“Right, left, pivot.” 83 year-old bandage administrator Professor Michael Leckrone hollered at the University of Wisconsin Boot Bandage as they apposite for their Sept. 30 achievement at Lambeau Field.
The bandage followed Leckrone’s directions, and their shoes fabricated a “slosh” complete adjoin the wet accommodation as they stepped into their aing position. There was a deluge of rain, but Leckrone and the bandage connected to strive for crisp, absolute moves.
The bandage played the song “Sing, sing, sing” as they trudged through the rain to accomplish their newest halftime show. Leckrone backward on the acreage with them although he was decrepit in rain.
Because the appearance was new to the band, abounding bandage associates struggled to accomplish the moves absolutely as Leckrone had envisioned. The alive rain blurred out best things in sight, but Leckrone managed to acquisition imperfections in the band’s accumulation with ease.
A ages earlier, at a convenance like today’s but abundant drier, Leckrone arise to the “Badger Band” that this season, his 50th at UW, would be his last.
“I insisted to the university that you’d be the aboriginal ones to know. I capital you to be the aboriginal ones because you’re special,” Leckrone told the bandage members. “I don’t affliction whether it’s because you’re in the bandage for the aboriginal time or accept never been in the bandage until you absolved on this acreage aftermost week, but it’s special. This bandage is special.”
While Leckrone is usually spotted administering the band’s performances — including the football halftime shows, the fifth division and the anniversary bounce Varsity Bandage Appearance — his home abroad from his hometown North Maner, Indiana lies abroad on campus.
Leckrone’s appointment offered a abrupt adverse from the austere absoluteness of the Humanities Building. Warm copse bank replaced acrid blah adhesive walls; knick knacks and plaques lined Leckrone’s board and walls, anniversary with a adventure allurement to be told.
Leckrone and I aggregate a few action over an balance from Tresona, a music licensing aggregation that recently fabricated the licensing action for educational bands and choirs added big-ticket and complicated. He addendum that while some aspects of the job accept become simpler and added able with time, such as his aerial rigs for the anniversary Varsity Bandage Show, others accept become added complicated.
One thing, though, has remained simple and pure: Leckrone’s adulation and affection for music.
While Leckrone has aggressive abounding UW acceptance throughout his career, Leckrone himself was heavily afflicted by his father’s adulation of music.
“I grew up alive annihilation abroad than music,” Leckrone said. “I don’t accept any anamnesis of action afterwards music actuality there.”
His ancestor was the bounded aerial academy bandage director. He kept a ample almanac accumulating which Leckrone inherited. Leckrone still owns every almanac by Bix Beiderbecke, a applesauce trumpeter who he remembers alert to with accurate fondness.
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Leckrone and his ancestor would generally put on shows in the bounded community. There, Leckrone experimented with instruments like the trombone and the clarinet. While Leckrone considers himself primarily a trumpet player, he abstruse he could ambush audiences into assertive he had baffled all instruments by acquirements to comedy simple tunes on anniversary one.
The adventure of performing, Leckrone said, collection him to accompany music.
“I don’t apperceive that I set out to absolute boot bands; I set out to be in music,” Leckrone said. “I anticipate what fabricated me adjudge was that annihilation abroad had the appeal. It came bottomward to the actuality that [music is] what I acquainted happiest doing.”
Rising through the ranks
Tucked abroad abaft his computer and assorted endless of papers, a mug from Leckrone’s alma academy Butler University stands out amid a allowance abounding of red and white.
While at Butler, Leckrone connected his bandage as a “jack of all trades” aback he accustomed the abnormal befalling to comedy accompanying in their classical, applesauce and boot bands — musicians commonly accept to aces a brand to focus on at this time in their career.
Butler’s bandage administrator retired aloof as Leckrone accomplished his training. Aggressive by his director’s mentorship, Leckrone started administering the Butler boot bandage affairs the abatement of 1966. For three years, he directed not alone the bandage but additionally added agreeable projects, including the men’s blitheness club for a aeon of time.
The UW bandage administrator position opened up in 1969, aback the UW bandage was absent in a capricious period. UW’s football affairs was not assuming well, so the bandage did not accept an alive achievement schedule. Leckrone, however, saw a affairs with immense abeyant cat-and-mouse to be unlocked.
“What I saw in Wisconsin was a bandage that had a abundant attitude and a abundant history,” Leckrone said. “ I saw it as a sleeping giant. It was article that had abundant abeyant but it hadn’t absolutely been accomplished because no one added or beneath said, ‘Well, we’re action to try this.’”
When Leckrone aboriginal took allegation of the Badger Bandage in the abatement of 1969, he approved to change the band’s appearance and ster its aplomb by allurement its associates to absolute drills and achievement practices.
While he knew it was absurd to absolute a bandage overnight, he was bent to alternation the bandage to accept the best alert ready-to-play position — “horns up,” in bandage allege — in the nation. This helped brainwash a greater faculty of pride in the bandage members.
Leckrone additionally invented Wisconsin’s signature “stop at the top” appearance of marching, which was adapted based on the accepted “chair step” appearance adopted by best Big Ten bands at the time he became UW’s director.
“I capital to accumulate that [higher] step, but as I saw the bandage in the amphitheater I capital added energy.” Leckrone noted. “You accept to advance with that faculty of energy, that faculty of dedication. I wasn’t seeing it. I acquainted that if you put a little averseness as one brings the bottom up afore they accompany it down, it will arise to the eye that the footfall has added energy. Bodies noticed it.”
These two improvements calm brought absorption to the band. Soon, absorption to accompany the bandage increased. Leckrone, too, approved to about-face the boot bandage from a melancholia action to a year-long involvement.
The appearance awash out its aboriginal venue, Mills Hall, in 1976. The appearance afresh confused to bigger venues to board its growing audience, eventually award its home at the Kohl Center.
If you appetite to be a Badger
At the affection of the band’s growing success was Leckrone and the band’s adherence to attention its spirit and candor — their adeptness to “eat a rock.”
“When you go out tomorrow to do the show, you’ve got to be a lot tougher. You’ve got to be boxy abundant to bite nails,” Leckrone recalled adage in an after-rehearsal speech. “No, you got to be boxy abundant to eat a rock.”
As anon as the words came out of Leckrone’s mouth, the bandage started chanting “eat a rock.” Bands throughout the years accept accepted the acceptation of this phrase.
The aforementioned pride and adherence accent the byword “eat a rock” additionally agitated through Leckrone and his bandage until they assuredly came beyond the adventitious to accomplish at the Rose Bowl in 1994, center through Leckrone’s tenure.
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“It took me 25 years, that’s a career in itself. I anticipation it was never action to happen.” Leckrone reminisced. A account of the bandage on the acreage at the aboriginal Rose Bowl afraid on the bank abaft him. “I acquainted like I had accomplished the bandage to accept that they were aces of that performance. Afresh aback it did, about afterwards warning. Everybody jumped in as they never did afore and bluntly haven’t done aback … It was so special.”
Though he has aback been able to conduct at bristles added Rose Bowls, he said none of them akin his aboriginal outing.
While the band’s Rose Bowl performances are Leckrone’s proudest able accomplishments, Leckrone himself is conceivably best accepted for reinventing the repertoire of the UW boot band.
Among his legacies is the beneath adaptation of the song “On Wisconsin,” which he created by removing beforehand verses to advance the bandage anon into the iconic “On Wisconsin” choir that admirers abide to sing forth with every touchdown.
Leckrone capital to affairs tunes that anybody would apperceive and enjoy, so he congenital rock-and-roll appearance beats into archetypal songs to address to both the earlier and adolescent crowds.
“Each act has to accept its own identity, [but] I anticipate it’s additionally important that you accept segments of shows that can address to a lot of people,” Leckrone said. “I’ve said abounding times to people, ‘If you don’t like what we’re arena appropriate now delay a minute, because we’ll be arena article absolutely different.’”
The bandage today has a assorted repertoire. While “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie may not be a acceptable best for a boot bandage set, the UW boot bandage plays it alongside added abstract such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Songs from broadway shows Jesus Christ Superstar and The Music Man are additionally featured in the accepted season.
A altered love
Broadway holds a decidedly baby abode in Leckrone’s heart. He affectionately remembers watching altered shows at the Abundant White Way in New York City with his backward wife, Phyllis.
Tate Warren, a contempo UW alum and Badger Bandage alumnus, witnessed this adulation immediate aback a Nor’easter storm ashore a allocation of the bandage in New York City this accomplished spring. Warren was one of abounding bandage associates who won tickets to see the Spongebob Squarepants agreeable on the trip. Whereas best action winners in the bandage arrive their accompany to the show, Warren arrive Leckrone.
“Before the appearance started he explained to me that he acclimated to go to Broadway every year with his wife afore she anesthetized away, and that it brought aback a lot of memories for him to be there,” Warren said. “It fabricated me reflect on how abounding altered performances Mike has apparent and conducted and that I was advantageous to be able to sit aing to him to watch one.”
Professional accomplishments aside, Leckrone insisted his proudest claimed accomplishments axis from the adulation of his life, his backward wife Phyllis. The brace began dating in the seventh brand and were affiliated for 62 years until her casual aftermost August. Leckrone said she has consistently assured him that he could accompany his passions with the band, alike if that meant he couldn’t be at home as abundant as some husbands could.
When Phyllis passed, Leckrone’s accouchement gave him a arena with her fingerprint engraved on it, which he wears on his appropriate arena finger. On his larboard arena feel is his bells band.
Hitting the appropriate notes
Unlike his anamnesis for Phyllis, Leckrone believes people’s anamnesis of him will canyon bound because he about is complex in alone four years of people’s lives.
But apprentice Kristen Schill said she absitively to accumulate boot in academy alone afterwards audition about Leckrone’s administration from her aerial academy bandage director, Kurt Dobbeck, a Badger Bandage alum who abounding UW in the aboriginal 80s aloft Leckrone’s encouragement.
“The affair I bethink best is that he pushed us to do accomplished assignment all the time,” Dobbeck said. “One day in particular, we were at practice, and he ran out and came appropriate in advanced of me. I knew all he capital me to do was assignment as adamantine as I possibly could. From afresh on, I did it.”
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Throughout his career, Leckrone’s assignment belief has been guided by excellence. Although apprehensive about his legacy, Leckrone hopes that the bandage will backpack on his adamant following of perfection.
“I try to abstain application the chat accomplishment because I don’t anticipate accomplishment is obtainable. I’ve apparent abounding altered types of performances, from boot bandage shows to Broadway, and I don’t anticipate I’ve anytime apparent perfection,” Leckrone said. “I achievement my affection of ytic for that accomplishment gets anesthetized down.”
For Leckrone, the key to accomplishment lies conceivably in the band’s aplomb and dedication.
But for UW chief CJ Zabat, the band’s boom major, this accomplishment comes in the anatomy of “moments of happiness” Leckrone has aggressive Zabat to accompany on and off the field.
“Mike can’t affiance you complete happiness, but he wants to affiance you moments of happiness,” Zabat said. “Those are those moments area article is so alarming you feel so blessed that you accept to authority on to those moments throughout the bad moments … As I got added and added forth [in college], I had to acquisition the things that gave me those ‘moments of happiness’ and fabricated me appetite to assignment hard.”
The exhausted goes on
Back on the field, the skies began to bright up. The aback of the bandage began to accomplish to Leckrone’s choreography, which few boot bandage admiral today can say they actualize by themselves.
After active the accepted again, Leckrone bent the bandage was in acceptable appearance and absolved them to apprehend boom above Zabat’s final bulletin for the day.
After practice, associates went up to Leckrone to ask questions about agreement in the formation. Another went up to acknowledgment a armlet Leckrone had absent on the field. A acquaintance had accustomed the armlet to Leckrone to advice abate his arthritis. And although Leckrone believes the healing ability of the armlet to be absolutely psychological, he cherishes it for its affected value.
The drumline backward abaft to conduct a exclusive convenance afterwards an already arduous two hours of rehearsal. Their beats can be heard from the bus stop a division mile away.
Even with Leckrone off the field, his music keeps boot on.
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