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Community Engagement in the Arts: A Case Study Close To My Heart (Part 1)

Part 1: My Badger Band Story

Author’s Note: With a heavy heart, I write today to let you know that I will no longer be affiliated with the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert. As I navigate this transition and process more than 20 years of work to build the UW Band Show, I am using this space to share my story and recount some of my favorite memories.

History of the University of Wisconsin Varsity Band Spring Concert

On March 21, 1975, the First Annual Varsity Band Concert was presented in Mills Concert Hall to an unexpectedly large audience of about 450 friends, parents, and fans. The next year the hall was packed and for year 3 the event was moved to the Field House. The larger venue provided opportunities to grow the event from a concert to what would be known as “The UW Band Show” – with theatrical lighting, a band director flying like Evel Knievel over the audience, pyrotechnics, guest artists, specialty features, and more. WHA (Wisconsin Public Television) soon partnered with the Band to film and later broadcast the show to thousands across the state. In 1998, the production moved to the state-of-the-art Kohl Center.

More on that history on the Badger Band website and in this 2014 article from On Wisconsin Magazine.

My Badger Band Story

As a music education major in the School of Music, I took Professor Leckrone’s “Big Bands” and “Legendary Performers” classes as I’d heard he was a wonderful teacher and that they’d be a solid foundation for when I’d be in the general music classroom. I played flute in the Concert Band (so many blazing fast Sousa marches) and delivered mail to all of the departments in the Humanities Building so I also got to know Gail Johnson, the long time administrative rock of the Marching Band program. While teaching in the public schools, I pursued a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and would often stop by to say “hello” to Gail when I had class on campus. One day, in April 2001, she asked if I was busy the next week. I wasn’t. She hired me on the spot to serve as Score Reader for the great Neen Rock, Stage Manager and Production Manager for the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert. What a surreal experience it was to be on headset in Tech Row at the Kohl Center for a show that I’d first seen on TV as a child and then attended in person as a college student. That Wisconsin Public Television broadcast back, watched on a little black and white TV set, was mesmerizing, burned into my brain, and the seed for what would become a successful career as a theatre producer, production manager, stage manager, and director for large scale arts events.

I started as a Production Assistant in 2001, after having attended as an audience member in prior years, and moved into leadership in 2003. In my first 19 years on the team, I collaborated with Emeritus UW Marching Band Director Mike Leckrone and entertainment and theater professionals from across the country to build a spectacular annual event that showcased thousands of members of the UW Marching Band over three nights of an April weekend each year.

In the years since Professor Leckrone’s retirement, I’ve worked closely with UW Marching Band Director Corey Pompey and his team to reimagine the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert. Though our first event together was canceled in March 2020 due to the pandemic, we welcomed audiences back to the Kohl Center with wonderful concerts in April 2022 and April 2023. In part due to the incredible commitment of so many individuals to the strong legacy of this program, what the production team was able to do with a significantly smaller post-pandemic budget is nothing short of a miracle. Though the new Band Show might look a bit different, we’re so proud that it celebrates all of the heart, traditions, and school spirit that the event has brought to generations of Badger Band fans and University of Wisconsin-Madison supporters.

Highlights of my 2+ decades of working on the UW Band Show are too numerous to count – closing night Saturday concerts where alumni cheer on the seniors who are playing their last concert, watching Band members grow from nervous freshmen to confident senior leaders, working with so many smart and highly capable members of the Band Student Staff, and selling out all three nights of the April 2019 production to the rooftop of the Kohl Center, are among them.

Beyond all of the applause, record-setting Chicken Dances, and Moments of Happiness, are two examples of the very heart of the organization: Mike’s patter song, “Funny How Time Slips Away” at his last concert, a chance to reflect on his 50 years of leadership and to thank the Badger Band family, and Corey inviting the alums from 2020 and 2021 – the classes that never got a senior year concert – to the stage during his monologue near the end of his first UW Varsity Band Spring Concert in 2022.

I’m proud to have been a part of all of this. And, if it was up to me, I’d be doing this for another decade, supporting Badger Band students and staff and showcasing the University of Wisconsin Band through the live event and PBS Wisconsin broadcast for years to come.

"Auld Lang Syne" at the 2019 UW Varsity Band Spring Concert at the Kohl Center


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