In 40th year, Bartner still hits right notes
On the wall of Trojan Marching Band Director Arthur Bartner‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄĒ including 150 members from USC ‚ÄĒ played for the Opening Ceremony in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, under Bartner‚Äôs guiding hands. Twenty-five years later, Bartner is still leading the self-titled ‚ÄúGreatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe,‚ÄĚ marking his 40th year at the helm this year.
‚ÄúHe is the Spirit of Troy, believe me,‚ÄĚ said Brad Calhoun, former Voice of Troy ‚ÄĒ the pre-game and half-time announcer at Trojan football games. ‚ÄúThe band had humble beginnings, and he transformed it into one of the best.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúArt was 30 years old when he started,‚ÄĚ Calhoun said. ‚Äú[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.‚ÄĚ
At first, Bartner tried to model the marching band after his alma mater‚Äôs, but he said the highly disciplined style at Michigan did not work at USC.
‚ÄúUSC 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,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúGoux took me under his wing and showed me how to be a Trojan,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúI try and bring those qualities to the band,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúDr. Bartner basically taught Pete Carroll how to be a Trojan,‚ÄĚ said Brett Padelford, the band‚Äôs public relations director and a former Spirit of Troy trumpet player. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôll 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.
‚ÄúThe band and football team took off together when Pete came,‚ÄĚ said Kenny Morris, a senior majoring in sociology and the band‚Äôs drum major. ‚ÄúDr. Bartner looks to Pete Carroll a lot for inspiration.‚ÄĚ
Likewise, Carroll says he too considers Bartner a source of motivation.
‚ÄúI have so much respect for the work he does … The passion he‚Äôs always stood for has withstood all the years he‚Äôs been here,‚ÄĚ Carroll said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs demonstrated to the football team that there‚Äôs no reason you have to fluctuate your performances. Their performances have always been absolutely consistent.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúWe are very much a football band,‚ÄĚ Bartner said. ‚ÄúEverything we do is geared to that team. The team is never far from our mind.‚ÄĚ
In addition to performing every week, Bartner‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄúLook at your accents!‚ÄĚ in his signature gravelly timbre.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs literally the fire behind this band,‚ÄĚ Morris said. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know how he does it.‚ÄĚ
Morris said Bartner‚Äôs tireless energy and enthusiasm is what propels the band to improve at every practice.
‚ÄúHe is 69 years old and in better shape than 90 percent of the band, myself included,‚ÄĚ Morris said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôll have these paternal moments, like ‚ÄėHe‚Äôs so wise, he‚Äôs such a great mentor,‚Äô then he‚Äôll yell at you to take a lap. You never know what to expect.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúThe deepest truth about Art Bartner is that his greatest joy is being a catalyst to draw out of others their gifts and talents,‚ÄĚ Calhoun said.
Morris said the band‚Äôs two mottos, ‚ÄúNever tired‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs easy to be a good band, and difficult to be a great band,‚ÄĚ reflect this intensity.
‚ÄúWe yell harder, we play better, we march better,‚ÄĚ Morris said. ‚ÄúBartner tells us this will be the greatest year we will have.‚ÄĚ
Although Bartner and the band take their performances seriously, members say his quirky conducting style makes practice interesting.
‚ÄúMy favorite is when he‚Äôll yell at someone, ‚ÄėYou in the red shirt!‚Äô on Fridays, but everyone‚Äôs wearing red because that‚Äôs our red shirt day,‚ÄĚ said Erica Dolcini, one of the members of the silks, USC‚Äôs color guard, and a junior majoring in public policy, management and planning. ‚ÄúAs much as we make fun of him because he can‚Äôt hear us on the field, he still commands respect and has an aura of authority.‚ÄĚ
Ryan Suter, the leader of the tuba section and a senior majoring in critical studies, said Bartner‚Äôs dedication makes him a legend on campus.
‚ÄúHe lives and breathes the USC Trojan Marching Band,‚ÄĚ Suter said. ‚ÄúYou hear him four days a week, whether or not you‚Äôre in the band.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúI 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,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúThe greatest, still most
exhilarating moment to me is after a hard-fought victory,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWhen the team comes over to the band and you get that Conquest, that‚Äôs still for me the most exciting moment.‚ÄĚ