The pre-game rallies and parades, explosive entrance to the stadium and perfectly executed half time performance of a highly talented marching band at a contentious football game in a 100,000-plus jammed stadium in the middle of October under blue skies, or even during snow flurries in late November, are among the more exciting places for a marching band enthusiast to have a rousing musical experience.
Even more exciting, I am told, is to be a participant in a marching band of note. If it was possible to raise the excitement to a higher level for a young person, it may have been to become a member of the Ohio State University Marching Band in 1949, as an undergraduate who continued through the attainment of his MBA.
The man who enjoyed that thrill, and contributed to the OSU Band with his trombone, was Warren's Ordwell Burr. He is a modest man, but boy, oh boy, he must have been the Buckeye's Buckeye of a musician some 60 years ago. There were 200 candidates for the six positions open in the band when he tried out, and he was accepted for one of them. A third of the band at that time were older and had had recent experience in Army and Navy bands.
One might think there would not be much humility among those who are associated with TBDBITL ("The Best Damn Band In The Land"), which made its first appearance in 1896. Gustav Bruder, a professional musician with military band experience, was the first leader. The band has grown since. The musicians are among the people who "Send a cheer across the field so they will know Ohio's here!" Not to mention, "I don't give a damn for the whole state of Michigan, I'm from Ohio." And, surely, not to forget the band's tour de force, the formation of "Script Ohio" at center field during half time. One recognizes winners in music and precision marching when one is there. The scoreboard, happy fans and proud performances are additional proof.
In my chat with Burr, he pointed out that Woody "three yards and a cloud of dust" Hays came to coach the OSU football team a couple years after Burr started with the band. Hays was a generous man, it is reported, but left the team under unfortunate circumstances. Another friend in the early '50s who was an OSU student and a home team fan told stories about the hijinks of the phenomenally talented Vic Janowitz from Elyria. Burr knew of Janowitz (everyone did) but did not know him well. Janowitz played football on both the offensive and defensive teams. He later played for the Washington Redskins and subsequently died at an early age in an auto accident.
Burr has natural talent for classical and popular, as well as serious band music. He attributes his achievements in music to his parent's support and encouragement. His mother played the piano and studied voice. His father played the violin, harmonica and Jew's harp. When Burr was 8, his father gave him a trombone, even though his son could not yet reach the "seventh position."
In his early years, Burr played in the Boardman Junior High and High School Bands, where he was also the Drum Major. He played for the Post Office Band in Youngstown, dance bands and small symphonic groups. He was accepted at the competitive and prestigious Interlochen Summer Music Camp in Michigan several times.
I am awed at this display of talent. I told Burr how much I enjoy music, but have such limited ability to make music. One time while I was whistling, a critic said, "If I couldn't whistle any better than that, I would quit." Burr said, "It is interesting you say that. I know some very accomplished musicians who cannot whistle either."
Burr's "day job" during his career was in the steel industry, moving from Youngstown to Cleveland and then in 1960 to Copperweld in Warren. In his spare time over 21 years, he taught economics and statistics part time at YSU.
Football season is ending, but the likes of Ord Burr carry the banner and memory of marching bands high throughout the year.