Alumni Band's Pep Takes it to Shanghai

An invitation to the Shanghai Tourism Festival gives the band a chance to strut their stuff abroad and tour the region.


By Alison Hewitt

Published Sep 9, 2008 11:57 AM

The Alumni Band tried on their uniforms, and family members donned their costumes, at a rehearsal shortly before leaving for China.

The UCLA Alumni Band, which normally can't even make it to the football team's away games, is going farther than it's ever gone before: all the way to China.

The band attends every home game, starting the day early by rallying the tailgating crowd for hours, taking to the field for a pre-kickoff performance and then clinging to the stands until the game is over. In China, they'll march with other music groups, performance troupes and even floats in the annual Shanghai Tourism Parade on Sept. 13. It's China's rainy season, so it might literally rain on their parade, but nothing can bring the band down. Not even the fact that they don't march.

Pinki Chen, a liaison for the festival who has recruited groups like the UCLA Spirit Squad to participate in the tourism festival for the past five years, nabbed the Alumni Band when parade organizers in Shanghai asked for more music groups. The band has the advantage of not needing to attend classes this fall, when most marching bands are unavailable, notes Ed Hirsch '61, trombone player and president of the ensemble.

"We bill ourselves — and Pinki doesn't know this — as the 'Never-Marching Alumni Band,'" Hirsch says with a chuckle. "Once we graduated from school, I don't think anyone really wants to march again."

Fortunately, instrumentalists with the dedication to devote an entire day to every home game are willing to get over their aversion to marching, he adds.

Although the band has more than 100 members, it was touch and go finding enough people — playing a wide enough variety of instruments — who were willing and able to take the nine-day trip. But for the 24 who signed up, the tourism festival is subsidizing their voyage, bringing the excursion down to about $1,400 a person.

Although the band members think of themselves as the on-call music group for all things UCLA Athletics, the repertoire will be adjusted slightly from their traditional UCLA fare. After all, they're representing America. Naturally, a medley of Disney songs and the theme from the western film The Magnificent Seven are now on the menu, at Chen's request. A half-dozen family members taking advantage of the subsidized trip will also march in the band costumed as Uncle Sam, the Statue of Liberty and more.

It's hard to pin down the highlight of the trip — performing in the parade, or touring China, says French horn player David Keyes '84. The band's first stop, even before the parade, is a village called Luzhi. "It's what's called a water village. There are no cars, just canals and bridges and walkways," Keyes says, and adds that centuries ago Marco Polo himself dubbed it "The Venice of China."

Music Director Joel Fierberg '82, the band's conductor, says he's particularly proud to represent UCLA in an international event.

"I'm really excited about this trip," he says. In addition to savoring the travel experience, the once-in-a-lifetime performance opportunity and chance to socialize with his band mates, Fierberg has one goal. "I'm hoping to run into other Bruins that might be in Shanghai, so we can play 'Sons of Westwood' for them!"



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