Roses and Thornslink

Rose Parade 1938

Tournament of Roses Parade, 1938.

In a way, the next era of the Band’s history began on New Year’s Day 1938, when the Golden Bears played the University of Alabama in the Rose Bowl. The Band arrived by train the night before and attended a New Year’s Eve party in its honor thrown by Band member Charles Warren (’36) at his parents’ Glendale home. One hundred and forty-five members strong, the Band marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade along with nineteen other marching bands. That afternoon, the Golden Bears dominated the Alabama Crimson Tide 13-0.

World War IIlink

“I will never forget the embarrassment of trying to play the Star Spangled Banner, in the middle of a football stadium full of people, with a dozen instruments”
-Don Griffith (’44)

Lying on the field

Lying down on the field, a popular effect before the war, came in handy during the war when the Band's numbers decreased.

With the outbreak of World War II, the size of the Band dwindled as the male population on campus decreased. Most able-bodied men on campus were involved with the Navy’s V-12 program, an accelerated program that lasted two-and-a-half years and culminated in a degree and a commission in the Navy. The Army had a similar program. As a result, by 1944 the size of the Band had fallen to thirty-five, the smallest since 1923. During the war, there was continued pressure to admit women, but the Band’s student leadership continued to veto all attempts to allow majorettes or coed musicians into the Band.

Cal Band 1943

The size of the Cal Band fell dramatically during World War II, as seen in this 1943 portrait.

In 1944, Professor Cushing left on sabbatical, and former Student Director Alcide Marin took over as Acting Director. During this term, Marin told the younger Band members about the Band and school spirit before the war to keep the lore and traditions of the Band alive.

After the war, the Band grew again. By 1946, it had almost returned to its prewar numbers. The ranks of the student body and the Band were swollen with veterans on the GI bill, which covered tuition, books, and a $75-per-month stipend. This situation created two distinct classes of students: those of 1941 and 1942 who had gone off to war and were now returning to finish their education, and freshmen straight out of high school. The general spirit on campus was greatly influenced by the returning GIs, who had seen much more of life than the 18-year-old freshmen. These older students worked hard and studied hard, but they also played hard and partied hard. On nights before football games, students often held street rallies along fraternity row and started bonfires in the middle of street intersections. For example, in 1946 Bill Fay (SM ’47) was arrested at a bonfire on the corner of Channing and Piedmont while playing his trombone and driving sixteen Band members in his jeep.

Cal Band 1947

The 1947 Band was filled with veterans going to school on the GI Bill.

One hundred men signed up for the Band in the fall of 1947, and they continued the spirit and antics for which the Cal Band was so famous. On one occasion, the Band joined a group of 150 student rooters in a cruise across the bay on a Naval Reserve sub-chaser to greet an arriving cruiser task force. The students proudly displayed a banner reading “Beat Navy” in an effort to stir up some rivalry for that Saturday’s California-Navy football game. On the way back to Berkeley, the ships passed Alcatraz, and the Band started to play “If I had the Wings of an Angel, I would Fly Away,” hoping some of the prisoners might hear.

By the end of the 1948 season, there was much celebration in Berkeley. Under the leadership of Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf, the Cal football team received its first Rose Bowl bid in eleven years. Unfortunately, the Rose Bowl game itself was a heartbreaker: Cal lost to Northwestern by a touchdown which game films later showed to have been invalid. The Cal Band also received some mild criticism in the Daily Californian: “We’re afraid the Cal Band, though it looked good today, is definitely second best to [Northwestern].”

The Rose Bowl “Fiasco”link

“We were so far outclassed. I remember going over to talk to [Ohio State’s] Drum Major and they were very stiff and formal. We did find out that they had a curfew the night before-I think some ridiculous hour like nine o’clock.”
-Bud Barlow (DM ’49)

New uniforms 1949

Old and new uniforms are compared in 1949.

After three years of pleading and persuading, the Cal Band received funding from the ASUC for new uniforms in 1949. The uniforms debuted mid-season at the UCLA game and were intended to give the Band a new, snappy look. The Band attempted to improve its performance quality as well, and it began experimenting with “Poop Sheets” which showed each Band member his precise role in the show. Without question, the 1950 Rose Bowl game, which pitted the Cal Band against the famed Ohio State Band, proved the most important event in the history of the Cal Band since 1923.

Rose Bowl 1950

The Cal Band performs its 1950 Rose Bowl half-time show while the Ohio State Band looks on.

On January 2, the Band was in a jovial, good-natured mood when it arrived at the Rose Bowl following the long parade. The Ohio State Band, resting in the stadium tunnel after the long Rose Parade, was jeered by the Cal Band for having no spirit. The Band filled the tunnel with anti-Ohio yells and chants. Suddenly a whistle sounded, and the Ohio State Band snapped to attention. The Cal Band roared with laughter, comparing the Buckeye aggregation to a bunch of tin soldiers and marching around stiffly to make the analogy more vivid.

With a driving drum cadence, the 120-piece all-brass Ohio State Band burst onto the field. The audience was theirs. When the California Band, by comparison, shuffled out at pregame, it became painfully obvious that the two bands did not belong on the same field. Nonetheless the Cal Band persisted. At half-time the Band performed a variety of subtle stunts saluting both Rose Bowl participants and pointing to California’s 1921 Rose Bowl victory over the Buckeyes, but without an announcer these stunts were completely lost on the audience. The Ohio State Band countered with brassy selections from Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and ended the performance with their traditional Script Ohio.

In the weeks following the Rose Bowl, criticism of the Band spread beyond the Berkeley campus and appeared in many newspaper editorials. University President Robert Gordon Sproul was quoted saying, “That band smells.” Professor Cushing resigned under fire after sixteen years as director, and the student governing system itself was threatened. After Professor Cushing resigned, the Music Department was asked to provide the ASUC with a new Director for the Band. Coincidentally, James Berdahl (SD ’38) was returning to Berkeley to work on his doctoral studies in music. Looking to be a graduate assistant, Berdahl approached the Music Department Chairman, Albert Elkus, and requested a position in Music 27 (Music Appreciation). Instead, Professor Elkus convinced the reluctant Berdahl to serve as acting Director of the Cal Band until the department could find a permanent replacement for Professor Cushing. Berdahl became permanent Director of the Cal Band at the end of the following season.

Excerpt from Cushing’s Resignation Speech
January 9, 1950link

“Commercialism and professionalism has been accorded a larger place in band work and the band’s initial function- namely, to perform music-has been superseded on the Berkeley Campus. I have clung to the seemingly outmoded belief that a band is a musical organization primarily. Concessions have been made, but the final outcome admits no compromise. Visual appeal, show, spectacles, and swing are apparently what is wanted. I am convinced these things can be obtained at a price reckoned in terms of dollars and at the partial though probably complete forfeiture of student control. It stands to reason that an undergraduate drum major responsible for originating plans and rehearsing the marching maneuvers cannot successfully compete with a staff of professional drill masters such as are found at those institutions which our student body seemingly wishes to emulate.”
-Charles C. Cushing

The Band Recoverslink

The Band withstood the onslaught of public criticism, gathered strength from unity, and became determined to improve itself. The atmosphere in Room 5 Eshleman was tense as the Band felt itself under siege by the press, the University, and the student body. Some Band members fiercely resented the public criticism and were determined to preserve all of the traditions of the Band. Others saw the opportunity to improve and modernize the Band’s appearance while still preserving the spirit and camaraderie that made the Cal Band special.

An article about the University of Michigan Band appeared in the October 30, 1950, issue of Life and made a great impression upon the Band. The descriptions of the Michigan Band, its uniform, and its marching style provided a blueprint of the sort of marching band that the Cal Band hoped to become.

New uniforms 1949

Art Robson shows off some of his stick technique, 1951.

In January of 1951, the Cal Band had the opportunity to see the Michigan Band perform, as Cal played (and lost to) Michigan in its third consecutive Rose Bowl game. Although the press again ranked the Cal Band’s performance as second- best, the Band did receive praise for creativity and spirit. For the 1951 season, the forty newly-recruited Band members were indoctrinated for two days at the Cal Band’s first preseason training program. The Executive Committee also was reorganized that fall, and under the new structure the Drum Major, the Student Director, and the Student Manager shared the responsibility for show creation and music selection. Recruiting also played a significant part in the Cal Band’s agenda in 1951. Large, colorful posters were displayed on campus to attract new members, and the Band invited twenty high school bands to perform in a massed band formation at the Oregon State football game, the first High School Band Day.

Unfortunately, the Band continued to receive controversial publicity. In 1952, the Cal Band traveled to the Los Angeles Coliseum for the game against the USC Trojans. The Band showed its creativity as it marched a formation in the shape of a mint julep and played “My Old Kentucky Home” while tap dancing. The finale to the show included an explosion of firecrackers for which the Band had not obtained a permit from the Fire Marshal. Berdahl and Drum Major Bill Pippin were escorted off the field in front of the entire crowd and taken to a police trailer. After several hours of interrogation, the two were released, but pictures of them in police custody appeared in the morning newspapers.

Room 5link

One former Band member recalled that, upon entering the Berkeley campus for the first time in 1985, he had some trouble finding the Band room. He asked three students for directions, but not one could tell him exactly where it was. They all guessed: “I think it’s somewhere over there...” This problem did not exist in the 1930s. At that time, the Band room was located in Room 5 Eshleman Hall, across from the Stephens Student Union, in today’s Moses Hall. The entrance to Room 5 opened onto Eshleman Court (now Class of 1925 Court), which was the Sproul Plaza of the campus’ younger days and the center of campus student life. Because the Band room was on the principal thoroughfare of campus, everybody on campus knew where the Cal Band was.

Although Eshleman Court was the bridge between the Band and the rest of the world, Room 5 itself was accessible only through a single door and the campus regarded it with a degree of mystery and even suspicion. Only Band members knew what went on behind that door-visitors did not enter unless invited.

Room 5

When rumors spread that the Band was responsible for a strange decrease in the quantity of street signs around the Bay Area, even the police declined to enter through the Band’s portals to investigate. Instead, Director James Berdahl convinced the likely culprits to return of the signs to the police on neutral territory (The students had harvested approximately 250 signs, but contemporary accounts do not reveal how many were returned.).

So, what did lie beyond the mysterious door to Room 5? From an interior decorator’s point of view, not much. During the 1930s, when uniform manager Chris Tellefsen stored Band uniforms in the cap and gown room of the Student Union, Room 5 contained little besides lockers and showers. Students coveted the shower room for sectional rehearsals because of its echoing tiled floors and walls.

Eventually the lockers were pushed aside, and a table and old sofas were added. This significant point of evolution in Band culture facilitated a new pastime, “Cal Band Poker.” Games of continuous poker lasted from 8 am until the wee hours of the morning. Some students never went to class when a deck of cards was on the table. Following parental complaints, “Cal Band Poker” was replaced by “Cal Band Bridge.”

Bridge games held sway from 1935 to 1939, but then the Band, hungry for more, introduced the ping-pong table. Games were deadly serious, and the paddle marks of furious losers pocked the table’s edges. When the loss of ping-pong balls became a major administrative issue, Bill Colescott (SM ’54) took charge of the situation by crafting a ping-pong ball vending machine from a locker, a $.25 coin feeder, and a ball rack.

As one walked into Room 5 and turned left, a scruffy table and chair were immediately visible. In this very first Cal Band office, an old crank telephone hung on the wall with a direct hookup to the ASUC switchboard. By 1953 the office needed expansion, so Senior Manager Wayne Henderson introduced major new resources, such as a filing cabinet and a ditto machine. The evolution was greeted with disdain by some older Band members who complained that it was “too organized.”

By today’s standards, Room 5 was a health hazard. The concrete room was too small to function as a locker room, office, and shower/rest room facility. Before a football game, the room seethed in turmoil with instruments, uniforms, and bodies everywhere. If a disaster had struck, the only exits were the single door and three windows quite a distance from the ground. Nonetheless, the Band members of the time loved the rustic atmosphere. The room had esprit de corps and a homey feeling.

Without a doubt, Room 5 had a clubhouse mystique. It hosted no strangers and was shared with no other musical groups. Since the student office was not separate from the rest of the room, the Band members had direct, convenient contact with their Executive Committee, even as the committee was trying to do its work. Still, for all of its positive aspects, Room 5 was not adequate for the growing Band’s needs.

In 1960 the Band facility moved from the Eshleman-Stephens area to its current location in the Golden Bear Center beneath the “Plaza” Restaurant/Dining Commons.

A New Look in 1954link

1954 in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles for the 1954 USC game, Drum Major Bill Isbell leads the Band in front of the Biltmore Hotel.

The fall semester of 1954 was highly successful for the University of California Marching Band. With the purchase of 120 new uniforms and the adoption of a more democratic Band Constitution, the spirits of Band members were ripe for the institution of new marching techniques developed by Drum Major Bill Isbell and his staff. New techniques included twinkling, flying turns, eight-per-five marching, a standardized pregame show with the new “Golden Bear Fanfare,” rolling spell-outs, fast-moving shows, and a popular Script Cal formation.

In addition to the new uniforms, the ASUC purchased for the Band a new field tower, plastic folios, locker locks, and a complete music rack with individual slots for each Band member. Bill Colescott (SM ’54) rearranged the lockers to achieve more efficient use of space. Colescott also spent his summer constructing award shelves and a display cabinet in the Band office, painting the lockers, and changing the old shower room into a library and storage room.

1954 Cliftons Cafeteria

The Band plays from the balcony inside Cliftons Cafeteria.

Although new uniforms helped motivate the Band to make improvements in other areas, the progress of the Band was mainly the result of the industry of its members under the leadership of innovative student officers. Band members considered traditions of the past when making changes, but they were not so bound to these traditions that change could not occur. Marching proficiency gained new importance, yet the diverse activities and social functions associated with the traditional California Band continued to be important. The Band’s growth and improvement was best measured in the amount of time and work spent by the officers and Band members in planning and executing their duties. By 1956, the Band’s new style was firmly established.

In the stands.

Although the ordinary observer saw only the finished product on the field, he or she did not necessarily know that the Cal Band’s organization and governance differed from those of the bands of other universities. The Cal Band was doing with students and one professional director what bands of similar caliber did with a full-time professional staff. To help relieve the pressure from its student officers, the Cal Band hired a full-time assistant director, Larry Austin, for the fall season of 1956.

Marching in Memorial

The Cal Band’s quality, size, and scope had expanded very quickly in a short period, and the existing administrative and social structures of the Band were showing signs of strain. Band members, especially the student officers, were having academic trouble because of their time commitments to the Band. Also, the Band members’ morale was beginning to drop because most of the twelve-and-one-half hours they spent with the Band each week was spent in intense marching rehearsals. This was not a time for the recreation or social activity that had been a large part of rehearsals before 1950.

James Berdahl, Director 1950-1971link

James Berdahl

James Berdahl (b. 1914) entered the University of California in 1937 as a junior transfer student. Although Berdahl’s primary instrument was the violin, he also played the sousaphone. He joined the Cal Band, marched in the 1938 Rose Bowl., and was elected Student Director for the 1938 season. He graduated that December with highest honors in Music. After a year of graduate study at Berkeley he received a scholarship to attend the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied under famous musicians such as Eugene Ormandy. In 1941 he became the Director of Band and Orchestra at the University of Virginia. After a stay in the Army from 1943 to 1946, he returned to Virginia where he remained as Assistant Professor of Music until 1950.

Berdahl returned to the University for graduate studies and was convinced by the Music Department to serve as acting Director of the Cal Band in 1950. He was appointed Director of Bands in 1952. He was instrumental in helping the Cal Band develop into a high-stepping show band, and he also helped develop the concept of Total Band Entertainment in 1965. Berdahl directed the Cal Band on its tours in 1958, 1965, 1968, and 1970.

Room 5

In 1964, the ASUC appointed Berdahl to be the Director of Student Musical Activities. Berdahl took sabbatical in 1971 to study in Japan, where renewed friendships made during the 1970 trip. He taught classes and directed several Japanese university and military bands and orchestras. He returned to Cal in 1973 and continued to serve as Director of Student Musical Activities until his retirement in 1977. Every year since, Berdahl has returned to Memorial Stadium to conduct the joint Cal-Alumni Band on Alumni Band Day.


“There were a lot of people at the fair that day, all wanting to see Sputnik. They wanted to see the latest space thing. Then up the steps comes the Cal Band. Those people just came back down, and we had a whole pied piper parade.”
-James Berdahl

During the winter of 1957, James Berdahl received a letter from the State Department soliciting the Cal Band’s interest in representing the United States at the Brussels World’s Fair the following summer. He almost threw the letter away several times but finally decided to show it to the Executive Committee.

The Ex-Comm decided that they wanted to raise the $100,000 needed to fund the trip. Fund raising and planning occupied substantial time in the students’ schedules in the spring of 1958. Their first venture was a “playathon” in San Francisco where they played “Night and Day” (musically and literally) to raise money for the trip. They arranged shifts and shuttled players back and forth between Berkeley and San Francisco at all hours. They may have gotten some publicity but not much money. They performed a concert at the Greek Theater, but that was sparsely attended. Chuck Hall, a friend of the Band, suggested that they have a concert in Hillsborough for the Countess Remillard-Dandini. Success of the concert seemed to be guaranteed because she was the social leader of the town and no one would dare miss the event. As it turned out, the Band members performed a great concert in full uniform under blue skies for about four people.

Ralph Edwards

Ralph Edwards tells the Band that they have received donated transportation to New York. The episode was filmed and shown on Truth or Consequences.

The trip was saved by TV personality (and former Cal yell leader) Ralph Edwards. Edwards arranged the Band’s transportation to New York on Continental Trailways in exchange for advertising time on his coast-to-coast TV show, Truth or Consequences. The Band found out about this gift on a nationally televised episode of Truth or Consequences. Under the guise of a televised plea by the Band to raise the necessary funds, Edwards met the Band on the steps of Wheeler Hall, asked a few questions to make the event seem legitimate, and then let the Band in on the secret as three Trailways buses pulled up in front of them.

painting buses

Painting buses for the trip to Brussels.

It was a long trip, especially with one of the buses constantly breaking down. They flew to Europe with several delays at different airports along the way, but eventually they made it to Brussels.

Basses at American Pavilion

The Basses perform a square dance to “The Farmer and the Cowman” from Oklahoma in front of the American Pavilion.

The Brussels Fair was held on the Royal grounds. The United States pavilion was located behind a reflecting pool which faced the Soviet pavilion. The U.S. pavilion had been the subject of much criticism at home because it compared poorly with the Soviet pavilion. The Soviets drew lots of attention with their Sputnik exhibit, but the criticism stopped the day the Cal Band stole the show. The Band marched up to take its place for a concert in front of the pavilion. People started pouring down the huge steps of the Soviet pavilion to see the Cal Band. A marching band was something so out of the ordinary for the Europeans at the fair that the Band was an immediate hit. The Soviets filmed the Band’s performance for Soviet television and later in the week invited the Band members to the theater in the Soviet pavilion to see the film.

Marching in World's Fair

The Band marches through the grounds of the 1958 World's Fair.

The Band performed concerts in front of the pavilion and field show routines in an area known as the Esplanade. There were two shows-morning and afternoon-every day. Bill Ellsworth announced the shows in English and then a Belgian announced them in both of the official languages of Belgium, French and Flemish. Before their last show, the American pavilion management threw a reception for the Band to show its appreciation for the attention that the Band had attracted.

“The guys in charge of the American pavilion had been under some strain because of criticism in the American papers about not doing well in attendance. We showed up there in the end of June and started bringing them in by the hundreds, away from the Soviet pavilion. They were just grinning ear-to-ear.”
-James Berdahl

After the week of the fair, Band members had five days free to tour Europe. In assorted groups, the Band scattered across Europe. Just about everyone made it back to Brussels on time, except for one person who met the rest of the group en route to their next destination.

Hamburg children

School children in Hamburg were fascinated with the Cal Band.

In Hamburg the Band put on a field show for some German schoolchildren. The next stop was in the Rebild National Park in Aalborg, Denmark; the large contingent of Danish- Americans who lived in that area held an annual Independence Day celebration on the fourth of July. After Rebild came Copenhagen, where the American ambassador held a reception for the Band at his residence. The Band performed at various places in Denmark, including the world-famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and then returned to Brussels for the trip home.

Eiffel Tower stunt

Eiffel Tower, 1959.

Painted buses

Painted buses, 1957.

Script Cal, 1954.

Script Cal, 1954.

Big Game, 1958

Big Game, 1958.

Drummers 1957

Drummers in Memorial Stadium, 1957.

By the time it reached New York, the Band was practically famous: it was summoned to a reception to be given in its honor in Washington, D.C. by Vice President Richard Nixon. Understandably, the Band extended its trip back to Berkeley far enough to pass through the nation’s capital. Everyone may have been exhausted, and frayed nerves and short tempers were common on the bus ride home to Berkeley, but the trip’s benefits to the Band far outweighed the personal inconveniences. The trip was perhaps summed up best by Larry Augusta (’57): “I think we were great ambassadors for the University and for the United States. I think we added greatly to the prestige of the Cal Band.” Following the Brussels Tour, the Band of 1958-9 opened FTP with almost half of its membership being rookies. With Pete Elliott in only his second year as football coach, it was a surprise that Cal topped the conference with a 6-1 record and got a Rose Bowl bid.

Edwards given blanket

Hugh Barnet (SM ’58), Oski, James Berdahl, and Chapman Dix (DM ’58) present a Cal Band blanket (an honr normally reserved to fourth-year Band members) to Ralph Edwards, 1958.

Four years into its Big Ten-style uniforms and the attendant change in marching style, it was an opportunity for redemption from the recent Rose Bowl performances against Ohio State and Michigan. The Hawkeye Band was slightly smaller (120 versus Cal Band’s 128), but Iowa was supplemented at half-time by the 80-member Scottish Highlanders. To live within its $8000 budget, the Band traveled south by bus overnight to stay in Long Beach. Appearances prior to New Year’s Day included the televised Truth or Consequences, an Ambassador Hotel lawn performance, and a major Cal rally at Pasadena Civic Auditorium. At the Rose Bowl, the Band’s pregame highlight was the formation of a flower pot, from which a stem emerged and grew toward the California rooting section. When it reached the section, a gigantic rose was formed by a card stunt, a very dramatic effect.

In shorts 1957

The Band practices for the All-University Game in Los Angeles, 1957.

Cal-Navy 1957

The Band performs Melita (the Navy Hymn) at the 1957 Cal-Navy game.

The Band began the half-time performance with an innovative “Times Square” marquee which gave the half-time score (which unfortunately was SUI-20, Cal-0). Formation of a flag with one star saluted Alaska’s admission to the Union, followed by an ink pot and pen moving on to form “Kerr” as a salute to the new UC President. The concluding stunt borrowed the most popular stunt from Brussels, a block band performing a dance routine to “Steam Heat.”

At last the Cal Band had edged a Big Ten band and received wide acclaim in the Rose Bowl before a national TV audience. In spite of the football game loss, Band members thought this was a wonderful way to end the 1958-59 year. (Of course, the basketball team had just begun its season and the end wasn’t written quite yet!)

The Band had regained the confidence that had been shattered at the start of the decade. Moreover, capitalizing on the crucial changes in structure and appearance that had been forged, the Band was about to embark on a whirlwind decade filled with some of the most remarkable changes in the its history.

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