Prior to the 1973-1974 school year, the RPI Pep Band was run by a salaried manager rather than by student managers. The one and only non-student manager was A. Olin Niles, the arranger of the “Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer” chart that the Pep Band still plays.

From a 12/2/81 issue of the Poly:

“At its founding in the early 1920’s, the band had eight members and often had to hire professionals to complete an orchestra. Today, the band fields 76 pieces including 38 woodwinds, 32 brass, and 6 percussion instruments. The roots of the band can actually be traced back to 1923, when a local musician named A. Olin Niles organized the school’s second musical group (the Glee Club had been formed about 45 years earlier.) Mr. Niles had been performing in the pit of the American Theatre in the days of silent films. The President of the Union asked him to start a music program at the Institute, and Mr. Niles complied. As the talkies (modern movies) came into being, orchestras such as the one at the American became less popular and Niles was able to devote more time to the Engineer ensemble. In the early days, the band not only played at athletic events, but also gave concerts and played at dances. The group performed for the lacrosse, hockey, basketball and football teams, and would play not only the RPI school song, but also the alma mater of the opposing squad. In 1954, when the hockey team won the NCAA championship, the band took two busses and greeted them at the airport. Membership grew and through the years players broke off to form other musical groups. Niles, who was a big fan of the marches of Sousa, Goldman, and others, retired in 1973 after 50 years of service. Now 88 and living in Troy, he remains an avid fan of RPI sports.”

What Was It Like Back When We Had a Salaried Manager? (1960’s)
(Thanks to George Harrison ’70 for these memories)

Forward, March!

During the 1960’s, RPI’s band was a marching band, in addition to being a pep band. Of course, it didn’t do any marching during hockey season, but it performed halftime marching routines at every home football game and participated in an occasional parade.

Fight Song

Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer” was the fight song in the 1960’s, and it consisted, as it does today, of an introductory fanfare, an eight line refrain, a four line interlude, and a repeat of the eight line refrain. However, there were some differences in how it was performed.
The fight song used to be played noticeable more slowly than is the case today. Basically, the marching band of the ’60’s played the fight song at the same speed as that at which they marched. They would have worn out pretty quickly if they had tried to march at the tempo at which the fight song is played today.

In the 1960’s, the band would play the fanfare and the eight line refrain, as it does today, but would then sing the four line interlude, rather than playing it instrumentally. The only band members who played their instruments during that interlude were the drummers, who rattled through a drum solo during the line “Hear the rat-tat-tat of drums that beat.” After singing “Hear that might shout of”, the band members would bring their horns back up and play the refrain for the second and final time.

After Olin Niles’ retirement, there was a period of a year or two when the interlude was dropped entirely, so that the fight song consisted of the opening fanfare followed by the refrain being played twice straight through. Eventually, the interlude was restored as an instrumental version, and it has remained that way since.

At some point someone updated the words of the fight song to make it more politically correct than it was back in the 60’s. Now, the fourth line is “We all must do our part” and the fifth line is “True to old Rensselaer.” In the 60’s, the fourth line was “Each man must do his part” and the fifth line was “True sons of Rensselaer.” (Appallingly sexist, weren’t we?) I guess that, when a freshman entering class consisted of 1,001 males and 28 females, there was a tendency not to be as conscious as we ought to have been of the feminist point of view.

It was customary during that time, as it is today, for the band to play the fight song to salute the hockey team’s arrival on the ice at the start of the period, or the football team’s arrival on the field for the start of a half. While that was going on, it was also customary for all RPI fans to stand up and clap along in time with the music. Of course, the part about the fans standing up and clapping no longer holds true. I’m not sure just when that part of the tradition died out, although my recollection is that it continued at least through the hockey team’s NCAA championship season of 1984-85.
Alma Mater

The marching band’s halftime routine varied from game to game, but the ending was always the same. At the conclusion of the routine, the band would form an “R” and play the alma mater from that formation.

At one time it was customary for the band to play the alma maters of both schools prior to the start of the thrid period of hockey games. (At least, they did so when they could get their hands on the sheet music for the other school’s alma mater.) This was done only partially as a gesture of goodwill toward the opponents. There was another underlying reason for this custom, which eventually resulted in an NCAA rule change.

As you may be aware, RPI’s hockey coach of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was Ned Harkness, after whom the field to the north of the Field House is named.

Harkness always put competitive teams on the ice, but for some reason he always seemed to have a problem recruiting a full roster for his teams. RPI usually dressed four or five players fewer than the rules allowed, which led to fatigue problems for the players late in games. Harkness was known for doing anything he could to offset this disadvantage.

During Harkness’ era, the third period would begin in the following manner. The band would salute RPI’s return to the ice with the traditional playing of the fight song. As is customary at all hockey games everywhere, the teams would skate a couple laps around the ice to warm up and then gather around to tap their goalies on the pads for luck. Then those players who were not starting the period would go to their benches, while the starters moved toward center ice for the face-off. Finally, just before the referee got ready to drop the puck, the Field House P.A. announcer would intone, “And now, the (name of the opponents) alma mater,” whereupon the band would play the visitor’ alma mater, followed by our own.

Eventually, opposing coaches figured out that, while this practice had the symbolic effect of showing respect for the visitors, it also had the very practical effect of giving Harkness’ chronically undermanned skaters several extra minutes of badly needed rest before starting the third period. After that, an NCAA rule was passed requiring that, if anybody’s band wants to play an alma mater, it has to do so before the teams return to the ice.

The band today definitely has a larger variety of cheers than the band of the ’60’s. However, there are a couple from the 60’s that aren’t used today. The two cheers were pretty similar and both were used when it appeared that the referee had made a questionable call against RPI:

Elevator Cheer
Leader: “Elevator, elevator”
Band: “We got the shaft!”

Carpenter Cheer
Leader: “Carpenter, carpenter”
Band: “We got the screw!”
What has the RPI band to do with the mascot, you ask? Well, the fact that RPI’s mascot today is NOT a white horse is, at least partly, due to the band.

In 1967, there was optimism that RPI’s football team might actually have a chance to beat our detested rivals from Union, who had beaten us n years in a row.

As the date of the game drew nigh, a Poly reporter, digging through the archives, discovered a reference to the fact that, once upon a time, RPI had had an official mascot, and that mascot had been a white horse. An article reporting on an RPI football game of many years before mentioned that the team had won as its good luck charm, “Otis,” the white horse, looked on beneficently from the sidelines.

In the hope that the return of its long-absent mascot might lend some inspiration to the football team, someone went out and rented a white horse from a local farmer for the Union game. Early arrivals at the ’86 field were treated to the sight of Otis, being held by a couple of students, standing near the northwest corner of the field.

The RPI band in those days was a marching band. It had been the custom for many years for the band to gather in front of the old student union building (now the Lally Management building) about 20-30 minutes prior to game time, then parade past the Troy and Ricketts Buildings and the ’87 gym on their way to their seats in the old grandstand, which stood on the south side of the field behind the RPI players’ bench. Although the current student union building at 15th and Sage had opened in the spring of 1967, the band still gathered in the traditional location in front of the old building to start its parade to the field.

As the band started its parade on the day of the Union game, with the drums beating and the horns playing, the horse, having never experienced anything like this in his placid agrarian existence, became increasingly agitated. By the time the band reached the Troy Building, Otis was spooked out of his mind. He began screaming, bucking, and rearing, until his handlers were finally obliged to lead him away, lest he injure himself or anybody else.

Thus deprived of whatever inspiration or good fortune Otis might have brought them, the Tute football team went out and got thrashed by Union for the n+1st year in a row. The white horse has never been seen at any RPI athletic event again.
Hey, Coach, Which End Do We Shoot At?
Nowadays, RPI’s hockey team shoots at the goal in front of the stage in the first and third periods. This wasn’t always the case. During the 1950’s and most of the ’60’s, it was traditional for RPI to shoot at the other end of the ice in the first and thrid periods. This remained the custom until the 1968-69 season, when Goalie Tom Nichol approached Coach Garry Kearns with a complaint.

Nichol said that, during the first and third periods of games, when he was defending the goal in front of the stage, he was constantly aware of the members of the band moving about, talking, and laughing on the stage behind him. Nichol felt that this distracted him from concentrating on the movement of the puck. He asked if the coach could speak to the band director and request that the band be quiet.

After thinking about it, the coach told Nichol that it was probably unrealistic to expect the band to sit there like a bunch of church mice all the time – after all, the band was entitled to have fun during the game, too.

But, Kearns went on, maybe the situation could be turned into an advantage. If the band was that much of a distraction to Nichol without meaning to be, think how much of a distraction it could be to the OTHER team’s goalie if HE had to play in front of the band two periods a game.

RPI immediately adopted the tradition of shooting at the stage end in the first and third periods. The current band follows in the footsteps of three decades’ worth of predecessors in making the lives of opposing goalies a little more miserable for two-thirds of each game.

1973-1974: Which We Only Heard About In Stories
For the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs of the ’73-’74 season, the Pep Band traveled to the University of New Hampshire where RPI won. For the semifinals and finals, the Pep Band traveled to Boston for two nights of playoff games at Boston Garden, where RPI lost to Harvard and Cornell.

1974-1975: Birth of the Modern Pep Band – We Were There

Senior Band Manager: Mike Popik, Class of ’73, Clarinet
Assistant Band Manager: Beth Montalone, Class of ’76, Flute

This was the first year that the RPI Pep Band was run by student managers and funded by the Student Union.

During the regular hockey season, the Pep Band traveled to Clarkson and St. Lawrence for the two-day North Trip.

This year, Basketball band was run by Ernie (a.k.a. “Tuba”) ?last name?, Class of ?, Sousaphone, and they traveled to Clarkson and St. Lawrence (by car) for a two-day road trip.

One thought on “1923-1975: Pre-History

Comments are closed.