The Otterbein University Bands feature Marching Band, Wind Ensemble, and Pep Band. The program also includes various chamber ensembles. For more information, please visit the Bands section of the Otterbein University Department of Music webpage.
History of the Otterbein University Band Program
The tradition of music at Otterbein University dates back to the founding of the institution in 1847. In 1852, college founder and President Lewis Davis brought the first piano to Westerville, which was used by composer Benjamin Hanby, class of 1858, who led a juvenile singing class on Saturday afternoons. Hanby is best known today for his Christmas song “Up on the Housetop” and the Civil War ballad “Darling Nelly Gray.”
The first band at Otterbein was also organized in the early years of the College. According to Rev. Henry Garst’s History of Otterbein University, “One of the early organizations was a brass band in the 50’s of the last century, which was led by Prof. Thos. Mcfadden, which later went into the service with the 46th regiment, O. V. I. [Ohio Valley Infantry]” The tradition of band music at Otterbein’s Commencement ceremony began at the very first ceremony in May of 1857. The recorded minutes of the faculty state that there was “band music interspersed with vocal” at the first commencement, provided by Dr. McFadden’s brass band.
Music was taught at the college as an extracurricular activity until 1878, when W. S. Todd instituted a regular course of music instruction. Based upon his work, the university recognized Todd by naming him the first “Professor of Music.” Studios were established in the main building (Towers Hall) and in Saum Hall (where the Courtright Memorial Library was built in 1972). In ten years time, the music program had grown large enough to warrant its own space. The former home of Lewis Davis (where the Carnegie Library, today knows as Clippinger Hall, stands) was donated to the university in 1888 and was christened the Davis Conservatory of Music.
In 1889, band instruments were purchased, and shortly after mention of the “Otterbein Euterpean Band” began appearing in the college publications. The April 1891 Aegis states “Herefore [the Euterpean Band] has given Saturday Evening open air concerts, but this year it will make a change and give a series of four concerts in the college chapel.” Unfortunately, after 1891, no mention is made of the Euterpean Band.
1900 is an important year in the history of music at Otterbein in that it was the year that Glenn Grant Gabill graduated. He would join the Otterbein music faculty in 1905, and then would become chairman of the Music Department in 1909. He would later write the Otterbein Love Song (alma mater) and the Otterbein Fight Song.
Three years later, a band was organized by the students to play at the 1903 commencement exercises. Students led the band until 1915.
Arthur Spessard joined the faculty of Otterbein in 1913. In 1915, he became the first recognized faculty band director. That year, the band was made up of entirely brass, drums, and clarinets. The band ceased to exist in 1918, due to the United States’ involvement in World War I. In the fall of 1924, a small band was organized under the direction of Rodney Shaw of Columbus. The following year, Professor Spessard took charge, but by fall of 1927, the band had again been dissolved.
1930 was a major turning point for the bands at Otterbein. A new, larger band was organized by Professor Spessard. Uniforms, the first ever for the Otterbein band, were purchased solely through donations from the freshmen, sophomore, and junior classes. It was also the first year that band was recognized by the School of Fine Arts as part of the college curriculum. Though the numbers would decrease toward the end of the 1930’s, the band had become a permanent fixture on the Otterbein campus.
Alumni and friends of the band have often performed with the marching and concert bands. This tradition goes back to 1928, when assistant band director Professor Harry Hilt was hired. In most early photographs of the band he can be found playing in the clarinet section.
The 1940’s were a busy time for the band and the music program as a whole. In 1940, Professor L. Lee Shackson took over the band. In his own words, he wanted to provide “as much free music at Otterbein as we possibly can.” Though World War II would leave the band program at half strength (every man in the group had joined the war effort), the players who remained had determined to provide the college with the music Professor Shackson had proposed.
In 1941, the School of Fine Arts as absorbed back into the main curriculum and the Department of Music, as it is know today, was formed. The department then received full accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music in 1944. This accreditation is still held today.
When Professor Shackson finished his tenure as band director in 1947 (to take up the position of chair of the department the next year), the band had grown to 50 members, the largest ensemble the college had seen.
Directors William F. Cramer (1946-1950) and Mrs. Betty Semple Glover (1950-1952) were on hand to welcome back the men and women who had fought in World War II as their ranks swelled the campus population. In 1953, Professor Robert Westrich took command of the band. He explained the band’s role on campus, adding their music to the spring baccalaureate service and at groundbreaking ceremonies.
The sixties provided to be a time of transition for the Otterbein Band. Upon the retirement of Professor Westrich in 1962, the band director position passed around to different members of the department. Professor Alan Bradley served two one-year terms as director (1962-1963 and 1964-1965), with Karl Glenn serving in between (1963-1964). Dr. Arthur Motycka then took up the position for two years (1965-1967). In 1962, the department began to draw a distinction between the marching band and the concert band (the latter referred to as the Symphony of Winds). Both programs continued independently of each other, though they shared many members. In the fall of 1967 Ray Eubanks was hired to conduct the Symphony of Winds. Marching Band was not offered in 1967, but there was strong enough student interest to bring the program back the following year.
The Otterbein University Band program of today was born in 1968 with the arrival of Professor Gary R. Tirey. He took over both the Marching Band and the Symphony of Winds in the fall of that year, and immediately instituted several changes in the program. The O Squad Dance Team was created in 1968, and in the early 1970s the Flag Corpse was added (today known as the Cardinal Guard). The Marching Band began traveling to away games and performed in parades throughout Central Ohio. The Marching Band also presented a fall concert on campus for the first time. Guest directors and clinicians were regularly brought in to advise the band, including Dr. William Moffit, Col. James Morgan, and renowned director of bands at Capital University, Professor Wilbur Crist. Don Wolfe (class of 1971), served as assistant marching band director for twelve years during this time, coaching the front groups and creating flags and other props for pre-game and halftime shows. The Marching Band was featured a remarkable eight times on national television during professional pro-football halftime shows between 1970 and 1990. There have been two successful band uniform fund raising drives (1983-1985 and 1995-1997). Professor Tirey instituted the Alumni Band’s participation in the annual Homecoming Parade and Commencement and organized the summer “Otterbein Marching Workshop” from 1970 to 1987. At its height, this yearly event was one of the most renowned and respected camps in the United States for both students and directors.
In the spring of 1969, the Otterbein Bands went on tour for the first time, a tradition still in place today. That year, Crown Imperial March was first used as the processional music at the Otterbein Commencement (Ralph Vaughn William’s Sine Nomine was added as the recessional music in 1976, and Kris Lehman’s Commencement Fanfare was first used as the opening fanfare in 1986). In the spring of 1971, the Wind Ensemble was formed as a second outlet for instrumental performers. Shortly after, the Symphony of Winds became known as the Concert Band. In the summer of 1971, Professor Tirey took the bands on tour to England to perform at the Anglo-International Festival of Music. The trip was such a success that the bands were invited back in the summer of 1973. Band tours cross Ohio every year and out of state destinations include Chicago, Washington D.C., Toronto, New York City, New Orleans, Alabama, and Texas. Recent trips overseas have included five tours to England, Scotland, and Wales, and in 1999 to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
In the fall of 1994, Dr. Jeffery Kunkel was hired to serve as Professor of Music Education, Jazz Band director, and to assist with the Marching Band. The next year, Professor Tirey stepped down as Marching Band Director and Dr. Kunkel became director. Assisting Dr. Kunkel with the Marching Band was John Orr, class of 1979. In 1997, Dr. Jeffrey Boehm, class of 1980, returned to Otterbein as Professor of Music Education and director of the Marching and Jazz Bands. Dr. Boehm then took up the direction of the Concert band and Professor Tirey took up the sole direction of the Wind Ensemble.
In the fall of 2005 Dr. Russell McCutcheon was hired in the position of Associate Director of Bands and directed the Concert and Marching Bands. In the spring of 2006, Professor Gary R. Tirey retired after 38 years of service to the Otterbein Band Program, and Dr. Margaret Underwood was hired as the new director of Bands the next fall, and also became the director of the Wind Ensemble. In the winter of 2007, the Concert Band became the Symphonic Band which it is known as today. In the fall of 2008, Dr. Michael Yonchak became the new director of the Symphonic and all Athletic Bands, a position which he still holds today. In the summer of 2015 Dr. Underwood accepted a position at Western Carolina University after 9 years of service at Otterbein.