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The Greatest Hits of Arthur P. Barnes

Musician, mentor and occasional zookeeper, the director of the Stanford Band is stepping down.

Photo: Robby Beyers

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By Theresa Johnston

Blessed with perfect pitch and a talent for turning a deaf ear to sophomoric student antics, Arthur P. Barnes has led thousands of students in the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band through more than three decades of mirthful mayhem. No, the Band members didn't march in a straight line, and frequently they broke ranks entirely. But in the end, they always respected the Good Doctor and the truly incomparable music he arranged just for them.

A former teacher of band and music theory at Fresno State, Barnes first came to Stanford in 1963 to get his doctorate in musical arts. He joined the Band as part-time director and, two years later, took the post full time. From the beginning, the hip young grad student impressed bandsmen with his ability to transform popular rock 'n' roll songs into arrangements for brass and woodwinds, a process known as charting. "Students would bring in songs on records or cassette tapes and we'd listen to them in my office," Barnes explains. If he liked a piece--and thought it could be translated into band music--Barnes would shorten it to about two minutes by eliminating introductions and guitar riffs. Then he'd find notes to the song for each of six different instrument sections.

Incredibly, Barnes charted more than 300 songs for the LSJUMB. That talent, plus his willingness to leave students blissfully free to run their own affairs, transformed the group from a Sousa-playing marching unit into the world's largest rock 'n' roll band--a groove machine that delighted students almost as much as it baffled their parents, administrators and older alumni.

Now, the silver-maned maestro of funk is retiring. But the merry band that followed Barnes through the years is not about to let him go quietly. The revelry began last November, when more than 150 Band alumni crowded into the Palo Alto Holiday Inn to raise more than a few glasses in tribute. Barnes describes that evening as the brightest moment of his career, but there were many other memorable times, too. With his help, we present the high points of his triumphant Stanford career.

The Star Spangled Banner

When Barnes first arrived at Stanford, Bandsmen were in such a funk over the dismissal of his predecessor, Jules Shuchat, that they sat out the season's first two football games in protest. "To say that Barnes wasn't welcomed with open arms is an understatement," recalls Jon Erickson, '65, whose Band duties included shooting the cannon after touchdowns (and who now serves as the University bursar.) "In fact, when he walked into the Shak and introduced himself, it was all we could do to keep from laughing in his face." The strike ended when students were granted more control over the Band, but the real turning point came at the first home game of the football season, when they played an innovative version of the national anthem that Barnes had arranged during his previous gig at Fresno State. The piece began with a long drum roll and a haunting trumpet solo, followed by a reverent, full-band finish. The anthem was also played at the 1963 Big Game--just eight days after the Kennedy assassination. "I've never heard such a loud silence," Barnes says. "All the sportswriters said they had lumps in their throats. It was the defining moment of my early years." Other university bands have tried to copy Barnes's Banner, but he owns the rights to the original. To keep it from being overexposed, he has decreed that it can be played only by the Stanford Band--and then only at home games.

We Will (Little) Rock You

Band members came from all over the country to join Barnes for the first preseason road trip to the 1970 Stanford-Arkansas football game. Some even hitchhiked their way to Little Rock. For the record, Bandsmen did not bare all when they dropped their pants during the game's nationally televised halftime show, but the act caused a sensation just the same. Recalls that year's drum major, Geordie Lawry, '71: "We had come up with a Beach Boys surf show to demonstrate to these people something about California culture." The Band lined up on the field shoeless, there was a drum roll, "and every Bandsman dropped his pants--revealing surfer jams underneath." Lawry himself was dressed in a full wetsuit, flippers and a snorkle. "The Band was at its best, and the music was absolutely fabulous. It was a ton of fun." Barnes himself regarded the trip as "new and strange," which was apparently what a number of residents also thought about the Band's music. Barnes recalls that after the Band failed to win an award at halftime, the contest judge, The Tonight Show's bandleader, Doc Severinsen, privately apologized to Barnes. "It's very political," Severinsen told Barnes. "I would love to have given you the award, but down here in the South I can't do that." The musician's opinion was echoed the following day when an editorial in the Arkansas Democrat proclaimed: "The Stanford Band was the winner, hands down."

Taking It to the Streets

While football fans remember the 1971 Rose Bowl as the game where Jim Plunkett led the team to a 27-17 upset over Ohio State, Stanford's appearance at the 1972 Rose Bowl was even more memorable for Barnes, mostly because of a $50 wager he had made with the UCLA band director. "We had 12 tuba players, but one of them couldn't march in the Rose Parade down Colorado Avenue, so [UCLA director] Kelly James bet me that I couldn't march the 5 1/2 miles carrying a tuba," Barnes recalls. "I said, 'No problem! All I need are two pairs of socks.' " Barnes completed the parade in high style, playing tuba the whole way without sheet music. ("Hell, I didn't need music," he huffs. "I wrote it!") For years afterward, the Arthur P. Barnes Memorial Socks were nailed to a beam in the old Band Shak, right next to a check signed by the UCLA band director--and sealed in plastic so it couldn't be cashed.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

For 70 years, the Stanford marching Band was a male-only bastion. Even as late as the fall of 1971, members voted 108 to 22 to keep women out, fearing their admission would bring unwelcome changes to the sanctum. "They said women would be the ruination of the Band; that it would somehow sound softer," Barnes recalls, shaking his head. "I said, 'I think you're wrong! In fact, I think they'll be even brassier than you guys!' " Barnes finally convinced the Bandsmen to reconsider, and in 1972 the Shak's doors were opened to female student musicians for the first time. "Although [women were] a small minority initially, it wasn't long before no one gave it a second thought," Barnes says. "Today, students couldn't even conceive of a Band without women." By the end of the decade, the Band had a female drum major, Megan Evans, '81. "When I got into the Band, there was already a long and strong tradition of wild women," says Evans, who is now a doctoral student in Chinese theater at the University of Hawaii. Today the Band, like the University, is about 50 percent female.

All Right Now

As a professor of music, Barnes had many responsibilities at Stanford, including directing the University's symphonic bands and wind ensembles. Yet, somehow, he always found time to chart new tunes for the marching Band's halftime shows and to teach his students to do the same. Barnes charted his greatest hit from a tune that initially aroused little enthusiasm among the Bandsmen. "I think I first heard "All Right Now" on the radio when I was living in the Phi Sig house; it was by this obscure band called Free," drum major Lawry recalls. "When I played it for other Band members, it got a very lukewarm reception. They said, 'Who's ever heard of this group?' It was a hard sell." Barnes, on the other hand, thought it was a great tune--a perfect replacement for the Indian-oriented fight songs that had been scrapped. "The words were right, and I thought it would sound wonderful with the Band," he recalls. From the moment Barnes charted "All Right Now," Lawry says, "we knew we had a classic." To this day, students still jump enthusiastically-- right on cue--whenever Stanford's de facto fight song is played.

Rule Britannia

Barnes's arrangements helped the Stanford Band make a name for itself musically. But it was the Band's nonmusical antics--usually planned without Barnes's knowledge--that garnered the most attention over the years. Some of the stunts were pure genius, such as the time a Stanford Band member managed to obtain a Cal band uniform, and then marched, feigning confusion, along with the Cardinal at halftime. Many other stunts, including field angry letters to the president's office. However, with Barnes's help, the Band usually managed to redeem itself. Probably the greatest test of self-control came in the winter of 1983, during Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Stanford. Certainly, there were plenty of raised eyebrows when then-President Donald Kennedy invited them to play near Hoover House, where Her Majesty was to have lunch. But as it turned out, campus fussbudgets needn't have worried. "They showed up in absolutely spanking clean red coats," Kennedy marveled later. "They labored hard and played a marvelous arrangement, which Art Barnes wrote himself, of 'Rule Britannia'." (The Band split in two, the other half of the Band played the "The Star Spangled Banner" simultaneously.) In fact, Kennedy said, "the only thing the Band did on that occasion you could consider the least bit bad was one of those chorus yells." The offending phrase? "Go, Queen!"

Welcome to Paradise

As Stanford's profile overseas grew in the 1980s, the Band traveled farther afield. For Barnes, the most memorable trip of recent years was the journey to the 1988 World Exposition in Brisbane, Australia. "Anyone who went on that trip would say it was the highlight of their time at Stanford," Barnes says. "Bill Lane [former Stanford trustee and then-U.S. Ambassador to Australia] saw to it that we had the red carpet treatment everywhere we went." The Australians particularly appreciated Barnes's arrangements of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down" and "Waltzing Mathilda" rehearsed against the Band's will, but later appreciated as pure genius. The adulation continued throughout the tour. "To our knowledge, the concept of a marching band was foreign to Australians, and the idea of a 'wacky' band simply blew their minds," says former Band manager John Mannion, '89. "We played rock 'n' roll. We drank beer. We did generally silly things. We were everything Australia wanted in a marching band."


Barnes received many tributes at his retirement banquet in November, but probably the most impressive was a proclamation signed by the six Stanford alumni in the U.S. Senate. They praised Barnes for his arrangement of "The Banner," as well as his commitment to music education. Still visibly moved by his evening of commemoration, Barnes says: "I'd never seen such an outpouring of love and warmth. I think the reason is that many Stanford students find it very difficult to have a one-on-one relationship with a professor, and the Band was a saving grace for some of them." Perhaps the best testimonial came from Mannion, who served as emcee for the evening's entertainment. "Art Barnes never set out to 'manage' the Stanford Band. He set out to be their leader. He has evolved into being their mentor, their friend, their guide and their buffer from the University administration. And like the best leaders, he surrounded himself with some very bright people and allowed them to do their best."

Theresa Johnston, '83, a freelance writer in Palo Alto, is a frequent contributor to Stanford.

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