Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Astronauts at Purdue

This weekend was very hectic.  Worried about storms, trying to write, catching "8" on YouTube (not live).  

I'm working on the Annual Budget Drive at my church, and we're doing testimonials each Sunday.  The people we were trying to reach for yesterday's service weren't going to be ready in time, so I gave my testimonial.  Writing a 1-minute speech about what my church means to me and why I contribute to it... was difficult.  That sort of "from-the-heart" discussion is one that I usually prefer to improvise, since that seems to work for me.  But I need to provide the transcripts for the newsletter, and I can't do that with an improvised speech.  So I had to write it.

Anyway.  I promised to tell the story of performing for Neil Armstrong.  One of our first performances in the marching band happened on a Thursday afternoon, when we would normally be at rehearsal.  Purdue had just finished a capital campaign, called Vision 21.  The co-chairs of that effort were Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, the first and last men to have walked on the moon.  Both were supposed to be at this outdoor event on campus.  Later that evening / weekend there would be a big fancy dinner with the jazz band, but the $75 tickets were well beyond my student means.

I have no background in jazz.  Nor do I have the background for Klezmer music, I've heard it played once.  As a clarinet player, that severely limits my performance options.  More on this perhaps in another post.

The band knew about the performance, so we showed up in uniform ready.  We lined up in front of Elliott Hall of Music in parade formation, but instead of lining up to march down 3rd Street, we arced around the Hall to march over towards the Memorial Mall.  A stage had been set up on one end.  I don't remember what songs we played, certainly Hail Purdue and quite possibly Star-Spangled Banner.  Mr. Cernan was unfortunately delayed and unable to be there.  But Mr. Armstrong was there, and he spoke.  I think he referenced his days in the Purdue All-American Band.  He certainly made mention of studying p-chem in a nearby building, either Stone or University hall.

I didn't have a camera, I don't have any pictures.  But that was one of the best days of my life.

Six years later, in my final senior year at Purdue, the band did a tribute to all the Purdue astronauts.  It had only recently become a tradition for band seniors to strike the Big Bass Drum (aka the BBD) when they were recognized at the last home game of the season.  Recently enough that the astronaut alum had not had that opportunity.  So, at this tribute, Neil Armstrong got to strike the Big Bass Drum.  I still have the Purdue Exponent article, with its photograph, posted in my cubicle at work.

I was still with the band.  That year I was on the Video Crew.  Two large SVHS professional cameras, one in the pressbox on a tripod, the other on our shoulders at the sidelines.  Also, one VHS camcorder, we nicknamed that "the football." With my press pass and video crew credentials, I was THERE, sideline front and center, when Mr. Armstrong hit the drum.

A few months later, I got to strike the Big Bass Drum myself.  For my Purdue Band Senior Drum Major Breakdown, I used a videotape (This video is MUCH more recent, does not show me, but you can get the idea about 2:30).

My intent is to write about one semester per post, but it seemed appropriate to write the bookends here.  I should be talking more about my experiences behind the camera - how I got there, what I learned - in about 9 to 18 more posts, or about 3 to 6 weeks.