Celebrating its 125th year, the University of California Marching Band epitomizes the spirit of our campus. Its anniversary means 125 years of home games, 125 years of rallies on Sproul Plaza and 125 Homecomings. Robert Calonico, Cal Band’s director since 1995 and the 1976 Cal Band student director, offered us some insight into what Homecoming means to him, how the traditions have changed and, ultimately, how Cal Band has been a vital piece to the Homecoming puzzle for more than a century.
The Daily Californian: When you were in band and in school, what did Homecoming, and the week leading up to it, look like?
Robert Calonico: I think Big Game was always bigger. … There must have been Homecoming games, but I don’t remember it being a huge, big deal. (There was a) downturn in spirit and all that, the Greek system was just starting to come back after the ‘60s. It was, I don’t know, just a different time. I don’t remember things being super spirited. … I’m sure we must have had it, but I don’t remember anything specifically.
DC: So would you say it has changed?
RC: Yeah! I think the success Jeff Tedford had with the football team, I think that changed everything. In the early 2000s, we were going to bowl games, and we hadn’t been to a bowl game in a long, long time, and then it became a yearly tradition. … When sports teams do well, people get excited. When Jeff started winning, that’s when that whole spirit thing started to come back. … Also, another thing I should say is that in the ‘70s, the football team was not great, it wasn’t until my last year that we were the co-champs, but even then we didn’t really go anywhere.
DC: Would you say that our football team has a chance of winning this year?
RC: I mean after (the game against Texas), you listen to the prognosticators, and everybody was saying we were gonna get spanked, but we beat them! The band director from Texas and I had a great conversation, we were on the sideline right before the game and I said, “I don’t know what this game is gonna be like, we didn’t have much of a defense.” And he goes, “Yeah we don’t either, it could be a shootout.” And, sure enough, that’s what it was. But, who knows? They play the games. We could!
DC: Is band’s success dependent on the football team?
RC: Band enrollment I think is dependent. You know, the team started to do a little better last year, we got some more exposure last year, and all those things contribute to more people wanting to be a part of the band. Plus, it’s a free ticket, I mean you have to do a lot of work to get that, but I do think the success of football increases our enrollment.
DC: Do you think Cal Band captures the spirit of California?
RC: All the years of being here and playing for so many class reunions and meeting so many alums, I have literally had people come up to me from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and they shake my hand and they’re crying because we are a link to their youth. And as I’m getting older — this is my 40th class reunion — seeing some of my friends last weekend … I get to rekindle some old friendships and see some old classmates. … As I get older, it starts to mean more. When I was just out of school, not so much, but I do think we do that for some alums. It’s a lot of memories to some good years in their lives. … College is a pretty special time for everybody.
A previous version of this article failed to disclose that the author, Gillian Perry, is a member of the University of California Marching Band.