Life After Band: Famous Band Alumni

Yes, there is life after band. No matter what path you choose to take, the skills acquired in marching band can last for a lifetime; they may even lead you to fame and fortune. Featuring Larry Harmon, Jay Heinrichs, Julie Giroux, and Wayne Bergeron.

Larry Harmon (pictured)

Not Just Clowning Around

Occupation: Actor, Bozo The Clown, television pioneer, animation studio owner, film consultant, musician
Instrument: Percussion and Drum Major
Band: Cleveland Heights High School, U.S. Army Cavalry Division Band, USC Trojan Marching Band
Trivia: Harmon worked with many of Hollywood’s true legends including Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Gene Kelly.

Bozo The Clown, one of the best-known children’s characters of all time, is a three-time former drum major. Larry Harmon, the man who both portrayed and popularized Bozo, started his career as an entertainer in his own living room at the age of 7.

“I took my mother’s broom and took the handle off, and I bought a whistle from the candy store,” Harmon says. “When the shows came on, I blew the whistle and would go marching around in the living room.”

Harmon saved up his own money from selling eggs and newspapers and purchased his first drum set at the age of 11. Soon after he formed his own 20-piece band with hospital interns who were also musicians.

“I became my own agent,” Harmon says. “I’d call up these fraternities and sororities and tell them that I had the greatest band ever. I booked so many dances and got the musicians a lot of work.”

From High School to the Cavalry

When Harmon was about to enter high school, he knew that he had to be the band’s drum major. The director told him that it was impossible as a freshman and turned him away. Harmon wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and continued to ask while also saving up money to attend a drum major school. However, Harmon tragically broke his foot on the last day of the clinic.

“I went to see the director with a cast on, and he said it was over,” Harmon recalls. “I begged to at least audition even if I couldn’t have it. The result was that after I got the cast off my foot, he called me in and gave me the drum major uniform. That was three years of an unbelievable time for me.”

Harmon had dreamed of being the drum major of the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band since those days marching around the house, but soon after high school, he was drafted into the cavalry during World War II.

“I knew I was cannon fodder; it was right during the worst part of the war,” Harmon says. “I never thought I’d get out of it alive.”

While training with the cavalry, Harmon found out where the band practiced and began to stand outside the rehearsal hall and twirl his two batons every day, trying to get the director’s attention.

Miraculously, his stubborn approach worked again, and Harmon performed as drum major throughout the war.

“If I Can Do ‘Schtick’” …

Harmon survived the Army and made it to USC, but to accomplish his dream of being drum major, he would need the same persistent attitude he used to get his last two gigs. He did the same thing he had done in the Army and followed the director, twirling his batons outside whenever he left or entered a building. Finally the director agreed to give him an audition even though he maintained that he would not choose a freshman drum major.

“I figured if I can do ‘shtick,’ then maybe I can make it work,” Harmon says.

He created an elaborate setup that involved the band surrounding him as he threw his baton over the goal post, caught it, gave them the down beat to the fight song and marched them across the field.

“It was one of the greatest moments of my life,” he says. “The baton went up so high; you couldn’t even see it in the sun.”

His persistence paid off yet again, and Harmon became the first and only freshman drum major in the history of the USC Band.

Biggest Thing in Life

After college he worked on hundreds of films with Hollywood’s biggest names. In the early 1950’s, he purchased the rights to the Bozo The Clown character and created the signature voice, laugh and hairstyle, expanding into a media empire. He portrayed Bozo in a touring live show, created the Bozo cartoon show and trained other actors to play Bozo in more than 200 major television markets.

Bozo has brought laughter to millions of people, yet Harmon credits band as the most important thing in his life.

“Music’s been a big part of my life, maybe the biggest part,” Harmon says. “Everything in my life, including Bozo, stems from my love of music. The USC Trojan Marching Band was the biggest thing in my life.”

Harmon credits all of his success to the skills he learned as a drum major.

“Everything that I did and that I learned in all three bands taught me concentration, creativity and a great psychological approach to life,” Harmon says. “If you’ve got hundreds of people standing behind you, you’ve got to get them to buy into the whole package and get it to work. They’re all looking to you for the downbeat.”

Jay Heinrichs

What Band Taught Us

Occupation: Writer, lecturer, consultant, editorial director of Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine
Instrument: Trumpet
Band: Haverford (Pa.) High School
Trivia: The band ordered an extra-large uniform hat specifically to fit his head.

Jay Heinrichs was traumatized by marching band but only for one reason: the uniforms.

“I just hated it,” Heinrichs says. “I wanted uniforms like what they had in ‘The Music Man.’ Instead we looked like the police force of a bad third-world nation. We got made fun of!”

Thankfully, Heinrichs coped with the trauma and moved on to become a successful writer, lecturer, consultant and magazine editor. Most of his time is spent speaking about his book “Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.”

Heinrichs played first trumpet in his high school marching band.

“In high school I took music really seriously,” Heinrichs says. “I took trumpet and piano, and my ambition was to be a composer, but my parents wouldn’t let me go to music school, which I don’t resent them for.”

Seeing the World

His favorite memory was a band “exchange trip” where he traveled to Washington, D.C., and stayed in the house of an Army colonel during the Vietnam War. “We were down there in the middle of the Vietnam protests,” Heinrichs says. “I came from a very conservative town, and band allowed me to go someplace else on a trip. It was the first time I ever saw protestors and got to talk to them.”

The band sold Hoagie sandwiches and fundraised for a year to raise money for the trip, but it was all worth it to Heinrichs. “The trip really changed my life because it really opened me up to a whole new reality, and I realized that I needed to go to college someplace else and participate in all of that.”

Prepared for Working Life

Looking back, Heinrichs appreciates his band experience more now than he did then.

“I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time because it was the early 70’s, so it would be uncool to admit this,” Heinrichs says. “It was cool to march as a single unit; there was power in that, and to be a part of something bigger than yourself is a profound experience to the usual adolescent apathetic experience.”

As a corporate consultant, Heinrichs has noticed interesting parallels between marching band and the business world.

“The success of the performance depended on everybody doing it together,” he says. “And boy, that’s the closest you come to replicating that real world, business world, experience. The business of CEOs being paid so much is ending. It’s not all up to one individual, and corporations are really seeing that.”

Heinrichs believes that corporations could do well by modeling themselves after a marching band instead of a sports team.

“A better word for ‘team’ would be ‘band,’” Heinrichs says. “Because band comes closer than athletic teams do in this idea that, in the working world, you’re not beating anybody. Yes, you have competitors, but what matters is … how well your performance is, much like a band.”

Heinrichs says he would recommend marching band to any young person today. “The people who do band rather than sports, those who became the band geeks, are in some ways better prepared for the working world today,” he says. “As long as they don’t have to wear stupid uniforms; if they wear nice uniforms, I’m all for it.”

Julie Giroux

Required Fun

Occupation: Composer
Instrument: French Horn
Band: Ouachita Parish High School, LSU Tiger Marching Band
Trivia: Giroux won an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music Direction” for the 64th Annual Academy Awards.

Not everyone sets out wanting to be in marching band, but no matter what the motivation, they still gain something from the experience. Composer Julie Giroux only joined the Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band because it was a requirement of her scholarship as a French horn performance major.

“Most music majors only stayed in the marching band until they could get out,” Giroux says. “It wasn’t whether you liked it or not; it was just the amount of time it took. And those of us who were on scholarship had to play at everything. I was in concert band, marching band, orchestra, woodwind quartets, brass quartets.”

Because of her playing skill, Giroux rose quickly in the marching band’s ranks. “I was section leader my first year as a freshman,” Giroux says. “It was just an unusual situation. When I went in, there wasn’t any leadership from the year before, only three music majors.”

Giroux most enjoyed the social opportunities that the marching band gave her.

“The best part about marching band was that the LSU marching band wasn’t all music majors,” she says. “If you major in music, you’re around the same people all the time. It was pretty easy to get segmented away. Marching band wasn’t that; 75% of the band weren’t music majors, so you got to meet other people who weren’t music majors, and you were all united.”

Due to the extreme time commitment, Giroux only stayed in band for two years.

Composing Full Time

Giroux had been composing music since she was 8 and soon after graduation had a chance to work with Academy Award-nominated composer Bill Conti on an ESPN broadcast. A few weeks later, he invited her to move to California to work with him on the miniseries “North and South.”

Through college Giroux had been writing jingles and band music as well as performing. When she first moved to Los Angeles, she played horn and piano for more than 50 film and television scores until Conti made her get rid of her horn.

“My mentor Bill Conti said I had to get rid of it.” Giroux says. “It was a crutch. It was the best thing he could have done for me. As soon as you take away the opportunity of making money, you concentrate on [composing] full time. That was one of the best things he ever did for me.”

Giroux went on to compose, orchestrate and ghostwrite for many TV shows, films, documentaries, miniseries, award shows and specials and now dedicates most of her time to commissioned concert band music.

The Best Lesson

Despite her short time in the marching band, Giroux remembers it fondly. “It was great,” she says. “I loved it, and it was one of the things that I remember the most about college. It was so many people, and it was so much fun, and it was such a unique experience. You don’t realize it at the time, until you get out, that there’s nothing like it. If I wasn’t a music major, I would have stayed longer.”

She credits the band for teaching her many of the people skills she needed later in life. “You learn that everybody has their own set of problems when they’re coming into a marching band, and you’re all trying to unify under this big massive band, and that’s the best lesson that you learn,” Giroux says. “You learn to give and take, and you learn to work as a team. It’s bigger than any sport, trying to put all these people in one uniform and making it work.”

Wayne Bergeron

Wicked Trumpeter

Occupation: Professional musician
Instrument: Trumpet
Band: Lynwood (Calif.) High School, Lynwood Diplomats Drum and Bugle Corps, Santa Ana Velvet Knights, The Vaqueros
Trivia: Bergeron toured twice as a part of Maynard Ferguson’s band and worked with him on many projects.

Wayne Bergeron’s parents didn’t like leaving him home alone. So he had no choice but to tag along with his brother, a marching instructor for the Lynwood Diplomats Drum and Bugle Corps.

Nowadays they’d have no reason to worry. Bergeron is one of the busiest and most popular trumpet players in the business today, appearing on the tracks of hundreds of films and television shows, playing lead trumpet in Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and performing for the musical “Wicked.”

Rising in the Ranks

Bergeron started out playing French horn. “The way I ended up switching is that my school was vandalized,” Bergeron says. “They came in and smashed all the instruments, and my French horn got destroyed. I ended up switching to trumpet at that point because it was cheaper for the school to buy trumpets instead of replacing the French horns.”

If not for band and drum corps, Bergeron says he may not have found success in life. “My experience in band probably kept me from going a darker path when I was young,” Bergeron says.

“I grew up in kind of a rough neighborhood. I was also into racing cars and boats, but I was kind of a band geek who had this other life. I didn’t get into that much trouble, but I think that the fact that I got into music really kept me from going down that other path.”

As a young musician, Bergeron stood out from the crowd. “I was kind of a natural player when I was a kid,” he says. “I moved up the ranks quickly. I wasn’t in a leadership position, but I was a featured soloist. I loved it so much, and I loved the attention that I got.”

Bergeron most recently played on the soundtrack for the movies “Get Smart,” “The Perfect Game” and “Leatherheads” and is currently working on “The Pink Panther 2” and “Hancock.” In addition to film and television work and his job playing for “Wicked,” he frequently appears as a soloist, guest artist or clinician.

Corps Days

Managing a hectic schedule takes discipline. Bergeron credits his to his marching days. “The whole discipline was a great thing for me; it seemed so hard at the time,” Bergeron says. “[The corps was] very old school, like the military; they were tough. Some of the leadership skills I have now were developed at that time.”

Overall, Bergeron is grateful for the drum corps experience. “It’s been a long time, but I can still look back on those times and see what I got out of it,” Bergeron says. “I loved it. I was really into it at the time though you wouldn’t want to see me march now.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a junior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-toback Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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