On the wall of Trojan Marching Band Director Arthur Bartner’s office hangs a photograph of an 800-piece band packed on the grass of the Coliseum in the shape of the United States.
As 2.5 billion people from across the world watched, the band — including 150 members from USC — played for the Opening Ceremony in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, under Bartner’s guiding hands. Twenty-five years later, Bartner is still leading the self-titled “Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe,” marking his 40th year at the helm this year.
“He is the Spirit of Troy, believe me,” said Brad Calhoun, former Voice of Troy — the pre-game and half-time announcer at Trojan football games. “The band had humble beginnings, and he transformed it into one of the best.”
Bartner, who hails from New Jersey, came to USC in 1970 after playing the trumpet in the University of Michigan marching band for four years and working as a high school band director.
Back then, the band was having a hard time getting gigs with well-known musicians and did not have enough money for its budget.
“Art was 30 years old when he started,” Calhoun said. “[But] Art had a vision, and the longevity and consistency of service allowed him to implement his vision to the benefit of the university and its alums.”
At first, Bartner tried to model the marching band after his alma mater’s, but he said the highly disciplined style at Michigan did not work at USC.
“USC students wanted their own style, so I developed a new style with help from the students and [former USC football player and assistant coach] Marv Goux,” he said.
Bartner had met Goux, whom he calls a Trojan icon, shortly after he started working at USC, and ended up leaning on him for advice.
“Goux took me under his wing and showed me how to be a Trojan,” Bartner said.
Bartner said Goux, who died in 2002, encouraged him to go to football practices and watch the defensive linemen practice. Watching Goux work, Bartner said, made it easy for him to see the Trojan values of spirit, enthusiasm, competitiveness and intensity in action.
“I try and bring those qualities to the band,” said Bartner.
Thirty-one years later, when newly hired football coach Pete Carroll went to Goux to learn about Trojan tradition, Goux told Carroll to seek out Bartner.
“Dr. Bartner basically taught Pete Carroll how to be a Trojan,” said Brett Padelford, the band’s public relations director and a former Spirit of Troy trumpet player. “They’ll do anything for each
The connection between the band and the football team is something that both band members and alumni say is unique to USC.
“The band and football team took off together when Pete came,” said Kenny Morris, a senior majoring in sociology and the band’s drum major. “Dr. Bartner looks to Pete Carroll a lot for inspiration.”
Likewise, Carroll says he too considers Bartner a source of motivation.
“I have so much respect for the work he does … The passion he’s always stood for has withstood all the years he’s been here,” Carroll said. “He’s demonstrated to the football team that there’s no reason you have to fluctuate your performances. Their performances have always been absolutely consistent.”
The band has not missed a
football home or away game since 1987, and the entire group travels to both the USC-Notre Dame game and the Weekender, when USC plays either at Stanford or University of California, Berkeley.
“We are very much a football band,” Bartner said. “Everything we do is geared to that team. The team is never far from our mind.”
In addition to performing every week, Bartner’s career at the school spans 16 Rose Bowl performances, three Super Bowl performances, three Academy Awards appearances and two platinum albums. His tenure has also started several traditions, including the Lone Ranger theme that is played at the end of the third quarter, and the ritual of kicking the flagpole for good luck on the way to the Coliseum.
And after 40 years, Bartner still has one of the most famous voices on campus. He can be heard during practice shouting directions, such as “Look at your accents!” in his signature gravelly timbre.
“He’s literally the fire behind this band,” Morris said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
Morris said Bartner’s tireless energy and enthusiasm is what propels the band to improve at every practice.
“He is 69 years old and in better shape than 90 percent of the band, myself included,” Morris said. “He’ll have these paternal moments, like ‘He’s so wise, he’s such a great mentor,’ then he’ll yell at you to take a lap. You never know what to expect.”
Band practice with Bartner is an intense experience with constant repetition of the Tribute to Troy, as well as new music and marching drills for every home game. Errant players
commonly run the occasional lap and drop to the turf to do push-ups.
The band members are so dedicated to the band that sometimes, Bartner said, they even do push-ups for their mistakes without being asked.
“The deepest truth about Art Bartner is that his greatest joy is being a catalyst to draw out of others their gifts and talents,” Calhoun said.
Morris said the band’s two mottos, “Never tired” and “It’s easy to be a good band, and difficult to be a great band,” reflect this intensity.
“We yell harder, we play better, we march better,” Morris said. “Bartner tells us this will be the greatest year we will have.”
Although Bartner and the band take their performances seriously, members say his quirky conducting style makes practice interesting.
“My favorite is when he’ll yell at someone, ‘You in the red shirt!’ on Fridays, but everyone’s wearing red because that’s our red shirt day,” said Erica Dolcini, one of the members of the silks, USC’s color guard, and a junior majoring in public policy, management and planning. “As much as we make fun of him because he can’t hear us on the field, he still commands respect and has an aura of authority.”
Ryan Suter, the leader of the tuba section and a senior majoring in critical studies, said Bartner’s dedication makes him a legend on campus.
“He lives and breathes the USC Trojan Marching Band,” Suter said. “You hear him four days a week, whether or not you’re in the band.”
Although some band members, including Morris, believe that Bartner will retire when Carroll does, Bartner insists his comments are not meant to be taken seriously.
“I jokingly say I will not retire until Pete Carroll retires because I think the world of him. He makes Trojan football fun, exciting and vibrant,” Bartner said.
Despite Rose Bowl shows, TV and movie performances, platinum albums and a career spanning four decades, Bartner is still happiest conducting the Spirit of Troy after a Trojan win.
“The greatest, still most
exhilarating moment to me is after a hard-fought victory,” he said. “When the team comes over to the band and you get that Conquest, that’s still for me the most exciting moment.”