Camp Randall has been silent for months. The gates of the stadium are closed and locked up as the campus awaits the first home game Sept. 6.
The University of Wisconsin Band’s season, however, is hardly over. During the spring semester, band members are busy performing at countless athletic events and concerts in communities around the state, and preparing for the annual Spring Varsity Concerts, which are held at the end of April and feature the work the band has worked on all year.
The band has been under the direction of Mike Leckrone for 45 years. Leckrone, who arrived at UW in 1969, started many of the traditions by shaping the band’s personality. These traditions set the band apart from its Big 10 brothers.
Assistant Director Dr. Darin Olson believes it all comes down being under the direction of the same man for over four decades. If Leckrone is anything, he said, he’s consistent.
“I think having him here so long is what’s made the band so well known,” he said in an interview with WSUM Radio.
Olson said the consistency is likely to have contributed to the success of the band in that Leckrone knows exactly what has been done for the past 45 years. Olson said with Leckrone’s experience, he’s been able to get the idea that there’s always something new happening and that there are ways to put a new twist on something to keep it interesting.
Bands from Leckrone’s early years started traditions that are still used by the band today, like the “Fifth Quarter.” The Fifth Quarter is a performance given by the band at the end of home games. When the tradition began in 1977, the football team wasn’t very good at the time, so Leckrone created the Fifth Quarter as a way to encourage fans to stay for the whole game.
Today thousands of fans stay after the game to watch the band run around and play Wisconsin favorites like “You’ve Said It All,” “Beer Barrel Polka,” “The Chicken Dance,” and the school’s alma mater, “Varsity.” Olson described his first experience with the tradition as “chaotic.”
“It was chaos,” Olson said, who experienced his first Fifth Quarter this fall. “I was just trying to figure out what was happening. I don’t think you could ever say that’s routine, but you kind of know that it’s not traditional as far as what most people would associate with marching bands.”
UW student Alejandro Alonso Galva agrees.
“The first time I saw it was insane. It felt like I was at Disneyland for the first time,” he said.
Although the Fifth Quarter is a tradition, it is never something the band rehearses. Drum Major Donny Lavrenz said it’s something they learn by doing it over and over again.
“For my first Fifth Quarter I just followed around my rank leader with tunnel vision,” he said. “I don’t think I really enjoyed it too much because I was too worried about what I supposed to be doing correctly. It came more and more natural after that.”
The Fifth Quarter is incorporated into almost every performance, including the “run-out” concerts the band performs around the state. These concerts are mini‐versions of the April concerts, but it is often a favorite part of the spring semester for band members.
“I love traveling to different parts of the state for performances,” clarinet player Rebecca Cooks said. “It’s great to see people so excited to see us wherever we go. There’s definitely a pride when people want to dance with us or when they cheer for a classic Badger song.”
Euphonium player Lydia Garlie agrees the audience reactions are one of her favorite parts about band.
“I love seeing their faces and now excited they get. I love being able to make people smile like that,” she said.
While it remains relatively unchanged from when it was performed 37 years ago, the Fifth Quarter is an experience that some consider “new” every time for audiences across the state. Band photographer Gary Smith believes it comes down to the intensity of the kids.
“They don’t treat is as ‘Oh, we’re doing this again’ or ‘We’ve got to do that now.’ The band members like what they’re doing, they put their heart and soul into it,” Smith said. He has watched the band through the lense of his camera for over 30 years. “I think it’s the intensity, the interest of the kids that make it so interesting.”
Lavrenz believes it comes down to the “magic” of UW.
“Our student section and other people at the university respect what we do, they thoroughly enjoy our entertainment and that’s not true everywhere you go,” he said. “It’s really nice to be able to do what you love, and what you work on so hard, and then to get admiration from your peers for doing it as well.”
After over four decades, the traditions contribute to the identity of the band.
“I think it stems from all the hard work, but then also from us being able to be goofballs,” Lavrenz said.
Students like Lavrenz, Garlie, and Cooks consider the tradition of the UW Band an integral component of what makes up the Wisconsin identity, but it also shapes the college experience of its members.
Flugelhorn player Matt Semler added “It almost becomes a person’s life. Some days I think about how we get to do this every year, and every year is different.”
For Semler, being part of the band has “meant the world” to him.
“Every year has its moments,” he said. “And you remember each year for the special moments you created with the people that have become a second family to you.”
Like his bandmates, Semler believes the traditions keep the band alive.
“The tradition of this school, and this band, is insane. It’s absolutely magic.”