More Q&A with Dr. Arthur C. Bartner from the University of Southern California

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During his 50 years with the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner has built the band from 55 to 275 members and turned it into a world-renowned program known as Hollywood’s Band. Here are more questions and answers from our interview about Bartner’s final year at USC.

Read this first installment of our interview here.

Halftime: How did you grow the band’s numbers and its reputation through the early years?

Bartner: In the 70s it was constantly about creating an image of the band. … The band at the time had a very poor reputation. It wasn’t respected. …

You need to have a vision, and you need to have the product. It took almost 10 years to build the product.

The first guest artist was in 1970, and it was Henry Mancini. Out of the blue, he called up, and he said, “Well, I’ve got this television show. … I want a college band to play all my music, and I want to conduct it.”

Here it is at the end of the season, and I thought, “What a great idea.” … We played “Peter Gunn” and all these great Mancini tunes. And that was the first time that it got going. …

You never know when a gig is going to come up or a need for a band. … It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s just ongoing.

Halftime: Ever since that moment with Henry Mancini, you’ve performed with countless guest artists, both on and off campus. How do you maintain those relationships?

Bartner: I think maybe it’s my personality. I was born and raised in New Jersey, 20 minutes out of New York, so … I’m surrounded by the New York Broadway scene and the jazz scene. I used to go in New York and sit in the peanut gallery, … and I heard Miles Davis, Maynard Ferguson, all of those great artists. … I saw the first run of “South Pacific” and “West Side Story. Growing up, I was into that. … So it became natural to me when I came out to the West Coast. … and I got into this entertainment business through the [Trojan Marching] Band.

It took me awhile to build the brand of the Trojan Marching Band. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to have the product in many businesses, especially in show business. …

The lesson for these kids is that you have to act professionally. If you go on a movie set or a television set, you can’t be a bunch of college kids goofing around. You’ve got to be professional because this is big business surrounded by professional people. I’m very proud of the band. … They really are able to switch gears and become very professional.

The Trojan Family is very important. … A lot of times it’s … a graduate of USC who makes the connection, … and then you to start to build, … and I got to know a whole bunch of producers who are not SC people. …

It’s about creating a network, talking to [people] on the phone, communicating. Today it’s about sending emails and social media. We spend a lot of time on [marketing] and social media. We have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter; my staff deals with that. …

At USC, we have a work study, … so we could hire a bunch of kids, maybe a dozen kids. These kids are smart. They have a lot more social media savvy than I do, and they help us with this social media communication, and I have one member on my staff, … and he’s in charge of all of this. …

You need to have the personality, you need to be ambitious, you need to want to socialize. … I’m out all the time; my band is out all of the time. You have to really want to spend the time to do this.

Halftime: What is your favorite repeat gig?

Bartner: For me personally it’s the Hollywood Bowl. I’m conducting from the audience, but my eyes are glued on Gustavo Dudamel [music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic]. It’s the best education any band director could ever have just to rehearse with him and watch his exuberance and how the orchestra follows him. … I’ve learned more in those performances than I learn all year long. …

We’re the house band for the Los Angeles Lakers. … I befriended Jerry Buss, a Trojan with a doctorate in chemistry. He and I became friends. …

Every 4th of July except when we’re at a [World] Expo, we go to Catalina [Island]. We march in the parade, … and then we do a concert in the famous casino where all of the big bands from the ’40s and the ’50s played. … It’s now become like a USC pep rally. … We do one gig with a 10-piece on one of the boats. …  We play at the yacht clubs. It becomes a bit of a fundraiser.

Those are three examples of ongoing gigs that we still do today.

Halftime: With about 350 performance engagements—including all home and away football games—per year, how do you handle the logistics?

Bartner: Number 1, it’s the kids. The band students have to be committed to this. The academic level of USC has really gone up in the last 10, 15, 20 years. … [The students] have to buy into [the fact that] this is what we do.

We talk about it at the beginning of the year. We try not to take the freshmen on class trips because they need to study more and get acclimated to college life. They only go on the full band trips. But the returning members, we give them the [football] schedule, and say, “Talk to your professors now, so they understand what the commitment is.”

We also proctor exams on the road. … We’re able to talk to professors. We have this relationship on this campus. … We’re able to do this to make it possible for these students.

The other thing is … we do a lot of fundraising. … I spend a lot of time fundraising—going out, talking to various Trojan groups. I just do this all the time. We do get help from our athletic department. … They help us get back to Notre Dame. On the season ticket applications, there’s a line that people can donate to the band. … There are different opportunities to donate to our band fund.

Halftime: Recently the TMB cut the ribbon on the Dr. Arthur C. Bartner Band Pavilion and is also fundraising for an endowment of $20 million. Tell me about these two milestones.

Bartner: For my 50th anniversary, we set up a band initiative. … When I retire, [I want] to set this band up, so that my successor doesn’t have to go out and raise money 24 hours a day. We set up … these endowments for scholarships, travel, uniforms, and instruments. … And the goal was $15 million. We’ve been raising money for this in the last three or four years. We’re a little bit [more than] halfway there. … Then we added $5 million [to help pay for the building, so our total is $20 million].

The Lyon Center, which is our recreation building, they were renovating that space, … and [the past university president in early 2018] carved out 7,500 square feet for the band. … For the first time, we have individual lockers that [students] could [use to] put their horns, their uniforms, their helmets, their books, their computers; two separate locker rooms—male and female; an indoor practice space … where you can hold sectionals; and there’s a student lounge, percussion room, tuba room, uniform room. … We moved in Jan. 1, [2019]. …

We went out to find a sponsor for each space of the building [i.e., the lounge, the entranceway]. … We’ve raised more than half of the money.

Halftime: Through the years, the band has developed a persona that might be intimidating to outsiders. Was this identity created deliberately?

Bartner: I think every band should develop its own personality and its own style and be who they are. The fact that the uniform we wear—the helmet, the sunglasses, the shield—it might be a little intimidating, but it’s a very aggressive style to support our football team. … Our team is used to it. Our crowd is used to it. … It’s just this aggressive style that I learned back in the early ’70s from Marv Goux, [a former USC assistant football coach] who became my mentor. … He took me aside, took me to football practices and said, “This is what the USC band needs to be.”

At that point, [the band] had no identity, nobody wanted to be in it, nobody liked it, it had a terrible reputation. So I adapted this [style] through the years.

Halftime: What have been your proudest moments during your tenure with USC?

There are two things I’m most proud of:

This is an all-inclusive band. Everyone is accepted in the band. Some kids are not ready to march yet, but we’ll give them lessons, help them on the horns, teach them how to march. …

Also, we are very diverse. … We’re an urban band; we’re a melting pot band. … You’ll find every major, every race, religion, ethnicity in this band, and that’s been the most important thing to me. … I would reach out to different ethnic groups and include them.

Halftime: What advice do you have for other marching band directors?

Bartner: Every time I go out on the field, I’m excited. I’m an optimistic guy. It’s about going out and getting these kids excited to be out here.

A day at a time, the band needs to improve. They need to play better; they need to march harder. …

I’m very demanding. … Fundamentals and discipline are the key … also paying attention to details. We spend a lot of time on the music. If our rehearsal is two hours, we do a 15-minute warmup, and we’ll spend 45 minutes on music and an hour on marching. …

The bottom line is that it’s gotta be fun for these kids. … [In college] we’re not concerned with going to contests or festivals. We still want that same level of perfection, but it needs to be fun. It’s an extracurricular activity. That’s why I create all these events. That’s the fun part. …

You work them hard, you strive for excellence, but it still has to be fun.

The best part is the camaraderie within the band. This becomes their social outlet. It becomes their fraternity, their sorority, … they travel together, they break bread together. What happens is you have this family as an outgrowth of the Trojan Family that I call the Trojan Band Family. They support each other; they care for each other. We have a mentoring program. Whatever your major is, if you want to see an older member who also has that major …, you can sit down with them. We have a student advocate program. If a student is having trouble with school or trouble socially, whatever the problem, they can sit down with … a graduate student of the band. … We have a Christian organization, we have an LGBTQ organization, … we have all these groups … within the band.

Halftime: What advice do you have for students?

Bartner: Enjoy the experience. This is a great time in your life, being in college. …

I’m big on effort. I expect that when you come out to rehearsal, it should be just like a performance. … I expect them to play every note in tune, well-supported. … I expect them to march hard. we’re picking the legs up, pointing the toes. … I expect energy. … It’s this very aggressive style, and it’s very physical like an athletic team. It’s our identity. What I expect from the students is when you come out on that field, every rehearsal, there’s a consistency that you’re going to give your all every time.

This to me is a life lesson. When you go on with the rest of your life, you will have this work ethic, that, “Yes, I know how to work hard, I know how to give my all. Whatever needs to be done, I will do.” …

We build leaders. We start with the freshmen, and we just move them up the hierarchy. … Juniors start to become squad leaders. By the time you’re a senior, you can become a section leader. If you come back as a grad student, you can be a teaching assistant. We’re training leaders as we’re going. I think this is a great part of what we do as a program.

Photo courtesy of Ben Chua.

About author

Christine Ngeo Katzman

Christine Ngeo Katzman is founder and chief executive officer of Muse Media, LLC, creator of books, magazines, and additional content highlighting performing arts and youth activities. Magazine assets include Halftime Magazine for marching arts participants and fans as well as Yamaha SupportED Magazine for K through 12 music educators. Previously, she was a writer and editor at Crain Communications and Imagination Publishing and a marketing manager at Chatsworth Products, Inc. Christine also worked for Yamaha Band and Orchestral Division. As a child, Christine learned five instruments, with flute being primary. She marched in the Northwestern University Marching Band, including the 1996 Rose Bowl and 1997 Citrus Bowl. Christine graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1997 and earned an MBA with honors from the University of Southern California in 2007.

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