Please check out the following article about Distinguished Service To Music Medal Award winner Jack Anderson and the Pitt Band.
It’s 20 minutes before kickoff. In the locker room, Pitt football players are psyching themselves up for the game.
But on the field, the Pitt varsity marching band is performing its pregame show to pump up the crowd – and Jack R. Anderson is dancing.
“Jack loves when the band plays ‘Dude Short,’ which is the ending to one of our songs,” piccolo squad leader Emily Mallit said. “It’s really peppy, just quick little sound bites. Whenever we play it, he starts jumping up and down.”
Whether dancing or conducting, Anderson knows how to keep Pitt’s band running smoothly in his 15th year as director of the program.
“The chords are so big and the drum parts are written so well that it gets your blood boiling a little bit and just makes me dance,” Anderson said of the piece.
Anderson knows how to pump up fans at games with “Hail to Pitt”, but he can also motivate his band members at practice.
“He’s been able to take the very complex and military – like setting of a college marching band and make it very enjoyable for everyone involved,” senior drum major Tyler McGaughey said.
Anderson tries to make practice fun. With practice four days a week, if band wasn’t enjoyable, he said, nobody would stick around.
“It has to be fun,” Anderson said. “Because if it’s not fun, and they don’t enjoy doing it, and they don’t use it as their outlet, they’re going to find something else to do. We just have a good time together.”
“Band is a lot of work, but it’s fulfilling and gratifying,” Mallit said. “Jack isn’t in-your-face intense. He’s a silent intense. He doesn’t have to yell at you or get up in your face. You want to perform your best to meet his expectations.”
According to Mallit, Anderson is a grandfather figure, almost family.
The rapport between teacher and student runs deep in band, so much that Anderson invites members over every year for Thanksgiving dinner. Because Pitt usually plays a game around Thanksgiving, some members of the squad can’t return home to see family over break.
Anderson said that 10 people showed up for dessert this year.
“Thanksgiving happened to be my birthday this year, so they brought candles and cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday,'” Anderson said. “I don’t want them sitting alone [on Thanksgiving]. My house is always open.”
Anderson knows firsthand the work band members must put in, because he played in the varsity marching band in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
He recalled the band outperforming the football team in his college years.
“We got killed in football in Miami in 1968,” he said. “But the Pitt band got a standing ovation that night in the Orange Bowl. Pitt wasn’t very good at that time – we saw a lot of 1-9 seasons – but the band got a lot of recognition because it was very good.”
The Anderson family has strong ties to Pitt. Both of Jack’s daughters attended the University and marched, his sister played in the concert band and his father was the program’s assistant director.
“I grew up on the sidelines from 1950 on,” he said. “So I’m approaching 60 years basically with the band.”
In turn, the University has been kind to him. Anderson met his wife as an undergraduate.
Currently, Anderson has a lot on his plate. As director of bands, he heads the varsity marching band, pep band and symphonic band and logs hundreds of miles traveling to away games. He is the only full-time employee of the department.
Anderson thanked alumni volunteers and associate director Dr. Mel Orange.
“The people that come in to fit uniforms, the people who come in at night to set up ladders and yard markers for practice … They’re all volunteers,” Anderson said.
Anderson also guest conducts for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, an organization that adjudicates middle and high school bands. Because Pitt doesn’t have a school of music, Anderson has a tougher job recruiting members.
“[The PMEA] is a recruiting process for us” Anderson said. “I get out into the schools and meet the honors band students, the best students in the area. Hopefully they meet me and say, ‘Well maybe I’d like to go to Pitt.'”
McGaughey remembers Anderson recruiting him.
“I was a drum major for two years in high school, loved my band and never thought that it could get any better,” he said. “I definitely did not want to join a college band. When I was visiting the engineering school here, Jack got in touch with me and asked me to come and talk to him about joining the band. I decided I would go just to humor him. In less than an hour he talked me into joining.”
In part because of his bond with his pupils, Anderson has won several awards in the past few years. Kappa Kappa Psi, a national college band fraternity, awarded him the Distinguished Service To Music Medal for marching band in 2007, and other groups have awarded him similar honors. Pitt’s Greek Life named him Professor of the Year in 2006 and 2007.
But Anderson believes the awards belong to the entire Pitt Band.
“It’s a shared recognition … My job is easy because 100 percent of my students want to perform,” he said. “I just kind of steer the ship and make sure we stay on course.”
And though he turned 62 last month, Anderson has no plans to retire.
“I have no plans on giving this up right now,” Anderson said. “But it depends on how I hold up.”
McGaughey, who graduates this spring, hopes future Pitt band members have the chance to work with Anderson.
“Jack really is the heart and soul of our band,” McGaughey said. “Whenever he leaves, it will never be the same.”