wrote a big arrangement, a medley of all the California Songs --
TC: -- Uh huh --
LA: -- called California Rhapsody. It’s in the files there someplace. Every single fight song and Hail to California and everything is in there in a rhapsodic, overture-style thing that they played in Brussels. I think they played it there. Yeah, I’m sure they did. And so, that was my contribution to that trip, and beyond that I continued to write up until ’64, on through ’63. I continued to write half time show arrangements for them, even though I had a job in Davis. So I was involved in all of those things to the extent that I would come down on a -- oh, whenever it was that they had the first music rehearsal each week -- Thursdays? I can’t remember now. I’d come down, go through the arrangements and then I would often come down to see the show. But my involvement was not nearly as much as it had been before. I had my own band to do half time shows in Davis as well. So I was just an arranger after that, and then I went on sabbatical to Italy. ’64 ’65, and didn’t write for them in that season, and wrote them a letter to say that I wasn’t going to be writing for them anymore. And they called me, the stunt committee called me in Rome, and said, “But we want you to continue in ’65, and so how much would it take?” And so I quoted a price which I thought was an incredible amount of money, $2,000. And I said, “Well, it would take $2,000.” And they said, “O.k., we’ll get back to you.” And so they hired me for the grand amount of $2,000 for a season of arrangements. It would take $2,000 a show for me a few years later that -- so I continued then -- ’64, I mean ’65, ’66. I think probably stopped in ’67 or so, arranging for them finally. So it was a little about -- a little over a ten year period there that I did arrangements for them.
TC: That’s a lot of time in there.
LA: Well, it was. I’d always do the arrangements in August. Meet with the Stunt Committee in August, and spend the month of August making the arrangements, actually delivering the scores to them, and then they hired copyists to do the copying, and that was the extent of it. And there was an agreement that the Cal Aggie Band would get the season afterwards -- be allowed to play those arrangements that I had written. So that provided an enormous incentive for me to provide music for my own band.
TC: I see.
LA: Our half time shows would be the same ones one year later. The same the Cal Band had done.
TC: Sort of like a re-cap?
LA: We were piggy-backing, yeah. I don’t know, that lasted a few years.
TC: I see.
LA: Not too long. There was one other thing that I recall very vividly during that period, that was the High School Band Day. I can’t remember the year it was. I believe it was when I was at Davis. It must have been 1960 or something. This I suppose you still have?
TC: Mm Hmm. Yes we do.
LA: Yeah. Well, I composed a suite for massed bands. It was all original music, and it was published, and, of course, sent to all high school bands that participated and that probably is still in your library there. A published piece of music Suite for Massed Bands And there were -- I composed fanfares for trumpets, 50 trumpets on either end of the rim of the bowl there -- and then they had a processional coming in and several pieces to play. The half time, and then a recessional and so forth. I don’t know how successful it was for the fans, but it was a great thrill for me to do it. It was the only original music that I had composed for the band at any half time. And it was quite radical to compose it, too, to think of all original music for a half time. I remember the Stunt Committee wondering if that would work or not -- accepting the idea. And I enjoyed that experience, hearing 5,000 bandsmen play my work.
TC: Seems like that something, where the bandsmen were sort of spread out, and you were talking about trumpet players on the rim, it sounds like that -- it would be really hard to keep something like that together.
LA: Oh yeah, it was. Well, they played -- I’ve forgotten exactly how we coordinated it, but they would call. One trumpet choir would call to the other trumpet choir and they would respond. And so forth. Seemed to work, in fact I have a recording of it still in my tape library from that day.
TC: Wow. That’s really neat. Well, talking about just writing and arranging and composing in general, I was wondering if you had any memories about arranging Cal Songs. I’m asking you this question more so than like other arrangers ’cause you had more of an influence in this area. Most of the other arrangers today are just arranging stuff for half times, such as rock songs, and things for basketball games. Most of our Cal Song arrangements are older --a lot of them are done by you, and a lot by Bob Briggs. And I was wondering if you had any specific memories about arranging these songs or --
LA: Well, I thought it was a great honor, to be allowed to make a version of it. I can’t remember if I initiated that or whether the Stunt Committee wanted a new arrangement, or whether it was a kind of combination of my willingness and their desire. But I was -- I knew that that was an extraordinarily important thing for the band, and I put great care into making those arrangements. Much more so than I would just a normal arrangement. So if they are still played I’m really pleased that they are. That’s all I remember about it. We were -- it may have been Jim Berdahl that said, “Hey, Larry, why don’t you do a new arrangement of these,” and so forth. It may have been him. I just don’t remember. You know I wrote an awful lot. So when you write an awful lot these things kind of get blurred. I do remember the California Rhapsody which apparently wasn’t played very much after that. But it’s about a ten minute piece. That’s probably the reason why it’s not played very often by the band, too long.
TC: I see.
LA: It needs a special occasion for all those songs to be heard in one piece, but Sons of California, yeah, I recall -- Oh, by the way, I wrote a march for the Cal Band called Men of California.
TC: Uh huh.
LA: It’s there someplace. It’s an original march, I think it was played maybe once. It’s not a bad march. You ought to get it out sometime.
TC: Yeah. Well, I’m writing all this stuff down --
LA: Well. But I’m not sure that the females in the band now would appreciate it. They were very proud to be chauvinists.
TC: You were talking a little before about how you approached a lot of your music for the band and especially Cal Songs as very straight forward. I wonder if you had any more general impressions of how you arranged Cal Songs or specific instrumentation or just how you thought about doing the over all process?
TC: I know that’s a pretty general question.
LA: Well. I had to do things pretty fast. And so you develop a technique for doing things in terms of scoring especially. I could do that right now. I could reproduce the scoring techniques I used then right now. I recall it vividly. I did them so many times. And they really aren’t very special, frankly. What I did was to score in a way that would -- how can I explain it -- that would emphasize the strong points in the band in terms of their abilities and the sounds of the instruments. One of the problems with woodwinds in a band is that they can be a mask completely by the brass, that they don’t really have much of a role there. And unless they’re playing high and fast and trilling -- Oh, I had a lot of that.
TC: Uh huh.
LA: And the saxophones were important in scoring because they gave body to the sound. Trumpets and trombones are of course the main force you have. That’s the infantry of the band for sure, and that’s where the main body of sound comes from in a band, is the brass. And so, I’m a brass player myself, so I guess I have good instincts about how to score for them. So, but if you look at my scores you won’t see anything very unusual. Certainly not like Kelly James. I’m more of a traditional band scoring --
TC: Any special thoughts about the percussion? Or were they pretty straight forward too?
LA: Hmm. I had a lot of fun writing percussion parts, and I think I did a pretty good job with them They’re extraordinarily important in marching band to bring that brilliance of sound, to make it a thrilling experience. Cymbals crashing, bass drums resounding. Extraordinarily important. In the concert band formations that we did we usually had tymps -- I enjoyed having the tympani. Oh, and we had a tam-tam. We always had a tam-tam -- a big tam-tam borrowed from the music department. And tymps. And I always loved to use the tam-tam and the tymps at half time shows --
TC: -- I see --
LA: -- for the various concert formations. But that’s about all I remember scoring.
TC: Very straight forward writing but very clear. Those are at least my impressions. Every --
LA: -- Well, thank you --
TC: Oh, well. Well. They’re very well -- oh, just a lot of practical stuff I try and study just to try and glean some stuff. One thing which is always really nice. At the beginning of each year when the band -- perhaps you don’t know this -- but the band for its first week, the week before school starts, when they’re training the new members, they travel up to Davis for three days of basically band camp. And that’s also where the freshmen are introduced to all the Cal Songs and where its very intensive. Bob really goes through and really works all the parts so they have them sounding right. And it’s also good for the oldmen, too, because they have a habit of getting into lazy habits and not playing them very well. But, Bob likes to go through a Cal Song once with everybody playing, and then start breaking down parts section by section. And your arrangement of Sons of California, which is always the second song in our pregame, he always makes a very special effort to break that down because there’s a lot of distinct lines going on -- Basically, you have the melody. And everybody knows that. And then he always breaks down the woodwind part because there is a lot of, like you said before, a lot of the fast stuff, a lot of the high stuff, a lot of the trilly stuff. And Bob always stresses how this arrangement is a lot different from the arrangement of Big “C” which is all pretty straight forward, all octaves. You know, everybody playing the melody in octaves. And now how you move to Sons of California which has a very distinct line above the melody, of woodwinds moving very quickly. And then he moves to the melophone/baritone part which has a distinct counter-melody --
LA: -- That’s right --
TC: -- which just moves in and out. And then the bass line which has a lot of movement in itself.
TC: And the people get -- oh, and of course the percussion gets to play their part too.
LA: Oh. Well, I’m glad that my works are studied so carefully. It’s wonderful.
TC: Yeah, every year --
LA: -- Yes its true. You’ve picked out all the things in my little formula that I had there. But I took special care in writing that arrangement I recall.
TC: Mm Hmm.
LA: It was so terribly important to the band, that it would be played quite a number of times. All the time --
TC: -- Well, and now it is. Every time the band performs. In fact that’s -- if the band is playing a straw hat, like a Straw Hat performance, that would be the piece they play when they leave. Actually, that would be the very last piece. They would play it, actually, they’ll play the introduction, sing the melody, do the California spell out, and then march out to the music --
LA: -- Oh, that’s great --
TC: -- every time. --
LA: That’s wonderful.
TC: And like I said before it’s always the second song of our pregame.
LA: Gee, you’re making me want to come back and see a half time show or go to a basketball game --
TC: -- Oh you should definitely, we -- and that’s not the only song we still play. We still play a lot of the other Cal Songs and all the other stuff that’s in the library. And every now and then, in a blue moon, it gets pulled out. And there are people like me who scour the library. I was a former -- I was on the Stunt Committee, like you remember, also on the Student Director’s Committee, so I really tried to make an effort --
LA: -- That’s wonderful --
TC: -- and pulling out all this stuff. So which is why I’m also involved in this project. But anyway. Digressing, which is very easy to do with Cal Band stuff. Gosh, we’ve talked about a lot of things, and I know it’s getting late where you are and it’s also getting to be a costly phone call. Oh, wait -- No. I’ll go on. I guess I’ll pretty much wrap it up here, and come back to you and ask if you had any last comments you had or anything which has been in the back of your mind and been dying to tell me about or just any last impressions --
LA: Hmm. Nothing I’ve been dying to tell you about that I can remember. Let me see. I really loved the fellows in the band, and they treated me so wonderfully and had such a high regard for me. I recall that. There was some little movie they did of me once -
TC: -- Oh really? --
LA: -- It must surely be someplace. It was when I was smoking. I quit a few years after that and haven’t smoked since but --
TC: -- that’s good --
LA: -- so I’d be in there smoking away and in fact probably writing arrangements in the Eshellman Hall in that tiny little room I had. And they caught me a few times with things like that. And hanging out with the guys was an awful lot of fun. And the trips. Oh, God, the trips. On the busses and things like that.
TC: So you actually rode the busses?
LA: Oh, yes. Oh yeah.
TC: I heard a lot of good stuff went on in those bus trips.
LA: Oh my God yes. All the songs and everything. Which were, I hope they’re still a tradition.
TC: Oh, yeah. We still have a lot of them. In fact, I was personally amazed when I went to a Brussels Band reunion and people were singing the Bus Drivers’ song and --
LA: -- Oh my gosh --
TC: -- like time warp --
TC: So the stuff prevails.
LA: Yeah, well. And then I suppose there’s my tribute to the Cal Band. I guess must have been I used them as a model in Davis. We got new uniforms not unlike Cal, and it was a co-ed band then, when I got there in ’58. And by ’60 it had become an all male band. The women had voted themselves out. Kind of an interesting situation. And for that decade on into the ’70’s it was an all male band for about 15 years. And then they changed about the mid ’70’s or something like that. About when Cal changed. But if there’s any tribute I can pay to the Cal Band is that I modelled the Cal Aggie Band on them. I had such a high regard for them. I learned a lot there, too. I’ve been in other bands, too, and conducted other bands --
TC: -- I know --
LA: -- but certainly the best experience of that sort that I’ve ever been in --
TC: -- That’s something --
LA: -- Oh, I haven’t conducted bands in a long, long, long time. So that’s ancient history for me.
TC: You were talking about -- it’s a special quality of music that -- whatever you do is always some kind of learning experience.
End Side One
LA: I’m sure something will occur to me later, but, that’s -- as far as the marching band is concerned -- that’s pretty much all I recall. Very pleasant, wonderful experiences through that period.
TC: That’s great. Gosh, well. I guess, what more can you say? I guess I’d like to say I --thanks so much for helping me out in this interview, and it’s been a great pleasure talking to you. I’ve got to personally say I really thought I wouldn’t be able to track you down.
TC: I kind of volunteered myself and it was an -- not an extremely hard process -- but it was just kind of piecing the pieces together --
LA: -- Yeah --
TC: -- and trying to use all my resources.
LA: Well, you prevailed.
TC: But, when you put your mind to it you can uncover anybody, I guess.
LA: Oh, I’d like to have a copy of the final draft of all this history you’re doing --
TC: Oh sure -- I know it’s going to take me a while to transcribe this --
LA: -- I would imagine --
TC: -- so I’ll be happy to send it to you. Please don’t expect it, like, any time very soon.
LA: No, no, no. That’s alright.
TC: But definitely when it’s done I’ll send you a transcript. And I’ll also let you know how our project is coming. Like I said before this is a very, very long term kind of thing, and we really aren’t sure if we’re going to have anything published. That’s our goal eventually, to have some kind of year book, very much like Ohio State put out a few years ago for their centennial. But that’s our final goal. And, but we thought that the most aspect, or the most important goal of this group wold be just to record all this information down before it gets lost and before the people pass away like, unfortunately some people have already have. And -- but just -- we thought it was important to have it written down somewhere in a permanent place. So -- and even if it doesn’t get published into a book.
LA: Well, good for you. That’s great.
TC: Yeah. I -- we -- the Cal Band had their winter concert, their concert band concert, just this past Friday. And I talked to James Berdahl for a little bit and I told him that I would be talking to you. And he says, “hi” and he said he’s doing well and he’s “still kicking.” Those were his --
LA: -- All right --
TC: -- quote so. He had a lot of good things to say about you. So I wanted to make sure I tracked him down and tell him I was talking to you today.
LA: Well, give him my best regards.
TC: Mm Hmm. I see. And an open invitation if you’re ever in Berkeley. I’m sure the Cal Band would love to have you come by and conduct --
LA: -- Oh, well, maybe I’ll do that --
TC: -- yeah --
LA: I’ll be in touch with Bob Briggs or something like that. Is he conducting the concert band as well?
TC: He sure is. He does everything. He is still doing it. So --
TC: Well, thank you so much I hope --
LA: -- O.k. --
TC: -- someday I can meet you again or meet you in person or --
LA: -- All right --
TC: -- talk to you again --
LA: Thanks very much, Tim.
TC: Well, thank you. Bye Bye.