The Highstepper

Student Spotlight: Studying Abroad in Argentina!

I may or may not have cried on the plane to Buenos Aires. It was my first time leaving the United States, and I was flying alone across the world to a country where I didn’t know the language. As someone who prides herself on quick comebacks and loves recounting funny stories and correcting the grammar of my unsuspecting family members, being unable to adequately communicate myself terrified me.

I feared embarrassing myself, appearing unintelligent, accidentally being rude to people, and having trouble making friends due to my inability to say anything remotely interesting in Spanish. While I’ve experienced all of these things, some more than once, I’ve also experienced so much joy, and my Spanish interactions have been nothing short of wonderful – even when I just smile and nod and hope nobody asks me any questions.

One of the first things I learned in Buenos Aires is that there’s often more meaning in people’s actions and expressions than in their words. On one of my first days of school, I passed a young couple walking together and joking around. Although for the life of me I could not understand them, and possibly for this reason, I saw the look of happiness and love on their faces, and was moved by their joy. My inability to understand their words gave me an opportunity to see them in a completely different way, to think a little less and just appreciate the happiness around me.

Similarly, I quickly learned how to communicate myself purely through facial expressions, laughter, and an openness to learn and participate. I’m proud to say that I earned the friendship of my host’s grandkids through a combination of making silly faces, playing tag, and constantly committing comical errors in Spanish (who could have guessed that the Spanish word for banana is banana!?!). On my volleyball team, I’ve seen how I can motivate my teammates with a high five and a smile, and how those simple actions can help change the course of a game. Although I still can’t say exactly what I’d like, I’ve seen that there are equally valid ways to express myself.

I’ve also been so pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and kind people are to me, even when I’m admittedly not contributing too much to conversation. The standard Argentine greeting is a kiss on the cheek, and there’s something about receiving a kiss from fifty strangers at a party just makes you feel welcome. At the first asado that I attended in Buenos Aires, every person who knew a bit of English gathered around me and talked to me so that I wouldn’t feel lonely. At my second asado a month later, they listened patiently as I tried to speak in Spanish, and helped me out when I needed it. More recently, one of my volleyball teammates invited me out for coffee, and we spent a delightful two hours together. She talked slowly and clearly, helped me out with words when I needed it, and corrected my grammar without making me feel bad about my errors. When I began recounting a story and realized that it would be quite difficult to tell in Spanish, rather than letting me switch into English, she encouraged me, giving me much-needed confidence and practice. Given that I really feared loneliness, I’ve been so pleased by the number of people who take the time to talk to me, both in English and Spanish, and I have been surprised by my growing ability to sustain interesting conversations!

Brenna Cancilla

Furthermore, I’ve really grown to appreciate the Argentine culture and nuances of Argentine Spanish. I see the beauty in sitting and enjoying my coffee with a friend instead of taking it to go, and have grown to love the simplicity and warmth of greeting someone with a kiss. Here, every silence is filled with a bueno (good), and most propositions, whether extraordinary or mundane, are met with an enthusiastic dale. Although this means that I’ll never be able to read my hometown’s name, Glendale, the same way, it made me acutely aware of the opportunities that come with enthusiastically agreeing to new experiences.

In my four months here, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to so many beautiful places in Argentina – including Iguazu Falls, Mendoza, and Patagonia – and although each was stunning in its own way, all were populated with wonderful, patient people.

This past weekend, I experienced the kind of perfect day that I’ve been working towards for four months. Fresh off of our first win, my volleyball team had an asado bonding together at my friend’s house just north of the city. I spent six wonderful hours in a sea of happy Spanish, intermixed with some helpful English, caught up on some hot gossip about some people I’ve never heard of, impressed everyone with a couple marching band stories, and even got in a few good jokes. When I got back to my hostel where I was staying, I was invited to eat with one of my roommates and their friends from back home. For the second time that day, I was eating a delicious home cooked meal and was immersed in Spanish, this time with a different accent, but still with just the same kindness that I’ve grown accustomed to. After dinner, I spent two more hours enjoying a conversation with a new friend from Mexico, learning from his life experiences and recounting my own, all in a language that I could neither speak nor understand just four months ago.

Absolutely every day I’ve spent in Argentina has been fabulous, and I’m so glad that I put aside my fears and took advantage of this amazing opportunity to study abroad. The next time I’m presented with an opportunity that scares me, I’ll think back on my time in Argentina, smile, and like the Porteños, say dale.

-Brenna Cancilla, Bass ’15

Student Spotlight: Studying Abroad in Ireland!

The promise of excitement and adventure drew my application for a semester abroad in Dublin, Ireland this spring. Tales of new found perspectives and geographical treasures sounded unlike anything offered at Berkeley; I was fascinated by elaborate stories of personal growth and different types of challenges people faced being away from everything familiar. While I’ve fallen in love with the Bay Area and Cal over these past few years, it could never offer me everything.

This January I set out for another adventure across the small pond we call the Atlantic Ocean in search of another dimension of learning. While Ireland is culturally similar to the U.S., there were still some nuances that I had to adjust to – different brands in the grocery stores, how to flag down a bus, social etiquette, and english equivalents for Irish-isms! I loved experiencing that learning curve because it brought back fond memories of when I first stepped onto the Berkeley campus.

Over the next few months I had a jam packed schedule of school and travel. On the weekdays I would attend my classes and practice for the trampoline and gymnastics club I joined. It was exciting to take classes I would never otherwise have an opportunity to take at Berkeley. My favorite class was my EU-China Relations class, which I’m almost sure there is no equivalent at Berkeley! It was also nice learning a new sport that isn’t especially popular in the U.S. You may not think it, but trampolining is physically exhausting, and putting together a competitive routine was way more difficult than I imagined!

On the weekends, I experienced a taste of European life throughout the continent. I travelled to 9 countries in total (and hope to return and finish off more countries on my to-do list!). However, my favorite city was Paris. It was so easy to get lost and wander around for hours admiring french architecture, eating fresh cuisine or stumbling into a plaza to relax. As someone who studies art history, it was especially rewarding to see some of the most iconic works of art in history – seeing them in real life doesn’t compare to the textbook images I’ve been looking at for all these years!

Samantha Yen

While I’m sure that my semester abroad was unlike anything else I will experience, I left Dublin with two big takeaways: one, I am self sufficient and can enjoy experiences alone and two, nothing compares to multiculturalism I’ve experienced in the U.S. Sometimes, we find ourselves looking towards European culture to shape how we should conduct ourselves or our society. But I don’t think I appreciated my life here until I left. We lead a life with so many conveniences and innovations – especially here in the Bay – that we can often take for granted. On any given day for lunch we can walk down the street and be met with cuisines spanning across entire continents. This is something pretty special, and I hope I don’t forget it!

I am excited to return to Berkeley this fall for one final marching season and a renewed fervor for all the aspects of my life I hold near and dear to my heart – my relationships, my studies, and of course, the Cal Band!

Go Bears, see you this Fall!

 

- Sam Yen, Snare ’14

 

Student Spotlight: Real Life Shark Week!

Hi, I’m Kasey, proud Tenor Mama in Cal Band, shark enthusiast, and the luckiest girl in the world.

Studying abroad in South Africa was never really part of my college plan. After my first semester at Cal, and absolutely loving every minute of my time there (even the late nights of studying), I didn’t want to miss out on anything by going abroad. But, after a last-minute decision one night, I decided that I wanted to study at the University of Cape Town for spring semester 2017. And that would be one of the best decisions of my life.

Cape Town is one of the most exciting and colorful places in the entire world. In only a few short months here, I’ve managed to have a lifetime’s worth of experiences. I’ve travelled to the southern most point on the continent, Cape Agulhas, as well as the southwestern-most point, the famous Cape of Good Hope. I’ve had scary encounters with wild baboons on hiking trails, have gotten lost on Table Mountain (well, we thought it was Table Mountain), gone zip lining through Tsitsikamma National Park, and have danced my heart out at a backpacker’s lodge along the Garden Route. I went to Afrika Burn with my housemates, where trance music, dust storms, and the desert heat surrounded us for 3 days as we watched these incredible wooden structures being set on fire alongside 15,000 other sweaty people. I have also been volunteering at a local elementary school – where the Afrikaans-English barrier is super real, and have been learning parts of the Xhosa and Zulu culture through the dance class I’m enrolled in here. I’ve walked hand-in-trunk with elephants at an elephant sanctuary and visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. I am extremely fortunate to have these experiences, but one thing that made me happier during my time here more than anything else has been the week that I spent in Gansbaai – the Great White Shark Capital of the world.

For those who haven’t met me yet, I’m a little obsessed with sharks. I’m not exactly sure where the fascination came from, but they have always been captivating to learn about. I spent my “Spring Break” vacation here by traveling to Gansbaai and staying with White Shark Diving Company for the entire week. During this week I had the opportunity to go shore fishing a couple of times and caught my first shark ever, a beautiful 80 cm long Leopard Shy Shark. I learned how to properly hold the shark, measure it quickly, take a fin sample, and even how to tag them. I also had the chance to go on the shark diving boat a couple of times and see the famous Shark Alley between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock – a place I had only seen  from Great White Shark documentaries and that I finally had the chance to see for myself.

One of the highlights of the week was definitely being part of the necropsy of the largest Great White Shark dissection to ever happen in South Africa. We learned that this female had been attacked by two male transient orcas that only attacked her for her liver, which we learned because it had been missing from her body during the dissection. Over the next couple of days, there were more white sharks washing up onshore, all with similar injuries under their pectoral fins from the orcas. These orcas were, and still are, causing the white sharks to leave Gansbaai and the neighboring towns because of how severely they are threatened by these two brother orcas. This only demonstrates that sharks are not the man-eating beasts that most people think they are – they are scared of some things too!

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Before I leave Cape Town I plan on going back to Gansbaai and spending another few days with this team of amazing people and learning more about the white sharks here. If I had never chosen to come abroad, specifically Cape Town, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with my favorite species on the planet. For me, studying abroad has not only been a chance to learn about another country and immerse myself in a brand new culture, but it has helped me meet people and to take the first steps necessary in beginning my career as a Marine Biologist. Nonetheless, I’m extremely excited to be returning to Cal in a few months for my final marching season with some of my favorite people in the world, and I can’t wait to bug them with all of my new shark knowledge.

 

Go Bears!

Kasey Mitchell, Tenor ‘14

 

Student Spotlight: Kat’s Cakes!

At the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I passed out one morning before going to class. That marked the beginning of a long and challenging chronic illness that kept me at home for nearly three years. I spent the rest of high school in and out of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, trying countless treatments in search of a diagnosis.

One can accomplish a lot in three years of down time, even when confined to one’s house. That time allowed me to develop a closer relationship with my parents and with my cats. I read hundreds of books and was able to work my way through all of my school material from home. I developed a love for cooking and baking and was charmed by the joy that the gift of food brought to my friends and family. Despite the seemingly endless days spent in bed, I knew that I wanted to attend a four-year college, and I was confident that I would be able to complete the prerequisite materials even though I was unable to attend class. That said, one piece of my college application remained missing– my illness prevented me from going out into the world and devoting my time to volunteer work. While many of my peers volunteered at our local hospital or at our county’s animal shelter, I spent most of my days too ill to leave the house.

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During one of the many drives between Stanford and my hometown, my dad came up with a solution. He proposed that I combine two of my great loves: baking and animals. We spent the rest of that drive devising a way that I could use what I had learned in the kitchen in order to help animals in need. Throughout the rest of high school, I made and sold baked goods and donated the money that I collected to the Butte Humane Society, and Kat’s Cakes was born. I started out small at first, selling individual pastries to my friends and my parents’ coworkers. My mother, a graphic designer, put together my first business cards with pictures of my simple desserts. As time passed, I became more and more adept in the kitchen and began to pursue more complicated projects. I developed a love for cake decorating and began taking custom orders for special occasion cakes of all types. Throughout high school, I was able to raise and donate $1,000 dollars to the animal shelter with the endless support of my friends and family.

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Since then, my health has improved and I am able to manage my illness in order to live a normal life. I am fortunate enough to attend UC Berkeley and to be member of the Best Damn Band in the Land. Kat’s Cakes still exists today, and I continue to take custom dessert orders from my bandmates and professors with the money now going towards the cost of tuition and living expenses. I still learn every time I bake and am always excited to try new things in the kitchen. Since coming to college, I have been hired for my skills and now bake and decorate cakes and cupcakes at an artisan cake shop in Berkeley. Though I no longer have as much time as I would like to devote towards personal baking projects, nothing makes me happier through the stress of school and marching than making desserts for the people that I love.

-Kat White, Bass ’14

2017 Spring Show Recap

This year, the two-hour musical-dance-comedy-history extravaganza commonly called “the Cal Band Spring Show” was on Saturday, April 29 in the Band Rehearsal Hall. As the Masters of Ceremonies, Jason Holiday and Jameson Davis delivered wonderful (and wonderfully self-deprecating) performances. Unfortunately, Jason was a bit under-the-weather, so he hydrated immoderately throughout the evening. Meanwhile, Jameson spent most of his time onstage roasting himself.

The evening began with the Cal Band Big Band, led by Dr. Calonico, which played “Tenor Madness” by Sonny Rollins and “Doin’ the Bathtub Boogie” by Gordon Goodwin. A die-hard trumpet partisan might take umbrage at the fact there were twice as many trombones (6) as trumpets (3), but others might quietly give thanks and praise the good judgment of the director.

The second act managed to satisfy both the pro-trumpet and anti-trumpet factions; it involved the most of the trumpet section—singing a cappella! The song they sang? “Separate Ways,” of course!

Next up, Gina Levine performing stand-up comedy. Her targets included people who don’t hold the door when you’re right behind them—she hopes they find themselves one quarter short while doing laundry—and last year’s Drum Major, Alexander Ewing, whose distinctive voice she likened to a bad Obama impression. Her material was very well-received; her longtime fans only worry this success will encourage her to save her best stuff for live venues and lead to fewer amusing Facebook posts.

Shea Nolan then took the stage to perform some “piano jams.” The premise was fairly straightforward—an audience member would shout out a key, and Shea would improvise in the key. Aside from one joker who repeatedly shouted “E sharp,” the audience was cooperative and engaged, and Shea got a chance to demonstrate his inventiveness, adroitness, and “mad piano skills, bruh.”

The fifth act was… really something else. Eric Yu came up wearing a rubber cow head mask and played clarinet while speakers blasted heavy metal. It was the pre-concert fever dream of a Wisconsinite community orchestra director. It was a Spongebob Squarepants-BoJack Horseman crossover episode. It was Kafkaesque; it was Stanfurdesque; nonetheless, it was glorious.

The Bear Bones Quartet came next with a medley of songs from Moana. The much of the audience sang along during the choruses, and one or two super-fans sang along during the verses. As usual, the difficult task of arranging for trombones a not-so-brassy, vocals-heavy score was handled masterfully.

Then came Rees Parker with an act that was part history lesson, part musical performance. He traced the development of the harmonica from Germany to the American South and constructed an original blues song layer by layer—adding first blues harmonica, then guitar accompaniment, vocals, and a bit of whistling! He may not have dropped the bass like some contemporary songwriters, but he did put down an awesome beat on his shiny metal guitar.

The eighth act was the fan-favorite Cal Band Dance Team, putting the “twerk” in Gesamtkunstwerk. They danced to “Countdown” by Beyoncé, “Lose Control” by Missy Elliott, and “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé. The dedication of the dancers to memorizing and perfecting the choreography was incredible—months ago, during the 2017 PAC-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, while waiting backstage at the arena before a game, Rikio Inouye was seen rehearsing the steps over and over and over before the bathroom mirror. That level of preparation paid off; the performance was fun and impressive.

After the Cal Band Dance Team, the audience expected a solo bagpipes performance by Alex Walker. They waited and waited, but Alex Walker was nowhere to be seen. Then, suddenly, a full pipe band appeared, marched to the front, and played the best new special versions of Cal Songs since the first verse of “Fight for California” was translated into Dothraki!

What comes next? Well, you see, it is a Hamilton parody. A ton of jokes. Awesome. Wow. It does not feel too played-out somehow. Targeting Jameson—it was slightly mean, but mostly fun. Shea played the piano part, Brandon Chinn took care of drumming, and the rest—they sang with heart!

The grand finale of the Cal Band Spring Show was the fourth installment in the modern Cal Band, the Musical series. This year, renowned librettist, director, and impresario Alexander Hilts (in the interest of full disclosure, the writer should point out he is numerically identical with the aforementioned theatrical mastermind) focused on the experience of the graduating seniors. In the musical, a group of them look back on their time in band. They remember the good (the trip to Asia), the bad (sweaty, sticky hat rehearsals), and the ugly (fireside chat). They fear the future, but an alumna returns to spread the good news—there is a world beyond BRH and the lounge! Together, the seniors march off into the sunset.

All in all, the Cal Band Spring Show was a generally delightful, occasionally bizarre, always interesting time. Oh, and there were snacks. Shout-out to Ad Comm for the popcorn and Red Vines!

 

-Alex Hilts, Trombone

Traveling with our Teams: NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament!

We recently had the privilege of accompanying our Women’s Basketball team to Waco, Texas to cheer them on in the NCAA Tournament! After arriving on March 16th and later cinching a win against LSU, we had plenty of time to explore the Lone Star State till the game against Baylor on 20th.

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On Friday the 19th, we had the opportunity to take a day trip to Austin, though I cannot say what exactly that trip entailed since I chose not to go. However, Waco had plenty to offer. Our hotel was conveniently placed within a ten minute walk of Baylor University, the Dr Pepper Museum, and the greatest fast food hub I’ve ever laid eyes upon. I took this day as an opportunity to wander through Baylor’s campus on a free schedule—though getting there was a surprising challenge. Upon leaving the hotel, Brent Wickemeyer (Bone ’14) and I passed two crossing guards directing crowds going towards Magnolia Market, a popular tourist site run by the stars of the popular remodeling show “Fixer Upper.” Beyond this point, however, we soon realized that Waco didn’t appear to have any crosswalks and that pedestrians in Texas technically do not have the right of way; this left us unsure how to cross under the overpass of I-35 and the expressways surrounding it, even though we could clearly see the edge of Baylor’s campus a hundred yards from us. It turns out that without crossing guards, it’s trial by fire every time you want to cross the street in Waco.

 

The first thing we decided to do once we finally arrived on campus was to stop by the campus bookstore. This is an essential stop on every away trip, as one of Cal Band’s many traditions is that we like to visit the rival’s/hosting team’s campus bookstore to buy pins and clearance t-shirts to remember our travels (in our second visit, Brent bought nine shirts for $2 each, which was pretty exciting). Afterwards, we turned the corner to view Baylor’s two live bears, Lady and Joy, in their Bear Habitat; these bears serve as the university’s mascots. The University of California, Berkeley also used live bear cubs as mascots for some time, though this practice was discontinued after 1940; as a side note, Baylor University stopped feeding their live bear mascots Dr Pepper in the mid-90s.

 

I found my favorite part about Waco just southwest of the edge of campus in a quaint little ice cream shop called Heritage Creamery. I just want to give a shoutout to this charming business for its friendly staff and unique ice cream flavors (such as Basil Strawberry and Salty Vanilla Bean)! This shop makes its ice cream in-house and buys from local farms, but most importantly it makes its waffle cones right in front of you! I highly recommend supporting this sweet local business and for anyone making a stop in Waco to give it a visit.

 

Anyway, the next day brought us to our team’s first game, which was against LSU’s Lady Tigers. Our team faced some tough calls by the refs that put our team at a bit of a disadvantage, but Asha Thomas made way for the team’s victory by scoring 18 points, making six out of nine of her attempted three-point field goals that game. In high spirits after an emotionally exhausting game, we celebrated with cheers and many, many photos. KC Waters even joined us for one by jumping in front of the band to pose for a full-band photo!

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The next day, we had another opportunity for a day trip, which we decided to take to San Antonio. I definitely hopped on this trip so that I could visit Lulu’s Bakery & Café, which is nationally-renowned as the home to the three-pound cinnamon roll. A small group of us made a beeline for Lulu’s as soon as the bus stopped. After almost two hours’ wait, we finally got a table, but it was entirely worth it! After glancing over the menus we quickly realized that Lulu’s wasn’t just known for its ginormous cinnamon rolls, but for its ginormous chicken-fried steaks! John Sorfleet (Bone ’14) and Joyce Luk (Bone ’15) attempted Lulu’s “Texas Ranger Challenge,” which entails trying to eat a 21-ounce chicken-fried steak, two double side dishes of your choice, and two dinner rolls all within 12 minutes. They both gave valiant efforts, but unfortunately they couldn’t finish it because the steak was too tough to chew within the allotted time! Apparently the quantity of food is not so much of an issue. For any future brave eaters, the two recommend that you choose to get either green beans or corn as the sides (instead of mac ‘n cheese or mashed potatoes) and to cut up the steak in advance into pieces small enough to immediately swallow. John also notes that dunking the steak into water does not help it go down easier—but it works for the dinner rolls. We celebrated their efforts with a cinnamon roll to share amongst the nine of us there. To me this was by far the high point of the day, since our love of cinnamon rolls brought a group of people together that normally wouldn’t see each other, bridging the all-too-common section cliques we tend to form in band!

 

That next day, we said goodbye to Waco by hitting up every fast food stop we could, which helped us prep for the game (any newcomers should check out Raising Cane’s fried chicken for a treat not likely to be found on the West Coast).

 

The game against Baylor was a tough one but our team held up extraordinarily, even in the face of what could’ve been a deeply demoralizing challenge. They held their own against top-seed Baylor even with Baylor’s starters playing until the last few minutes of the game, and also with a roaring full audience that both Baylor Spirit and their head coach Kim Mulkey worked to rile up every now and then.

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These two games in Waco made me feel it was more important than ever to be there for the team, that it felt like we were in it with them. We wanted to give them all the support they could get to try to keep their morale up in an insurmountable challenge. As one of the ~30 Cal fans in attendance (including all of Cal Spirit), it was borderline frightening to be at the game, because as nice as Baylor fans were when they spoke to us in person and individually, as a crowd, it felt like they were sacrificing our team to theirs with their rite-like chants and cheers. Baylor fans would raise their Sic ‘em bear claw high in the air and then swipe it down, chanting “kill!” with every swipe, which resonated through the arena as cheerleaders looked on with toothy smiles framed by blood-red lips. Further, a small group of fans behind us started chanting “Baylor we want 100,” making it seem as though Baylor fans come to see their team decimate its opponents instead of simply beat them. However, we still were individually treated very well by the Baylor fans and were grateful for their hospitality, and I really appreciated their dedication, reverence, and turnout for their Women’s Basketball team.

 

This trip certainly made me feel more attached to our team. They really held it together and kept it classy, all the while keeping frustration at bay and their strength up. I’m so proud to represent and cheer on a team of players who are so fierce on the court and still so kind and gracious in person—I’ll gladly and proudly lose my voice cheering for them every game!

 

I’m incredibly grateful to Cal Band and the University of California for providing me these opportunities to travel, and especially with such nice accommodations! Until this trip, I’d never been to Texas, nor had I ever slept in a king size bed. I’d highly encourage any current Cal Band member to sign up for any of our away games in the future to take part in these rare experiences—especially the basketball tournaments; as daunting as it may be to block out such a large amount of time in the middle of midterms, I guarantee it’s worth it for a chance like this.

 

-Gwen Gettle (Bone ’15)

 

Pete Alvarez: 40 Years of Directing

Pete Alvarez was recently honored by the Cal Band in 2016 for serving the Band as field director for 40 years. Tara Castro (clarinet ‘05) and Colin Downs-Razouk (alto ‘05) sat down with Pete to talk to him about this amazing feat and his history with the Band.

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Tara Castro: What work did you do at Cal?

Pete Alvarez: From 1976 to 1985 I worked for Parking Services. I started as a student; it was a part time job. I worked at the garage that is right outside the band room. In 1976, all the planets aligned. We just got back from tour and I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing. Parking and Transportation Services created a full time job- I don’t know if it was for me, but they asked me to do it. So had a full time job at the UC, which was great. However, it was a go-nowhere job. Things changed where I wasn’t allowed to be in the little booth anymore, I had to go out and write tickets, which I hated. I hated writing tickets. I decided I needed to get out. In 1985 I started applying for jobs, and a colleague of mine at parking had a wife who worked in personnel. She was forwarding my application everywhere. I interviewed with the Student Learning Center. On paper, I think I wasn’t qualified, but I rocked the interview. I was an administrative assistant, and when my officemate quit, my boss said, “guess who’s doing her job?” “Who?” “You.” And that’s how I got into the technical side, and that’s where I spent the majority of my 25 years with the SLC. It was tech support- the computer lab, the beginnings of file sharing, database stuff, no web yet, because there was no web then. I remember telling one director, I don’t know about this web… She said, “you wait, this thing is going to explode, so we are going to have to have a web page.”

TC: How did you get started field directing?

Colin Downs-Razouk: Who was the director of the band at the time?

PA: It was a transitional year for me in 1976 when I got the job at Parking Services. One day Bob Briggs came out to my little booth in the BRH garage and he said, “I’d like you to be a field director.” I said, “Sure, I’ll do it!” Up until that point the director was on the West sideline the student director used to be the East sideline, and they had two alumni, generally former student directors. My freshman year, at least one of them was the STUD from the year before. In the fall of 1977, Bob Briggs asked Richard Schroebel to be the second field director. In 1978, the student director didn’t want to direct, he wanted to march in his senior year. So they moved me to the East sideline, and Richard to the North, and added another alumni director.

It was at a tailgate that Bob Briggs said, “How long do you guys plan to do this?” I didn’t think he was expecting any particular answer, but at the time the football team wasn’t so bad. In ‘75 they were co-Pac 8 champions. We thought we might get to a Rose Bowl. I don’t know how much alcohol had been involved, but Richard and I said, “well how about we say we’re gonna do this until we go to a Rose Bowl.” Bob Briggs said, “That sounds great! That’ll happen soon.” This was probably around ’78 or ‘80. We hadn’t been to a bowl game since ‘59. In ‘79 we went to the Garden State Bowl. Between the three of us, we decided we’d stay on until we get to the Rose Bowl.

(all laugh)

TC: Is that still the plan?

PA: It was. We got close with Tedford. Even last year, I took Albert Locher aside and asked, “How long do you plan to do this?” He came up with a logical answer. He said  well there’s no reason for me not to.” So, it’s indefinite.

CDR: What trip was the most memorable?

PA: They all blur, but it would be when the Women’s Basketball team went to the Elite Eight, in New Orleans. The women’s basketball team is very grateful for band and they recognize band, hang out with band. That was one of those trips. The flight back had such energy. They’re all students, so that was really cool. Traveling with the women is a lot of fun.

TC: And you go on football trips as well?

The only time I get to travel with band is if they go to bowl games as the whole band.

TC:  So your last bowl game trips were probably with us. We went to San Diego, Emerald Bowl in the exotic location of San Francisco, and Fort Worth for the Armed Forces Bowl.

PA: The trip to the Armed Forces Bowl was a good one for me. As if it happened yesterday, I remember the Kennedy assassination. I had always wanted to go to Dallas to see where it happened, to experience that whole thing. So the day off that we had, I rented a car and went to Dallas. They have the sixth floor museum and I was just hanging around. This guy, this is what his business is, nothing special. Of course they charge, but it was so worth it to me. He went into the hospital and took pictures with my camera. I went to the boarding house where Lee Henry Oswald stayed, the Texas theater where he was captured. Went by the county jail. That was a memorable trip.

The Garden Bowl trip to New Jersey, in ’79, was the first one we had in a while. Pre-Facebook, I knew a lot of the football players on that team. It was cool to be able to go to this, with a ton of friends of mine on the field. It was also where CBAA was started. We lost the game. Cold! So cold! It wasn’t snowing but it was frigid cold. The band played in Manhattan, outside of Lincoln Center, outside of a bank building. Oh! Many of us, thanks to Bob Briggs, who fronted the money, got to see A Chorus Line, which was brand new. That was a fun trip.

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TC: We got to go to Princeton. You were probably on that trip. We took the train to New York, which was our very first New York experience. Only twelve hours in New York!

CDR: Yeah, a whirlwind trip.

PA: That particular trip… I had sworn I would never go back to NYC, ever again. It just so happened that by pure circumstance, I was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. After that I said I will never come back. That was an important trip because I did go into Manhattan. I went to the Trade Center site and walked in Battery Park. I happened on the eternal flame and the smashed statue like the one on campus near Center Street. It was really emotional.

CDR: Which shows stick out in your memory?

PA: My absolute favorite show was one I marched in; the Perfect Show at SC.

TC: Ah, you were in the Perfect Show! When you were part of the Perfect Show, were people aware that this was happening?

CDR: Did it feel perfect at the time?

PA: When you look at the film, you can see the energy on the sidelines when they jog off. Bob Briggs’ reaction- you can tell that something special happened. The Drum Major was up in the press box. Kelly James, who was the director of the UCLA band, was up there. There’s always been a rivalry. The Drum Major doesn’t remember this but I remember him coming down to address the band. He was so excited. He said Kelly James came up to him and said, “that was the best I’ve ever seen the Cal Band.”

That’s near the top.

The very first time the Cal Band performed the Michael Jackson show, that was another energizing show, an energizing reaction. The crowd went wild. I’m on the West side, so I’m watching this happen. You could see the crowd go crazy for Thriller.

CDR: Did they do the Thriller dance?

PA: They did the thriller dance. To see Bob Briggs react to it, during jog off and after it, was just memorable beyond belief. That was another one of those energizing, hard to repeat moments.

TC: What was his reaction?

PA: Oh, he always used to do his fists (pumps fists in the air) always talked about his chills. You can just tell, looking at him, you could just see that this was something really special.

Even though I had so little to do, Super Bowl 50 is right up there with those two.  The Band was able to keep it secret for so long! For me, it turned out to be a chaperone kind of thing for rehearsals that Bob couldn’t go to. One was in Berkeley, one was in Santa Clara. To be quite honest, I had no idea who Coldplay was. I knew who Beyoncé was. The Friday before the Sunday game, there was a dress rehearsal so all of the talent was there. These kids were so excited! It was just amazing. None of them complained that they couldn’t take their phones in. None of them complained about anything. They were flying high! I got to experience that on Friday. We did a little rehearsal on the field, and then we got herded into another area and got an armband, which someone asked to see every 500 feet. It was all part of the excitement. I was on the sidelines and there she is! (Beyoncé) Right there! All the kids were ahh…didn’t know what to do! They knew they couldn’t talk to her or take pictures. They did the performance from beginning to end with all the pyrotechnics and music. It was just incredibly exciting.

I remember the very first day of rehearsals, I was there. They were meeting with the people from the super bowl. Bob introduced me, and said, “You don’t want to go to the actual super bowl…” He didn’t want to impose that long day on me. “Heck yeah I want to be there!” I wouldn’t have missed it, it was so incredible. I was high for a week and a half.

CDR: How do you balance life, work AND band?

PA: It’s not bothersome for me. Especially since I’m retired from the University, I’ve got lots of time to do lots of things.

I do like it when I’m actually able to direct the band. So when they are facing me, Bob will cut out and I do get nervous. I only get to hear the music that day so I get nervous. Which why I try to go to one rehearsal during the week. So I can have a sense of what the music is, which way they’re facing, what it is going to be like. I want to experience that once before Saturday.

One of the joys of pregame is, it got to a point where I would direct the students in Sons of California and I would raise my hand for them to do the hat salute and they would follow me. That’s always been fun.

CDR: The most distinct memories I have of you conducting are the hat salute.

PA: I can see what’s going on down there- I see so many people move early! The primary reason I do that is that they can watch the signal and it’s time to put their hat back son.

TC: I have to tell you, I felt trepidation pretty much every single time I was on the field. But when I saw you during hat salute I was like, Pete’s here, everything’s fine.

CDR: At the start of Fight, do you ever seek out the trumpets on the field?

PA: I always try to make eye contact with them. Before the season starts, I try to rehearse with them because my style is very different than everybody else’s. Everybody has their own style. Even the student director who during the week is directing them, I’m going to be very different. It always happens that the first time I do it, somebody will mess up. I like to have the opportunity to get them used to what it’s going to be like when they see me start Fight.

CDR: Is Bob directing the intro with you?

PA: No, I start it, then he’ll take up and then I watch him.

CDR: None of us have ever seen Bob in that moment! You’re the only one.

TC: What are some changes you’ve seen over the years?

PA: Through Facebook, I’ve gotten a glimpse of what’s going on. We didn’t have bondings. There were so few of us so we all knew each other. But with a big band, I could see why you would want to get with your instrument and get to know each other.

For good or bad, the culture at the university has changed. It’s way more expensive than it was 30 years ago, so people have to get in and out quickly. Academics have become a priority. That’s just the way it is.

CDR: How did you manage to keep doing this for forty years?

PA: I just have an absolute love for doing it. I don’t know anything else! If they’ll still have me, I’m going to be there. There is some cost. As I get older I can feel it. It is a long day. I have yet to see the Cal Band perform from anywhere else but on a ladder. I’ve never been in the stands yet to see them burst out of the tunnel. That’s pretty good, in one way! I look forward to the day that I can, but that’s not going to happen soon.

I go to maybe a rehearsal a week. If it’s a two week show, I’ll go once prior to Saturday. It’s more important for me to do it than for them to have me there.

There’s no issue of balance for me- I think the students have balance issues (with life, school, band). For me, in the early ‘70s, there was nothing other than Cal Band. The camaraderie that was formed- I think our FTP was a week long that we were together. The gratification of performing, nothing else mattered. There wasn’t any pressure on us to be part of any other groups. That’s how I came up and that’s how it’s been. Even when I was working, it was not a matter of, oh do I really want to do this? I always wanted to do it.

The ASU game where they honored me at halftime, that was pretty special. I had little clue that anything would happen. I was up on the ladder, freezing, right before halftime. I was standing close to the wall, shivering. Ross Greer came over and said, “Bob wants to make sure you stay here when halftime is over.” I thought, well ok, I’m freezing but… had Ross not come and talked to me, I would have gotten off that ladder and gone home.

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TC: Did you ever have a sense of deep fear or deep accomplishment?

PA: One show, the Earth, Wind and Fire show, not too long ago, Calonico did a dance routine, so I ended up directing. It was all facing the East side and I was the director. That was terrifying! I did go to a couple of rehearsals, but just the fear of messing up, that was the most fearful of them all.

A sense of accomplishment…after the ASU game where they honored me at halftime, getting messages from people all over the stadium.

Some time in the early 80s, rap was starting to come in vogue, and somebody wrote a rap around me and my work with the band and at parking services. “Pete, Pete Alvarez. Pete, Pete Alvarez. On weekdays he’s the parking man, on weekends he directs the band.”

 

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