Director of Bands
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
While in High School in Evanston, Illinois (1964-68), I participated in
most of the musical groups. I sang in the various choruses and
ensembles, and played bassoon in the bands and the orchestra. I
was also the music librarian! The rehearsal rooms and music
offices were next to the auditorium, and I truly lived at that end of
the building. Upon graduation, they gave me a small plaque of
appreciation — the first of
its kind, and, to the best of my knowledge, still unique. [To see
a photo, click here.]
It was a terrific
experience. I learned a lot and it formed the basis for the rest
of my life.
During that time, one of the band directors was a Michigan graduate,
and he persuaded his old mentor, William Revelli, to come and be the
guest conductor. Our director made it clear that we would not
really appreciate this special event until much later, and that turned
out to be the case. We played — presumably well — and continued with our lives and
families and careers in many fields. It was, indeed, a
great experience, but for us it was just another highlight. Only
in retrospect do we now understand that this was more. It was a
personal link to the wonder that is “The Band” in the very best sense.
At the end of July of 1991, Revelli appeared with the Wheaton,
Illinois, Municipal Band for a concert which was filmed as part of a
public television documentary about Sousa. While he was in
the Chicago area, I had the opportunity to speak with him immediately
after this event. As I up the tape recorder, he asked if I knew
Carl Grapentine, his own stadium announcer. I was glad to tell
the conductor that Carl was on the staff of WNIB, Classical 97
(1990-1996), the station where I was employed (1975-2001). This
pleased him, and he related a brief story...
was an oboe in my band when we went to Europe my last
year. I auditioned him for the job, and for announcing at our
The way I do that is to have them go up into the stadium while I stand
on the fifty yard line and have him announce as I listen. We
had five of them try out, and after he come on I listened to the other
two [laughs] but I’d already said, “This is the voice I want.”
Revelli retired from Michigan in 1971, but as I put together this
website presentation (2013), Carl still goes back on Saturdays during
the football season to do the announcing.
Besides Sousa and other band-specific topics, Revelli spoke with me
about many things. Here is that conversation . . . . . . .
With the great popularity of bands in high schools and colleges all
over the country, why are there no professional bands, like there are
professional symphony orchestras?
You’re absolutely right in that there aren’t any. There was a
time when we had the Sousa Band, but during that time there were other
fine professional bands that people don’t talk about. They
weren’t as popular as the Sousa Band, but the predecessor was Patrick
Gilmore. He was called “The Irish Orpheus.” He had a larger band than
Sousa had and he traveled all over the world with it. In fact, he
was also a tremendous showman. In Boston Commons, down in the
commons there, he had a festival with a two thousand piece band.
There were over a thousand anvils from the fire department and
everything else in Boston doing “The Anvil Chorus ” from Il Trovatore. This is the
kind of showman he was. He built a big palladium for his
concerts, but it flopped. People didn’t come. I don’t know
why that was, and I believe finally it burned down. That was the
predecessor of Sousa. Then during Sousa’s later years there was
Patrick Conway, Creatore, Innes, and Liberati. They were about
forty-five or fifty-piece bands that traveled all over the United
States. They never went to Europe, but Sousa made five or six
world tours with his band. People don’t know about that.
BD: Why do we
remember Sousa and not these others?
marches. They played Sousa marches.
BD: And also
WR: Yes, oh
yes. Sousa played transcriptions almost exclusively because there
wasn’t any original band music except his own. There is a little
story about when he played the first performance of The Victors march by Louis
Elbel. Sousa and his band were there to do a concert on campus
and the composer gave him the parts. He played it that night, and
the composer says Sousa said, “It was the third greatest march ever
written.” Elbel asked, “What about the other two?” and Sousa
said, “Well, I wrote those.” [Both laugh] It’s a little
story, but he did like the march. Sousa was never like “The Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene
Ormandy, Conductor,” or “The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg
Solti, Conductor.” It was “Sousa and his band.” Now psychologically that may
not mean much to you, but it does, because it was not “The Sousa Band.” Sousa was first. You
went to hear Sousa and his band.
BD: Did he
want it that way?
WR: You bet
he did! In fact, his first band was not “Sousa and his Band.” His first band was “The Sousa Band, John Philip Sousa,
Conductor.” Blakeley, who was his manager,
was a very astute man. John Philip Sousa can give great credit to
Mr. Blakely, believe me! He was a Barnum. He knew how to
sell, and he did. Sousa listened to him, too, believe me. I
don’t think Sousa himself could have done that. I often thought
that Dr. Goldman, with the Goldman Band, made a mistake by trying to do
it himself. He never had a manager that sold the Goldman
Band. He did it himself. But if he’d had a Blakeley, he
could have done it.
BD: Is this
what you spent thirty-six years in Michigan doing — selling band music?
indirectly. By that I mean every single student that I conducted
that was a music major that went out to conduct high school bands or
trade school bands, junior high bands, college bands. I was a
disciple, in a way, for bands and band music and better band
music. So I think yes, that indirectly I am responsible for a
great emphasis in the band world. I’m bragging a bit, but I’m
doing it because I believe in it. We have, for instance, the
American Bandmasters Association, which is a very elite group of band
conductors. You cannot apply for admission to it. You have
to be nominated and elected to it, and it’s pretty severe. And
there’s more Michigan men who have succeeded in becoming members of the
ABA than any other. There are more university band directors in
America that are from Michigan. We sold the band program — not municipal bands but college
bands. To answer your question about where are the professional
bands, there aren’t any. There were in those days. One of
the few remaining professional bands that no longer has a budget was
the Long Beach Band which Herb Clarke conducted for years. He was
the solo cornetist for the Sousa Band for many years, and assistant
conductor for Sousa. If you ask me why they are no more, it’s
money. I ask you why is there only one symphony orchestra in New
BD: But there IS a
symphony, and there are chamber groups and opera companies, but no band!
WR: No, not
since the Goldman Band. There’s nobody to fund it.
BD: Should we
try to get this kind of thing going?
WR: Yes we
certainly should, and tonight was an example of the image of what I
could see as the true municipal band. Those people had a great
night of enjoyment. They appreciated it. That was evidenced
by their response. They had a good time.
BD: So now
you have automatically two thousand band boosters right there.
Exactly. We need that in the United States; we need ten thousand
Wheatons. You’d be surprised... I don’t know if you’re
aware of it, but the revival of the community band is
astonishing. For instance, let’s take Michigan alone. Ten
years ago there weren’t more than four or five community bands in the
state of Michigan that you’d want to hear. Today there’s fifty.
BD: Now you
say “that you want to hear.” In other words, they’ve gotten up to
a certain level?
performance standard is such that you enjoy going to the concert and
it’s not claptrap. The concert this evening had some very good
repertoire in it. The young college band director is averse to
doing transcriptions. They want original material and I’m for
that, but because it’s new and original doesn’t mean it’s good, or that
old music is bad.
there be a balance of some new things and some transcriptions?
course. Now you’re talking! You see, back in Sousa’s day
ninety per cent of the music was transcriptions because there wasn’t
any original band music. The only band music that you found that
was original was his! He didn’t just write marches; he wrote
BD: Is there
any kind of correlation between what Sousa did for the band and what
Kreisler did for the violin?
WR: Very much
so. That’s a very good analogy with Kreisler. People,
including me when I was a kid, went to hear his encores... Schoen Rosemarie, Liebesfreud, Old Vienna and all those little
encores. [Begins to sing one of them softly] We went to
hear them. It’s like Horowitz. There was no way Horowitz
could ever end a concert without playing Traumerei. There was no way
he was going to get off that stage! Now, if you’re going to play
Sousa you’d better play Stars and
Stripes because they’re going to insist on it. Sousa was
not only a legend, but he made a big contribution and will continue to
do so. For instance, there’s been thousands of marches written
since Sousa died... thousands, and where are they? They are no
different than the pop tunes that last three months.
BD: What is
it about a Sousa march that lasts?
WR: It’s not
the form. It’s a four-bar introduction to sixteen or thirty-two
bars, a break-up strain and back again. It is sonata form. Stars and Stripes is the longest
march he wrote. It has more measures in it than the rest of
them. He wrote a melody that you could hear a couple of times and
BD: But you
don’t get tired of it.
because it’s good. You bet. Rhythmically, harmonically, the
structure of it; he was a master at putting the voices where they
belong. Color. And he never once played them the way he
wrote them. We have men going around the country saying, “This is
the way Sousa played his marches.” They must have never heard
him. I heard him twenty-six times! There’s a young man here
from the research center and he showed me some parts of an encore book
of Sousa. There’s Herbert Clarke’s cornet part in which he says,
“First strain, tacit.” I’ve been doing that for fifty
years! I was so proud to see that today because I’ve been doing
that all along! Here was the original Herbert Clarke cornet part
with the Sousa Band encore stating, “Tacit, first time, enter second
time.” That’s all the editing. It’s not written that
way. For instance one time I heard the piccolo variation on the
harp. I heard Bill Bell do it on the tuba with the Sousa
Band. [Sings] He got the trills in there on his tuba clear
as a bell! That was Sousa. He was never satisfied. I
asked him if he would object to my editing his marches and he said,
“Have you heard my band?” I said, “Twenty-six times.” He
was very abrupt at these kind of things and said, “Do I edit
them?” I said, “You never play them the way they’re
written.” He said, “Well, that’s editing.” Then he
said, “As long as you don’t change the melody and you don’t change the
harmony and you do not change the rhythm, you can do what you want with
the color of it. If I like it, I’ll accept it. If I don’t,
I’ll tell you so.” But he was constantly changing his ways of
presenting the color.
advice do you have for someone who wants to write music for the concert
WR: My first
advice would be to write music, the score, for the public that
appreciates what the band audiences understand, and which they will
receive and accept. Now let me explain what I’m saying.
There’s a lot of wonderful contemporary music being written.
Unfortunately, it’s not accepted by the public.
BD: Because of its
complication. It’s complicated. I ask you, how many new
operas will have been presented by the Metropolitan in the last decade?
BD: Very few
at the Met, but hundreds in Europe. They’re much more
experimental over there.
WR: They sure
are. Not only that, they have the money to do it.
true. State subsidy.
bet! The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is eighty-five per cent
subsidized by the government. How much does the New York
Philharmonic get? Zero from the government.
BD: Maybe one
per cent from the National Endowment, and that’s it.
right, and that’s being cut considerably. So there’s the
difference. It’s the sense of values. There are more little
small town opera companies that you don’t particularly enjoy all the
time. [Laughs] They’re broken down singers of the past or
they’re aspiring young artists with a little tiny orchestra in the pit,
but they’re still playing Verdi and Aïda
and so on. The Italians were brought up on that; that’s their
history, whereas in Germany it was Beethoven and Brahms, and in Russia
it was Tchaikovsky and so on. But the band, the voice of the band
is truly Americana since the Revolutionary War. It’s rather
interesting, too, that where the band really began was in the New
England states. I don’t like to say it, but it’s a fact that the
worst bands in schools in the United States are where the band was
born, in New England. They don’t support it.
talking about support and what you think is important. Let me ask
the great big philosophical question — what is the purpose of music in
WR: I think
it has three or four purposes. One of the handicaps for the band
is it has become traditionally known as an entertaining medium because
of its tremendous versatility. Unlike the orchestra, the band can
play in all kinds of occasions. It can march, it can play for the
Fourth of July Celebration parade, it can play for a military parade,
it can play at a gridiron, it can play in a basketball tournament, it
can play in at a hockey game, they can play everywhere. That’s
number one. It’s an entertainment kind of a medium. In
fact, take the high schools. Many times they threaten to take out
the band and sports. The band’s been related to sports, and that
always hurts me. I said, “What’s it got to do with sports?”
Well, because it plays at the half-time, and the people’ll say, “We
won’t have a band for halftime! We’ve got to have a band!”
That was one point. The other is the educational features of
it. It has tremendous educational value. I’ve been to Japan
three times and helped them get their band started. You want to
watch this program in Japan. It’s coming. They don’t just
make Sonys and Yamaha motorcycles and so on. They’re spending a
tremendous amount of money on the youth and music in Japan, in the
public schools! So the purposes and the objectives of the band
program are many. Let’s take an example. School starts in
September. What’s the band director’s first obligation? To
get that band ready for that first football game! He better have
it there! The board of education and administration say, “You
will have it there.” When I went to Hobart, Indiana, they’d never
had a band and no instrumental program at all. I went to the
superintendent, Mr. Dickey, after school had started a couple of weeks
and asked his permission to organize an instrumental program. Now
he was a Hoosier, brought up in Hoosier-land and he said, “We have some
problems. Number one is that there’s no place to rehearse.
Every room’s taken with classes. The schedule’s already made, so
there’s no time for rehearsal. Classes are scheduled. And
there’s no budget.” But he said, “Go right ahead. If you
can get it started, find a place to rehearse, find a time for
rehearsals, you have my permission to begin.” He added, “By the
way, I think it would be wonderful.” Now this is an educator, a
superintendent, who said “I think it would be wonderful if we could
have five or six kids play for the basketball games.” That’s his
concept of what music education was about! I went out of his
office quite disappointed. Finally I said, “Wait a minute.
You got what you asked for. He gave you his blessing to start
it.” We rehearse at seven o’clock in the morning in the chemistry
lab because the professor and a teacher of chemistry was a good friend
of mine. We had to move everything out and put it back, and oh
God get every instrument out of the attic and rent some others from the
Chicago Instrument Company. But we got started. That’s the
way we started! Remember, while you’re out on a gridiron getting
that band ready for that first game, the orchestra conductor’s already
got the orchestra in the rehearsal room playing, maybe, a Beethoven
symphony or a Haydn symphony
— or whatever — so, education-wise, the band has been
at a disadvantage. Its very versatility has been its greatest
enemy. Because it can do everything in so many places, they use
it. It’s a window-dresser for the community!
should the balance be, then, between the entertainment and some kind of
WR: That’s a good
question, and the answer is that if the conductor is truly a serious
musician and he’s an educator, he will have both. There’s no
reason in the world that a football band has to play badly.
That’s the conductor’s responsibility. My men — and
women, later — in the Michigan marching band hated
my guts when I would work them hard before the last game of the
season. We’re playing on national television the next day and we
hadn’t been through the show once completely without stopping.
It’s snowing, it’s cold, it’s the last game and Revelli’s stopping that
band and tuning it and trying to get it together! They’re
frozen! They’re so cold, the valves are cold, their fingers are
cold, and Revelli’s saying, “The third cornet, let’s hear you.”
They said, “This guy’s impossible!” Then we would play and the
audience would receive us they way they did, and they were so
proud. They knew it was good. Then Revelli was okay, you
see. So that was that. There you are. I told them,
“The C-natural on your trumpet, half-note, forte, is no different; you
don’t read it any different, you don’t play it any differently than you
would if you were playing with the symphony at Carnegie Hall.”
You’ve got to approach it that way. You don’t just blow your
brains out on a gridiron because everybody’s up, up, up, rah, rah,
rah. I don’t go for that. The tone of my concert band and
the symphony band, at least the objective was not different. It
was educational all the way down the line. I know so many bands
just blow, you know. There’s no musicianship about it, not even
the intent at being musical.
BD: So is
this your advice, then, for people who want to conduct bands, is to be
yes. In fact, I would like to see that the emphasis in the music
education field be placed upon performance for four years. Every
one of these band conductors would go through a very rigid performance
program. I did it. I never got a music education degree
until after I had my performance degree. I played seven years
professionally before I ever took a course in music education. I
passed about nine-tenths of the courses for music ed without even going
to class. I took the exams for placement on performance, playing,
history and theory. I never had any problems with that.
started out on violin.
WR: I am a
violinist. I never played anything else. Sousa was a
BD: [With a
gentle nudge] Then why didn’t you organize the world’s greatest
string quartet instead of the world’s greatest band?
WR: [With a
big smile] Because I love the band.
BD: They why
didn’t you play cornet?
WR: I didn’t
think that made any difference. Fact of the matter is, let me ask
you what is Solti’s background? [See my Interviews with Sir Georg
WR: Well, why
didn’t he play a violin? He’s an orchestra conductor. Why
was he a pianist? What is the difference? What was
Toscanini? He was a cellist. Saul Caston, conductor of the
Denver Symphony was a trumpet player. [As if giving the
interviewer an oral exam] What was Eugene Ormandy?
[Responding correctly] A violinist, I believe.
started in Hungary.
Right. He had a manager that came over to the U.S. and told him
he had a big concert tour, but he never had a date. Gene couldn’t
find a place to play, so he auditioned for the Capitol Theater where a
friend of his was conductor. He never played first violin in any
major orchestra. I think that first of all a conductor has to be
a good musician. I don’t think you can be a bad musician and be a
good conductor. There are many, many wonderful musicians who
would be awful conductors and vice versa. Why is it that with all
the great violinists we have in the major orchestras, who’ve had
twenty-five years experience of playing every symphony in the
repertoire, why aren’t they conductors? You can use another
analogy — some of the greatest baseball players
became awful managers. They were flops. Bob Zuppke never
played a football game, but he was just one of the great coaches of
Illinois. Fielding H. Yost was never a great player. He
never played football very much. Conducting is a talent. There
are so many areas of conducting that you’ve got to be a good
musician. You’ve got to have an ear, for instance. You have
to have a good ear to be a conductor. If you’ve got a bad ear,
forget it! [Both laugh] And I’ve had folks like that.
I wish I could conduct with the stick like they did, but they can’t
hear anything. God, the band plays all out of tune and they’re
making beautiful motions. I had a student in my conducting class
who wouldn’t believe this. He was a kind of an ego, and he made
the most beautiful gestures. [Demonstrates] So I thought,
how am I going to reach this guy? He had an ear like a
sock. He can’t hear anything! I have to reach him. I
have to make him believe. So I deliberately had the oboe player
play the English Horn part. The oboe’s in C and the English
horn’s in F. so it’s a fourth off. He played the whole solo and
the guy was conducting. When he got all through, I said, “Tell me
what was wrong with this.” “Well, I thought they didn’t make
enough crescendo here. I thought they—” I said, “Now just
hold everything. I don’t want to do this...” but I did it.
“It’s about time you realized where your weaknesses are. We’ve
got to do something about it. He’s playing the English Horn
part. He’s a fourth off. Every C he played was an F, and
you never heard it. You played accompaniment underneath it.
It was awful!”
BD: Did he
fix his problem or is he selling insurance now?
he’s not selling insurance, but he’s not in music. He’s done very
well, incidentally. I’m guilty of changing some students into the
other professions. One is now a wonderful dentist. He’s got
some of the best clients in Cleveland there are. Big
people. He was in music ed, but he had nothing.
BD: So you
told him to get the heck out of music?
WR: Well, I
didn’t do it quite that way. I said, “I’m going to find out”
because he was bright. So I went to the registrar and looked at
his transcript. He had straight As in everything!
Mathematics, history, English, so on, and he had Cs in music. No
band director ever gives a C in music! They only know one letter
in the alphabet, and it’s A. Everybody gets an A! You get
an A if you’re there and if you can breathe. Anyway, I called him
in and I said, “Let’s have a talk here.” He was a freshman so it
was not too late. I said, “You don’t have to quit. We’ve
got seven bands, and this is a place for those kinds of bands.
But I think it’s time to switch before it’s too late.” That man
has thanked me and sends me wonderful gifts at Christmas! He
said, “Thank you, Dr. Revelli. When I think of what I might have
been... such a misfit! I really wasn’t that much interested in it
anyway.” Well, there you are. I was doing a clinic at
Missouri and I got there a little early and the teachers in the high
school were having their coffee break. I just couldn’t find the
band director, so I walked in and I asked if he was there. No, he
wasn’t there. I sat down and one of them started talking with
me. I said, “What do you teach?” He said, “Math.” I
asked another one, and she taught English. I asked another one,
and then one of them asked me, “What do you teach?” I said, “I
teach people.” You should have seem them. There were about
ten of them and they all seemed to think, “Who is this nut? This guy is
crazy.” [Both laugh] Finally one said to me out loud, “What’d you say?” I said, “I
teach people.” “What do you mean?” he asked, and I said, “Well,
through music. I happen to be a conductor and a teacher and a
BD: Is that
what you do every time you get on the podium — teach the people both in front of you
and behind you?
time. Every time. I am a teacher. Toscanini was the
greatest teacher I’ve ever known.
BD: Are you
optimistic about the future of band music in America?
WR: I’m highly
optimistic about it. I have never been more thrilled and more
confident and overjoyed with what I see. I’m disappointed in many
things in the music education field, and in the bands in the schools I
am very disappointed, but more than ever in my life I’m convinced that
music education is here to stay. I have yet to see one program
that’s good where they have curtailed it. But we have so many
mediocre ones. We have so many that are so bad, unfortunately,
and they’re the ones that are in jeopardy. There’s too many of
BD: How is
the burgeoning of electronic entertainment — the television and all of this — going to help or hinder the
advancement of concert music and band music?
this may be one of the most crucial and vital areas that we must be
concerned about. All you have to do is to go to Hollywood.
I have friends who compose for the TV shows and what’s happening is
frightening. The musicians never even see each other. The
strings never see the brass because they’re in two different rooms and
they’re recorded at different times. It’s the electronic
age. It’s unbelievable! I was in Toronto judging conducting
last spring, and I happened to be in the restaurant to get
breakfast. It was crowded, and the table where I was sitting was
for two, and it was the only empty chair in the restaurant. A
young Japanese man came in. He was looking and couldn’t find a
place to sit. So I said, “Sir, if you would like, you may join
me. This seat is available.” So he sat down and we got
acquainted. He was very intelligent, about thirty-five years-old
and in the computer business. I’ve never met a more alert,
intelligent, interesting, fascinating man. I said, “What a
fascinating field you’re in.” “Yes,” he says, “It’s also the most
competitive. How would you like to be president of a corporation
that has a fifty million-dollar inventory that may be obsolete tomorrow
morning? That’s the field I’m in.”
BD: Do you
think the band will ever be obsolete?
WR: I don’t
think so any more than the orchestra would. Do you think that a
singer will ever be obsolete? A singer like Pavarotti or Domingo,
or whatever great singer?
BD: I hope
going to produce the original sound?
some electronic gizmo invented by the Japanese fellow that you had
WR: That will
duplicate the human voice?
WR: Well, you
could be right. We kept on talking. They also make
synthesizers, so I told him about a guest-conducting engagement where I
wanted to play a certain piece but the second oboe just wasn’t good
enough. I mentioned that to the Dean and he said, “We can fix
that.” He went over and got his arranger, a young man, a very
sharp young fellow, and he sat at the synthesizer and played the second
oboe part. He never missed a note. [Both laugh] He
didn’t have to worry about the reed, and all this stuff. It was
in tune, and by golly there were times when I thought it was a real
oboe! The one thing I missed was the nuance. It was a
mechanical thing. I told the Japanese fellow about this and I
said, “It’s the one thing you haven’t done yet, and you’ll never be
able to do it! You can’t duplicate the human end of it.
That’s always going to be mechanical.” He said, “In what way?”
and I said, “Nuance. You can’t do this on your synthesizer
[sings]. You play [sings differently].” He said, “That’s
what you think. We already have it. We can do that.
We’ve already done it with the greatest singers. We recorded them
and then we put it on the synthesizer and followed it. We do it
by frequency. We add the frequency to it and it goes up, and we
reduce it and it comes up and down. You will never know the
difference.” That worried me. I said, “Oh, my God,
really? Why don’t you have it out?” He said, “Because we
have a fifty million dollar inventory we’ve got to sell.” He told
me the designs on the table were already in for the year 2000, and
they’re not like this 1991 model. They’ve got to sell the old
things first. Their plants are all set up for this and it would
cost millions of dollars to re-tool, to say nothing of the existing
inventory. They’ll sell the old ones out and then the new model
will come in. That’s gradual, as long as that inventory is
there. I learned a lot from that young man. So in response
to your question, I don’t think anyone can forecast this. Would
you believe fifteen years ago what’s happened in the CDs?
BD: Of course
WR: Of course
not. The recording industry is about shot. Who buys records
BD: Well, the
long-playing records are gone. The compact disks are current.
WR: Yeah, but
I’ve got an inventory of these. I don’t know what’s going to
happen to those. They’ll probably become collector’s items someday.
BD: We still
have the LPs and we still can play them on the radio, so I’ve got to
make sure we can always play those.
WR: But do
you think ten years from now you’ll be doing that?
BD: I hope so.
WR: But do
you think so?
[Shrugs] Flip a coin.
that’s the same way with music. Will a symphony orchestra be
around in the year 2500? What’s it going to be? Where will
bands be? Where will education be? The one thing that the
band has is the appeal to the common man, and there are more common men
than there are uncommon men and women. Tonight the greatest
thrill to me was that audience. That was even greater than the
performance. I mean it. How many people were there?
Pretty close to two thousand, maybe more. It was a big crowd and
I watched it. When I conduct I watch. I look at the faces
and I saw what I wanted to see. I saw the smile. I saw the
receptivity. I saw the enjoyment. I saw the attitude of
receptivity and it was genuine. It wasn’t because it’s polite,
which some people do when they go to opera. That’s Americana, so
I have great faith in the future of the band. I think the destiny
of it lies in the hands of the conductors, not the players. The
players are there. There are thousands. About a half a
dozen came to me after the concert and said that they played in the
high school band and they’re still playing. Granted, the majority
of the students that graduate from universities never touch their
hopefully, they come to concerts!
another thing, and that’s encouraging.
Legendary Band Leader William Revelli
July 20, 1994
[Text only - photo added]
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When the University of Michigan band marched under
William Revelli, the lines of musicians had to be straight and smart,
the music clear and sharp. Nothing but perfection was good enough.
Mr. Revelli's ability to accomplish that made him a legend in American
"It's very difficult to talk about Bill Revelli except
superlatives," said Allen Britton, dean emeritus of the Michigan School
of Music. "He developed the U-M bands into the best in the country.
Nothing ever sounded like a Revelli band except a Revelli band."
Mr. Revelli, who retired in 1972 after 36 years as band director, died
of heart failure Saturday at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital near Ann Arbor.
He was 92.
He remained active on campus and accepted engagements as guest
conductor for bands around the world.
He was inducted into the National Band Association Hall of Fame of
distinguished conductors in 1981.
In 1989, the Louis Sudler Foundation and the John Philip Sousa
Foundation presented him with their Order of Merit.
He was a "Mt. Rushmore figure" in his field, said professor H. Robert
Reynolds, a former student who succeeded him as band director in 1975
and continues in the position.
"He was single-handedly responsible for raising the standards
everywhere," Reynolds said. "He had a popularity with the general
public that was unique, while he was highly respected by the band
profession. . . . He deserves to be remembered forever."
Mr. Revelli studied violin and music theory at the Beethoven
Conservatory of Music in St. Louis and later the Chicago Musical
College and the VanderCook School of Music in Chicago.
His drive for excellence showed early in his career, when he led the
band at Hobart (Ind.) High School to six national high school
championships from 1929 to 1935.
In 1935, he moved to Michigan as director of bands, including the
symphony band, with which he toured nationally.
In 1961, he led the symphony band on a 16-week international tour
sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
Survivors include two grandchildren, John Strong and Kimberly Snyder,
and two great-grandchildren.
© 1991 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded at
his hotel on August 1,
1991. Segments were used (with recordings)
on WNIB in 1992 and 1997. The
transcription was made and posted on this
website in 2013.
To see a full list (with
links) of interviews which have been
transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago
from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of
2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and
journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM,
as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
to call your attention to the photos and information about his
grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a
century ago. You may also send him E-Mail
with comments, questions and suggestions.