The University of Southern California

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The University of Southern California.
At the helm of the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band for the past 50 years, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner has taken the group from obscurity to prominence.

A photo of Dr. Arthur C. Bartner.The University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band (TMB) has many nicknames: The Spirit of Troy, Hollywood’s Band, and self-proclaimed as “The Greatest Marching Band in the History of the Universe.” For the past 50 years, “The Man on the Ladder,” Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, has taken deliberate steps to form a unique persona for the band that created these monikers and much more. In this follow-up article from his 40th anniversary, Bartner talks about the defining moments of his career and the legacy that he leaves behind.

Halftime: How will you be celebrating your 50th and final year with the TMB?

Bartner: In June [2019], we started a Trojan Marching Band Alumni Association, which is affiliated with the university. We’ve had various groups and events through the years, … but now we’ve made it an official organization. … The great joy to me is to sit down with these “kids” (I call them kids even though some marched in the ’70s and have already retired). It’s great to reminisce and talk about their experiences in the band. …

I’m really excited about the … album … released at Homecoming [Oct. 19]. It’s a four-part commemorative album of 50 years. … It comes with a … pull-out that has my 50 greatest moments … [with] pictures of each event and a blurb explaining what it is. … The album was recorded by the current band. … The object was to get the ambience of what the band sounds like on the football field [and] in the stands. We wanted that live sound. … It has that excitement that I want to be part of this last album. …

The other major project … [is] a coffee table picture book. … How did the making of “Tusk” come by? How did the Olympics come by? How did the Academy Awards happen? Why do I do certain things with the band? … Because of [Los Angeles] and our Hollywood reputation, we have [a lot of] stories. … We’re trying to embed the behind-the-scenes stories. [This authorized biography is being written by USC alum Christy Stansell.] …

For the gala on May 2, 2020, … [we’ve reached] out to … all the people [alumni, celebrities, coaches] who touched my life, and maybe I’ve touched their lives in return. … It’s important for me to have the 2019-2020 band involved, so we’ll have a select group of around 50, which will be the house band that will perform with these artists. And for the grand finale, I’ll bring in the full band, and we’ll have a big fireworks show. [The event will be] held on Cromwell Field, which is where the band practices.

Halftime: The TMB has certainly conquered the big stage and performed with many celebrities on and off the field. What have been your favorite moments?

Bartner: I always have to say Fleetwood Mac. In 1979 we went out to Dodger Stadium and recorded “Tusk” with them and made an MTV video. At the time, we just thought it was a thrill to perform with them. We didn’t know it was going to go anywhere. Driving into school one day, on the radio, they were playing “Tusk,” featuring the USC band. … Now it’s become like a fourth fight song. …

My second favorite is when we performed with Radiohead. … We played a tune called “15 Step,” and it was a tremendous hit at the GRAMMYs. …

The most recent [celebrity appearance we did] was with James Corden on the “Carpool Karaoke.” He’s interviewing Will Smith, who’s just an icon, and here the band got to join in and surround the car.

For the kids, you’ve created a memory that they won’t forget the rest of their lives. That’s what my goal is—to create an experience outside of Trojan football that they’ll remember forever.

Halftime: Possibly more important than its celebrity status is the band’s relationship with the university itself. How have you been able to work with administration as well as with the sports teams?

Bartner: I think the band is just as important as the football team. I look at myself as a teacher and a coach. … I’m an outgoing guy. What’s in my mind is in my mouth, … and I’m fighting for my kids. It’s never about me. It’s about my program. In return, [I say]: “What can this band do? Can it do rallies for the football team? Can it play for various groups on campus?” …

We play for the fraternities and sororities. We play for the dorms. … We play for all the sports, not just football, not just basketball. If they request [us] for water polo or volleyball or whatever, we’ll send the band. …

The USC band has become the soundtrack of USC. We play for graduation … [and] convocation. We open up practically every event with “Tribute to Troy.” They cut a ribbon; we play “Fight On!” We play “Conquest” at the end of almost every event on this campus. This was my vision way back in 1970. Maybe it took 50 years to get to this point. In 1970, nobody was calling on my phone, knocking on my door. It’s a gradual process of being [here] all these years and making the band available, so that the band is now ingrained in the culture of the University of Southern California. …

We’re a football band in the true sense of the word. We’re very close to our team, we play for them at least once a week, we give them their own rally, we know the players, I know at least half of the coaches, and we have a response for every play on the field. … We have not missed a game—home and away—since 1987. [For more than] 400 games, we’ve had a presence. … We have class trips. This year, the seniors went to Seattle [for the Washington game], the juniors [went] to Colorado, the sophomores [went] to Arizona [State], the full band went to Notre Dame. It’s approved by class. It builds a lot of interest and excitement. … That, to me, is the identity of the band.

Halftime: In addition to travel to support the sports teams, the band has also gone on 19 international trips? Why is overseas travel important to the band?

Bartner: I want to share the American collegiate marching band culture with the world. … I love to see the reaction. We’ve been to six continents. …

We’ve been on the Great Wall of China, … played adjacent to the Eiffel tower, played inside the Edinburgh Castle. … The fact that you can take them places to experience the culture and the iconic monuments, … you expose these kids to the world, and they get to experience the culture and perform and share their culture, and that benefits them on a lot of different levels.

Halftime: After all of these accomplishments, how do you want to be remembered?

Bartner: These 4,000-plus kids who have gone through this program, that’s my legacy. … It’s really about the kids, the student experience.

In fact, my greatest reward is when a student comes back after 10, 20, 30, 50 years and says, “The best part of my college experience was being in the band, and the lessons I’ve learned from being in the Trojan Marching Band have served me well in my future success in society.” …

We’re here to serve the students. And that’s what I believe.

Web Extras: Find out what Bartner is most proud of during his time at USC, about the band’s new facility and $20 million fundraising initiative, as well as his advice for students and other directors. Visit the Web Exclusives, Web Extras section of the halftimemag.com website. 

Photos courtesy of Ben Chua.

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