Spring Show logistical rehearsals frequently last late into the night.
Since its first spring concert in 1926, the Cal Band has used spring performances as another outlet for musical expression. These performances have also served to keep the Band together as an organization throughout the year, strengthening the bonds between Band members.
In addition to fight songs and classical music, Band members historically have shown their talents in other types of performance. When the Band needed money for road trips to Oregon and Washington, members formed dance bands and played at benefit dances to raise the required funds. The Band also attempted to raise money when it performed its original musical comedy Take it Away in 1937.
Cal Band Spring Shows include a variety of entertainment, such as Broadway numbers...
The campus held a fall student music festival called the Axestravaganza in a theater in downtown Berkeley, in which different student groups presented musical numbers and were judged competitively. Mike Flier (DM ’61) convinced the Band to participate in the Axestravaganza in 1959 with a noncompetitive act.
The Band volunteered to provide entertainment during the lull after the other acts had all performed and while the judges’ scores were being tabulated. The audience, familiar with the Cal Band of the football field, did not expect what appeared that night: Band members dressed in Russian costume, singing a rousing Russian opera chorus and performing a Russian folk dance. The crowd went wild.
The campus also hosted a “Spring Sing” competition among student groups. The Band began performing in the Spring Sing, with full-scale production numbers. In 1961, the theme was Jamaican, complete with steel drums and limbo. In 1963, Lloyd Amborn (DM ’63) and Gary Massey (’60) helped develop several numbers from West Side Story, using an impressive Manhattan skyline backdrop in the Greek Theater.
As popular as these shows were, the Band presented only about ten minutes of music as part of someone else’s larger show. The Band began thinking about its own possibilities as the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65 beckoned. The Band decided to put together its own full-length show, incorporating the Broadway-style production numbers from the Spring Sings with traditional marching sections, then adding a concert section, a Stan Kenton-style Big Band, a barbershop quartet, and a Dixieland combo.
Billed as Total Band Entertainment (TBE), the show hit Harmon Gym in the spring of 1965 and the East Coast that summer on the American Tour, bringing rave reviews back to Berkeley from as far away as Canada, New York, and Washington, D.C.
After the tour, the Band took a break from TBE for two years. The celebration of the University Centennial in 1968 sent the Band on a tour of California over the spring break with a full TBE production. Upon its return to Berkeley, the Band decided to perform the show for the home-town audience. With some additional numbers and a few changes to accommodate the new Zellerbach Hall, the First Annual Spring Musical Review was performed that May.
The Spring Show has been put on every spring since 1968. The show is usually performed in Harmon Gym, but in 1993, the Band was fortunate enough to perform again in Zellerbach Hall.
“Spring Show gives people the opportunity to do other
things; sing and dance and take part in a variety show.”
-Lindsay Hiratzka (SM ’74)
It is difficult to describe a typical Cal Band Spring Show, because each year the creativity and talent of the Band provide new ideas for show formats. They always include a wide range of performance that allows Band members to showcase their talents for singing, dancing, acting, performing music, and, of course, marching. Shows frequently include numbers from Broadway musicals. Sometimes costumes and props recreate the scene from a musical such as Hello Dolly, which was performed in 1965.
Other tunes are adap-ted to fit the Cal Band in their own special ways. In 1984, the audience saw Band tryouts and heard the prospective Band members singing “I Want This Job” from A Chorus Line. These crowd-pleasers allow Band members to perform solo or in a group. Band members showcase their talents for acting in skits and comedy routines. Individual musical abilities are presented in vocal and instrumental ensembles. The Cal Band Concert Band and Jazz Band also performs.
The year 1971 saw the first use of a Spring Show melodrama, with Dudley Do-Right rescuing Nell as the cartoon’s creator, Jay Ward, watched from the audience. A more comedic melodrama was Raiders of the Lost Axe, presented in 1985, when California Jones spent the first act of the show chasing villains from Stanford and USC who stole the legendary Axe.
The finale is always a marching segment. Because even new Band members are veterans by this point, the most complex and innovative marching shows of the year are reserved for Spring Show. The drills and formations are especially difficult because of the limited stage area and the close spacing between marchers. Technique is critical, since the audience is close enough to see the perspiration on Band members’ faces.
Immediately following the football season, planning begins for the Spring Show. The newly-elected Executive Committee learns to run the Band by producing this show. Band members submit ideas and audition acts for the show as it evolves through the spring semester.
While individual acts are rehearsing, the marching segment is in development. Several weeks before the show, regular marching rehearsals begin on lower Sproul Plaza. This is one of the few times that the Cal Band rehearses in front of a large audience.
After the acts, the bands, and the marching are ready, the Band endures a series of logistic rehearsals. During these rehearsals, the Band works through the entire show including costume and scene changes. These evening rehearsals can last until dawn.
The Spring Show certainly is a new Executive Committee’s trial by fire. The Drum Major directs the show, the Senior Manager produces the show and manages the logistics, and the Student Director coordinates the musical aspects. The Public Relations Director handles publicity and ticket sales, and the Executive Secretary is in charge of personnel.
“I asked the show director one year if he would let me sing
‘Mack the Knife’ because I had just bought this Liberachi
coat at an auction. But to be a part of this band that I had
watched for so long was a real achievement for me. I laugh
when I say that, but it meant a lot.”
-Joe Paulino, camera crew ’76 to present
As the Band set its sights on the EXPO 70 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan, the Second Annual Spring Show in 1969 developed many ideas that were to go on tour. The most spectacular was the lighted vaudeville stage. In those days, the audience sat in the south end of Harmon Gym, in a horseshoe configuration, and the show was laid out as if the basketball court were a narrow, deep stage. The prop vaudeville stage was diamond-shaped with lighted runways. In this first incarnation, the stage itself was simply one-by- three-inch boards painted black. The lights were strings of white Christmas tree lights attached to the boards and plugged together in series. The effect was nothing short of spectacular: the music rose, the master of ceremonies, with a sweep of his top hat, cried, “Gentlemen, take it away,” the runway lights suddenly blazed forth in a dazzling display, and 40 Band members in straw hats, vests, and canes came strutting down the runways to “Hello, My Baby.”
Technological props returned to prominence in 1971 with a twist. The concert section featured “Variations on a Theme: How Dry I Am,” which included variants ranging from the Can-Can to the finale of the 1812 Overture. The Drum Major asked for real powder charges for the cannons. The size of the charge that the fire marshal would allow inside the gym was quite small, however, so each cannon sounded more like a .22-caliber pistol. Still, it brought the house down.
For technological wonders, however, no prop before or since has matched the river boat from the Bicentennial Tour. Its sides were made of retooled pieces of the vaudeville stage with the addition of a pilot house, smoke stacks, and a side paddle wheel which appeared to turn through the sequential lighting of the paddle blades, the speed increasing as “Ol’ Man River” reached its climax. When the river boat pulled out, there was nary a dry eye in the house. With superb marching and musical selections spanning two centuries of Americana, the Bicentennial Tour show may have been the finest of all the Spring Shows.
Joe Paulino was a sophomore drama student at the University of San Francisco when he answered a flyer from the Cal Band, which was looking for technical crew members for the Bicentennial Tour. He traveled with the Cal Band on the Bicentennial tour, and Joe’s talents with lights, sound, and camera equipment have been utilized by the Band ever since. Paulino’s extensive contributions to the Band were acknowledged in 1984 when, at the annual Cal Band awards banquet, he was awarded a Cal Band blanket, an honor reserved for senior members of the Band.
The years since 1976 have not seen the same level of technologically exotic props. The use of rolling “flats,” which provide a backdrop and allow a quick change of scenery, has given flexibility to the flow of the show. In recent years, special group or solo numbers have been developed independently by Band members rather than by the traditional Stunt Committee. Several recent shows have also incorporated a running theme, or gag, to tie the entire performance together.
If anything can be said about the Spring Shows, it is that they have continued to evolve. While they have given thousands of spectators an enjoyable evening of entertainment, they have been even more valuable to the Band itself. The Spring Show gives Band members a creative stimulus and outlet that is unique among college bands and is a considerable part of why the Cal Band can truly call itself a pacesetter.