Brass tax: Reasons to bring back Pep Band

As I prepare to button up my sweater and head off to Scott Stadium to watch our own Cavaliers in action, I suppose I should be used to the fact that the Pep Band no longer plays at the games. But I'm not.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that the once student-run, student-oriented University of Virginia Pep Band has been replaced by the incredibly generic "Marching Cavaliers," thanks to another benevolent donation by another benevolent millionaire.

UVA is the home of McSponsorship these days. Give a million dollars, and you can scratch out our fifth President's name and re-write it under your own at "Brown College" (at Monroe Hill). Donate money to the Law School, and you can have most anything named after you, down to the urinal strainers in the men's room. Well, almost.

Look, I understand that the University needs people to donate money for a variety of reasons­ to keep running, and trivial things like that. But I'm also a former member of the Pep Band (and graduate of the pre-gilded-urinal strainer law school), and there's still enough naïve and enthusiastic 18-year-old in me to say, "Whoa, dude. There's something more important going on here."

Could anything be more important than vicariously fueling our egos through our sports teams and their band?

More important than our football team's desperate need to be taken seriously (and to make money for the athletic department, not to mention draw further donations from alumni)?

Could there possibly be something more important than having Big Donors' names plastered everywhere so we can all bow in reverence to their generosity to their alma mater?

Well, actually, yes. Here are a few such things:


UVA's message about money. The University teaches not just in the classroom, but also by example. When Mr. Muchbucks gets his name in place of a past President's by coughing up a few million, what does that teach about the importance of money compared to the importance of leadership? Or history?

When the law firm of Leave, Ewe, High, and Dry has its name posted next to the classroom it sponsored at the law school, does that influence where law students will want to work, or who they think is most important in the world of law? Perhaps corporate sponsorship is just the natural, ugly progeny of the law and economics curriculum.


Where the power resides. The athletic department and the football team do not define the college experience of most students. They should not control the University, its spending, or the University's extracurricular programs (especially those that have been in existence for, say, 31 years, like the Pep Band).

Nor should University decisions be controlled by a rich alumnus who happens to think it's a good idea to have a marching band. It's not a rich alumnus' band, and it's not just the football team's band. The band belongs to all the students. Let's hear what the students have to say, not just do what one person decides he'll donate money for. (Or could it be that the University actually asked that person for a specific donation to get rid of the Pep Band? Hmmm.)


UVA's message about power. Allowing donors to enjoy prominence by plastering their names everywhere provides them with a measure of control over the University and can unduly influence the nascent thought processes of students. Sure, it might teach students to donate. But it also teaches them how influence and respect might be bought and perhaps even how (and whom) to bribe. It's an attitude that puts money at the forefront, maybe even before the seeds of other virtues and dreams can be planted.


Do we really want to encourage our students to be like everyone else? Hey, if someone donates money for a big, snazzy marching band, complete with perky uniforms and a drum major, it must automatically be better than the old scramble band with shabby orange vests, right? Everyone knows that bigger is better, uniformity is better, more is better, and being just like everyone else only better is better! And all of it was free.

But wait. It's not free. There is a cost. Let the 30 somethings and octogenarians recall the virtue of being different, of having a personality, of creating a style all your own. Why must the University insist that we place so much value on superficial things like looks when we crave so desperately for the world to see the wit and intelligence teeming beneath the surface? There are enough high school bands in the world. We don't need yet another one here when we had, and could yet have, so much more.


Do we want a band that's not made up of all UVA students? It's called the "Marching Cavaliers," but there are lots of Piedmont students high-stepping with the Hoos. This new crew exists because key folks think UVA is playing "big time" football and needs a "big time" band to celebrate that fact. Frankly, it's depressing that the University and athletic department would care more about having a big time band than about having an all-UVA band. Who's it all about, anyway?


Do we really want to take ourselves so seriously? Let's strive for excellence, but let's not forget that life is funny along the way, and let's allow ourselves to laugh out loud, be a little ridiculous, and suck all that we can out of the time we have. Maybe once in a while we'll stick our collective foot in our collective mouth, but you know what? That's how we learn.

Replacing the Pep Band with the Marching Cavaliers is taking ourselves too seriously. It's taking away the fun and the funny, all because a joke that was pre-approved by the University's censorship bureau wasn't well-received in West Virginia when it was delivered at the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl. Getting rid of the Pep Band is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

UVA and the athletic department should not have axed the Pep Band and replaced it with a scab marching band. They could have– and still can– take all that money, all those shiny silver instruments, and the University-paid director– and bring back the student run, student playing, pay-as-you go, no money down, no one to pay off, award winning University of Virginia Fighting Cavalier Indoor/ Outdoor Precision Marching Pep Band and Chowder Society Review Unlimited!

The author, a former prosecutor and law book publisher, now finds herself a stay-at-home mom and a singer/trumpet player in a local rock & roll cover band called Metanoia.

The Marching Cavaliers cover the David A. Harrison Field at Scott Stadium at the Carl Smith Center at halftime during the Homecoming victory over Duke September 24.<

Fall 2004: Pep Bandsters, clockwise from hatman Brian Kidd: Nora Bungard, James Maxwell, Rebcca Louie, Ginny Chilton