Skip to main content

Varsity Band throws party for ‘On, Wisconsin!’

April 13, 2010

The annual Varsity Band Concert returns to the Kohl Center Thursday-Saturday, April 15-17, with all its usual pyrotechnics, thunder and brass. This year’s performance brings much more, however.

“The concert’s theme is the 100th anniversary of ‘On, Wisconsin!'” says Michael Leckrone, director of bands. “We’re going to make this the biggest birthday blowout you can imagine.”

The Varsity Band and director Mike Leckrone will honor the 100th anniversary of “On, Wisconsin!” Thursday-Saturday, April 15-17, at this year’s Varsity Band Concert, to be held at the Kohl Center.

When the group is on the football field, it’s the UW Marching Band. When it’s off the field, at a hockey or basketball game, it’s called the Varsity Band. This is its 36th annual concert. The event is a fundraiser for the 300-member ensemble, which is actually a one-credit class.

The concerts have grown over the years to circus dimensions, including aerial entrances and Leckrone’s notoriously gaudy apparel. Besides professional stage and lighting effects, explosions and mixed-media presentations, this year’s concert will feature several special guests. They include:

* Liam Teague, “The Paganini of the Steelpan”: Perhaps the finest steel drummer in the world today, Teague has performed at Kennedy Center and with the Czech National Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Panama National Symphony. A strong advocate for original steelpan compositions, Teague has commissioned a number of significant composers to write for the instrument, including Michael Colgrass and Ben Wahlund.

* Sergei Belkin, accordionist: Belkin was born and raised in Russia, learning the accordion while still very young. His talent was recognized early, and he won many national music competitions, including the first place at the European New Names contest in 1992. An exciting and ebullient soloist, his repertoire ranges from classical to folk. After years of conservatory study, he traded Russian fame for U.S. immigration, and today lives in Madison. He regularly performs at festivals and events.

* Jon Schipper, trumpet: Schipper has performed with many outstanding pop stars, including Frank Sinatra Jr., The Temptations, and Sly and The Family Stone. Over the years, his bands have had the privilege of sharing the stage with Maynard Ferguson, Tower of Power, Kool and The Gang, Maceo Parker and many others.

* The most special guest of all, of course, is “On Wisconsin!” the university and state’s official song. “It was written by William T. Purdy and Carl Beck,” says Leckrone. “Purdy wanted to enter the song in a competition — for the University of Minnesota. But Beck, who had gone to UW–Madison, convinced him that they should give it to Wisconsin.”

It was an instant hit on campus, and today 18 other colleges and universities plus numerous high schools throughout the country have added their own lyrics to make the song their own.

John Philip Sousa called it “the finest college marching song ever written” and “the most stirring, enthusiastic college melody I have ever heard.” The song is often quoted in movie soundtracks or pop music, for example in The Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School.” The Varsity Band will perform it in a variety of musical styles at the concert.

The concert also includes surprise guests and salutes to campus and state pride, with Badger musical favorites such as “Songs to Thee,” “Varsity,” “Jump Around” and “If You Want to be a Badger.”

One popular misconception that all performances of the Varsity Band concert always sell out. The opposite is true. “With 21,000 seats available over three nights, I think we can find room for everyone, especially for a birthday this important,” says Leckrone, “even if I have to move the tubas.”

The 36th annual Varsity Band Concert will be held Thursday-Saturday, April 15-17, at the Kohl Center. For tickets or more information, call 265-4120.

Also, in honor of the 100th anniversary of “On Wisconsin,” the Babcock Dairy Plant has created a special ice cream feature flavor named after the university’s beloved fight song.

The ingredients include a cheesecake-flavored ice cream base, fudge swirl and chocolate-covered cranberries.

When University Communications approached dairy plant manager Bill Klein about creating an ice cream for the occasion, he suggested using ingredients that represent foods for which Wisconsin is known.

Not only is Wisconsin recognized for its award-winning cheeses, but it produces more cranberries than any other state in the nation and provides more than half of the world’s supply, according to the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association. Klein also noted that the state has a lot of great chocolatiers.

“On Wisconsin” will be sold at the Babcock Dairy Store and Memorial Union’s Daily Scoop. It will also be available at the UW Marching Band concerts at the Kohl Center April 15-17 at the arena’s Sweet Shoppe concession stand at Section 106.