How Music Transformed Me,
by Norwich Alumni.
According to Norwich lore, the Regimental Band earned its legendary moniker in the 1920s. It was, after all, the Jazz Age, when musicians ruled and parties didn’t end, just merely changed shifts. Completing the image: Bars covered the windows of old Jackman Hall, where the band practiced, lived, and apparently raised the roof. So frequent and raucous were band parties that the original Northfield barracks became known as the Zoo, and the band members, Zoobies.
Today, nearly a century later, Norwich Zoobies bear the name with pride. “While the other companies might have called us Zoobies as a put-down,” writes Adam Lazinsk ’87, “we wore the title like a badge of honor.” Old Jackman is gone now more than half a century, but the Zoobie spirit lives on, as glimpsed in these personal tales of musicianship, camaraderie, and deep, lasting bonds.
Always the Zoo!
From the Hill to the Alps
I played tuba in the Regimental Band for four years. After graduating in 1952, I entered the Army, and did not play a musical instrument again until I retired. Since then, music has become my avocation. I am currently playing alphorn with the International Alphorn Society in Westfield, N.J. We play at Oktoberfests, and for Swiss/German functions and senior-citizens groups. In 2006, our ensemble toured Switzerland and we performed with some of the top alphorn players in that country.
William D. Carter ’52
Beefing Up the Cadence
I was in the Regimental Band during my four years at Norwich and finished as the Band’s XO. A member of the percussion section, I was a snare drummer my third and fourth year.
During my first two years, the drum cadence we played was simple. One … Three … One, two, three … One … Three … One, two, three …
As the percussion section leader my junior year, I made an executive decision: to beef up the cadence. I asked a sophomore drummer, Carolyn Cunniff ’84, to propose short riffs or whole measures for a new cadence. I wrote seven new cadence measures, added one of Carolyn’s contributions, and introduced the new cadence during the 1981–82 school year.
When I returned to Norwich in 1993 for my 10th class reunion, the drum cadence was still being used.
Steve Church ’83
Twice a Prayer
“I have long treasured a statement by St. Augustine of Hippo that in singing a hymn we pray twice, once in the words and at the same time in the music.” – Bill Gannon ’58
After being accepted by Norwich into the Class of 1958, I knew I wanted to play in the marching band. To make sure I would be good enough, I spent the summer practicing eight hours a day.
Finally the moment arrived when my parents drove me to the Hill. I remember being welcomed at Old Jackman Hall by cadets with big smiles on their faces, telling me how glad they were to have another trombone player. That very first day, I felt right at home.
Of course, around three o’clock that afternoon everything changed. Sitting with my three roommates in our room on the third floor, we heard yells: “Fall Out” and “Double Time.” We spilled out of Jackman, and gone were the smiles that had greeted us just hours earlier. I think it took a year before I saw those smiles again. Well, at least until after Thanksgiving. But I had made it into the band, and that was what really counted.
During the next four years, I played in the Grenadiers dance band, sang in the chorus, and jammed in the small jazz combos that played occasionally on Saturday nights. I even played with the Stan Kenton Band and Dave Brubeck among many other jazz stars of those days—of course, that was in my room, with them on the record player and me with nobody else around. At 79, I still jam along with a record nearly every day.
Many years later, I stood in the SAE fraternity house living room while three or four alumni jocks announced the sports they had played. Someone asked what I played at Norwich. I said very proudly, “The trombone!”
Among my fondest memories of Norwich and music involved a reunion with one of my company commanders from my days on the Hill. For a number of years, I played in a jazz swing band for the Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York. Once, while on the bandstand, I saw Cal Lowell ’57 in uniform marching with the New York Military Academy band as their TAC officer. I couldn’t believe my eyes! We connected later at the Italian Embassy, which sponsored the parade. What a great time we had seeing each other.
Cal had led the Norwich band my junior year. I remember him saying to us all, at some point, that a military band was designated as an “Instrument of War” in the British Manual of Arms. It has always intrigued me that music might be profoundly related to all of life, including the sacrifices made when a country is at war. As a priest, I have long treasured a statement by St. Augustine of Hippo that in singing a hymn we pray twice, once in the words and at the same time in the music. I do believe that music can be a form of prayer.
I thank God for all who have nurtured my musical life, beginning with my family and continuing through Norwich and beyond.
Rev. William S. Gannon ’58
Band of Brothers
My experience at Norwich from the fall of 1968 to graduation in May of 1972 was made much easier by being a member of Band Company. When I first arrived on campus on that eventful Saturday in August 1968, I hoped that I would get the opportunity to audition for the marching band. I did not realize that because I had listed four years of high school band on my application, I had already been “drafted” and assigned to Band Company.
I was assigned the bass drum as a rook. In those days, there was only one bass drum, and if the cadence wasn’t exactly correct, I was in big trouble! That year, ’68–’69—at the time, Norwich was still all-male and all-military—the drum major was Cadet Master Sergeant Theodore “Teddy” Wyman ’70, who sadly passed away last year. Teddy would catch hell from the regimental staff if the Corps marched too fast or too slow. I then caught hell from Teddy.
Sometimes we had three parades a week: Tuesday afternoon, a Thursday afternoon retreat parade, and a Saturday parade if there was a home football game. All were on Sabine Field. In the fall and spring, if the weather cooperated, the full band would march the Corps to second mess. When the full band wasn’t playing at second mess, the cadence was provided by two snare drummers and a bass drummer directed by the master sergeant. The year 1969 also marked the 150th anniversary of NU’s founding, so we played at Alden Partridge’s gravesite in Norwich, Vermont.
During the winter, our concert band practiced in an old wooden building behind White Chapel and the mess hall. Sadly, the building is long gone. Winter was great, too, because we got to tour high schools and colleges throughout New England. Once we had a steak dinner at Delmonico’s in Boston, in our dress blue uniforms!
Band Company provided many junior and senior leaders for the Corps. I think that is a testimony to the training, organization, and attention to detail that was part of our daily routine. From Band Company I gained brothers that, as an only child, I never had. Our common bond of music brought us closer together, I feel, than the “regular” line companies. It was tough enough being a rook, and Band Company always seemed to have a higher “esprit de corps” than the other companies. We also had more “rook schools” than anyone else!
It has been over 40 years since graduation, but I still play the bass drum (again the only one) in parades as a member of the Seth Warner-Mount Independence Fife and Drum Corps.
Mark G. Brownell ’72
Band of Brothers?
No Missed Steps
On January 20, 1961, the Norwich University Regimental Band and Drill Team marched in the parade for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. It had been snowing all night, and the accumulation was at least seven inches (probably much less, but after 55 years, it has grown in my mind). I was the bass drummer. All the way down from Norwich on the bus, the bandmaster and the drill team leader would come and talk to me, emphasizing that the cadence for the drill team and the band was dependent on the beat of the bass drum.
We started up Pennsylvania Avenue. The drill team was smart as usual, and we sounded like a smaller version of John Philip Sousa’s band.
I was on the end of the last row, everyone marching to the beat of my drum. All was perfect until we approached the reviewing stand, where there stood President Kennedy. Starstruck, I stopped playing. I just froze. To my everlasting gratitude, my classmates did not miss a beat. After approximately eight steps, I started playing again.
Needless to say, I got a razing all the way back to Norwich.
Many rumors sprang up over the years about the supposed punishment I received from General Harmon. The truth of matter is that he called me to his office and had a good laugh at my expense as I recounted the experience. That was all. No punishment. As gruff as the general could be, he had too much class to berate someone for a mistake that caused no missteps. I still believe to this day that we were one of best units in the parade.
Harry S. Chebookjian ’63
Cold War Camaraderie
I was an Alpha Gator, not a Zoobie, when I joined the Grenadiers as a rook. Hearing I played bass, James Bennett cornered me at a home football game and invited me to try out. I made the cut, became an honorary Zoobie, and jammed with great musicians during my Norwich career, including Ed Matlak ’88, Wayne Gordon ’89, Adam Lazinsk ’87, Bruce Enck ’87, Steve Gilks ’89, Carmelo Turdo ’92, and my close friends and 1990 classmates Adrienne Evertson, Pat Testerman, and David Wilson.
Our most ambitious tour was a seven-day trek through Cold War Germany, 1988. We played at U.S. Department of Defense high schools in Munich, Heidelberg, Mannheim, and Nuremberg, staying on nearby military bases. It was there that I learned to appreciate the power of music and how it connects with the audience. In those days before the Internet, smartphones, and instant digital downloads, the American high schoolers overseas were starved for entertainment from home. They treated us like rock stars.
I’m still a bass player, composing, recording, and performing professionally as a member of two New England–based bands, Martin England and the Reconstructed and the Molenes (while working a day gig in corporate communications). I am lucky to still be rocking as hard at 48 as I did as a fresh-faced Norwich cadet, with no clue what the future would bring.
My last visit to Norwich was in February 2011, while on tour with the Molenes. Between shows in Burlington and Montpelier, I walked the campus in a snowstorm and explored some of the new buildings. It was my first visit in over 10 years and I was thrilled to hear one of my favorite bands, Wilco, playing on WNUB.
Andrew Russell ’90
After twelve years of lessons, countless music competitions, and winning first place at an international music festival, I ended up a Zoobie at Norwich, and it defined who I was. As a rook, I performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the piano accompanied by the Regimental Band, of which I was an active member. I also participated in the Grenadiers, sang in the regimental chorus—occasionally accompanying the men’s chorus on piano—and played piano/keyboards in the pit for Pegasus Players musicals.
And the White Chapel weddings! I’ve lost track of how many wedding ceremonies I played, though among the most memorable was the wedding of Bill ’88 and Heidi Passalacqua P’15. I remember sitting at the piano in the empty chapel and playing until my fingers hurt or Reverend Wick told me to go to bed.
Then graduation came. In the same week, I married my rook buddy, Jacob Coons ’01 and M’12 (a former Regimental Bugler and Regimental Men’s Chorus singer) and watched him get commissioned into the Army. My new husband then left to spend a year in South Korea and I was afforded the opportunity to fill in as the acting Regimental Band director for James Bennett during his sabbatical leave. From 2001 to 2002 I got to lead the band that had helped shape my experience at Norwich. This opportunity allowed me to enhance my leadership skills, maintain my passion for music, and escape to a world where I didn’t worry about my husband halfway around the globe.
After Jacob’s return, I played piccolo in the 440th Army Band, North Carolina. Over six years, I played in three different Army bands.
I still play the piano and guitar daily, and I have a roomful of instruments that I hope my children will enjoy. Between my husband and me, our children will have music in their lives.
Music transforms. It provides an outlet when I need an escape and fun sing-a-longs when my children need laughter. It let me experience the military doing something I loved. Music has shaped me into the person I am today.
Hilary (McElroy) Coons ’01
The Butter Bar Sings
I wasn’t in the band or men’s chorus at Norwich, but as a cadet drill sergeant I spent plenty of time marching rooks around campus, and in the Army ROTC Ranger Platoon I was no stranger to running the hills surrounding it. Both of these activities were more fun to do when singing various walking or running cadences, and I got to the point where I could march or run a group well over a mile without repeating myself, though to be fair the number may have been a bit less if we kept the songs clean.
As a freshly minted second lieutenant in the 101st (Air Assault Division) I figured my singing days were over, as most PT in the infantry is at the squad level with no singing like in the movies. When a unit does conduct the occasional bigger group event, NCOs call the cadences, so I was surprised when we went for a company run my first week there and our grinning first sergeant called me out to sing before the last man in formation had even cleared the gate. The guy was clearly trying to have a little fun at my expense and throw me to the wolves as an awkward new butter bar.
Twenty minutes later, still going strong with a smile on my face, I was actually feeling so good that I started ad-libbing general, traditional songs to make them relevant not only to Army air assault but to our unit in particular. After a few minutes of this slightly smug performance I figured it would be in my best interest not to annoy the first sergeant too much, so I handed it off to one of the platoon sergeants and took my place in the formation. He let me live.
I had my time at Norwich to thank for making my Army musical “debut” a little less painful. Added bonus: Not only did the cadence experience help, but after running and humping a ruck up those hills around school for four years, the comparatively flat terrain around Fort Benning and Fort Campbell was a cinch!
Noel Campbell ’99
One and Done
The trumpet was my instrument of choice because I thought it was cool. In grammar school, I took lessons under the stairs in a hot boiler room. When I would hit a wrong note, my instructor rapped my fingers with his pen. I soon found out sports were a lot more fun, and plus the girls liked those guys better.
When I applied to Norwich, I filled out the application with my various accomplishments and activities, which mostly involved sports. On the section regarding musical instruments, I checked “trumpet,” and as I recall, the application did not specify “play” or “played.”
Upon arriving as a rook, to my surprise, I learned I was assigned to Band Company. I didn’t even own a trumpet, hadn’t played in years, and didn’t remember most of the notes. The result was pretty embarrassing. I managed to borrow a trumpet and relearned how to play it while sitting and marching next to experts at rehearsals and parades.
Since I was not proficient on the trumpet, as soon as was permissible I moved out of Band Company and enjoyed the remainder of my time at Norwich on the ski team and later headed up the Ski Patrol.
I always have and still love listening to most music (rock and roll, jazz, classical, etc.) but playing the trumpet is not a passion.
Jay Stone ’66
“Hogan’s Heroes” Returns
A lot of us alumni (Zoobies, specifically) know of the “Band Draft.” Basically if your Norwich application mentions that you play an instrument, you are assigned to Band Company. I heard rumors of the Draft as I was applying to Norwich in 2009, and I checked the box. My high school had only offered jazz band, and I wanted to be in a marching band.
In the Regimental Band, I played trumpet my first two years and euphonium the last two. Of the pieces we played, a few bring back some specific (and quite fond) memories of my time on the Hill. John Philip Sousa’s “The Thunderer” will always remind me of being formed up on the UP before a football game. When we led the Corps onto the field for the pre-game march-on, we played Sousa’s “El Capitan.”
My sophomore year, we got a new band director, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Edwards, VSM. Under his leadership we started playing a greater variety of music. My rook brother, Charlie Thaxter ’13, asked Colonel Edwards to bring back “Hogan’s Heroes,” and he did!
Some parades stick out more than others, but the one I remember most is President Obama’s 2013 inaugural parade. As the nation’s oldest collegiate band passed the president in review, we played the “National Emblem March,” written by native Vermonter E. E. Bagley. For a band from the Green Mountain State, this was a very appropriate tune to play.
Semper Zoobelis! Norwich Forever!
Andrew J. O’Sullivan ’13
Several alumni wrote to us about the “Hogan’s Heroes” custom, which came about in the 1960s. Does anyone recall what year the tradition started?
Naas on Tuba
I’d Do It All Over Again
Some of us had formed a little jazz combo, and we traveled all over the Northeast to play music for folks and to be ambassadors for Norwich. Sometimes we’d stay with alumni, sometimes in hotels, and sometimes we’d travel for the day and get back late at night. Paula Gills used to sing with us. She has a beautiful voice. She’d do all the old standards, “Star Dust,” “All of Me.” It was great.
One time during a band rehearsal, Jim Bennett announced that the Intercollegiate Honor Band was holding auditions at Yale University. Wayne Gordon ’89 and I, we raised our hands to go. Jim told us we had a good shot. We actually made it. There we were, two cadets from a small military school that doesn’t offer a music major, on stage in Woolsey Hall wearing our Norwich uniforms, playing alongside 100 to 150 of the best college musicians from around New England.
In 1985 or 1986, when the Regimental Band rode the bus to New York City for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, I remember my family standing on the side of the road along I-95 with a bunch of signs for the band. (We didn’t have cell phones back then so I gave them the best idea I could about when we’d be coming through.) And then there was the chorus trip to Connecticut when the entire men’s chorus stayed at my house, something like 18 cadets sleeping on my parents’ floor, a big Norwich bus parked in front of my house. I remember Barry Elwell ’88 must have eaten four loaves of French toast.
The greatest thing about Jim Bennett is that he wasn’t like the traditional faculty adviser: He really went out of his way to help us. He mentored us. He was on top of things if we were struggling in school. Just a tremendous influence—far above and beyond his job description.
Playing with the Regimental Band and singing in the men’s chorus, and being a Grenadiers drummer—it was one of the best times of my life. I made very strong friendships, and they’re still strong today. I’d do it all over again.
Ed Matlak ’88
A Badge of Honor
In August 1984, after transferring to Norwich, I arrived at Plumley Armory and received my assignment: Band Company. But I didn’t want to be in Band Company! How did that happen?
I trudged up to Alumni Hall and was directed by a stern-looking cadre member to go down to the basement, where I was met by screaming band cadre and made to enter a room to meet Company First Sergeant Dan Bagley ’86. After he yelled some, I told him I did not want to be in the Band Company. That did not go over well. I was sent over to the basement of White Chapel to meet with the band director, Jim Bennett, then a captain in the VSM. Captain Bennett told me that he selected me for the band because on my Norwich application, I indicated that I played the saxophone. He made a deal with me: Give him two weeks, and if at the end of that I still wanted to transfer out, he would arrange it.
I stayed and never regretted it for a second.
We were chosen to march in President Reagan’s second inaugural parade, scheduled for January 21, 1985. When it was canceled due to extreme cold weather, we were already in Washington, D.C., staying at Andrews AFB.
In 1995, two of my Band Company rook buddies were groomsmen in my wedding: Barry Elwell ’88 and Eddie Matlak ’88. My great friend, Tina Collura George ’87, was there as well, even though she was from a line company.
The Band Company was a tight-knit, proud group. While the other companies might have called us Zoobies as a put-down, we wore the title like a badge of honor.
Adam S. Lazinsk ’87
A Family Tradition
The most memorable experience of my entire Norwich career was having the opportunity to lead the band as the Regimental Band drum major in President Obama’s 2013 inaugural parade. For me, this experience was more than just an honor—it meant continuing a family tradition. My grandfather (trumpet), father (euphonium), mother (viola), and brother (violin) all played in the United States Marine Band, “The President’s Own.” A member of my family has marched in every single inaugural parade since the 1957 swearing-in of President Eisenhower.
Kurt Franke ’13
Music is My Refuge
I couldn’t imagine my life without music, because those combinations of a mere twelve notes in the musical alphabet reach down so deep in my body, stirring my soul and making my heart soar. Music is my refuge. As a child, I learned to play seven instruments, focusing on piano, clarinet, and flute, with excellent teachers from the Boston Symphony. My love and involvement with music was just as large as academics and athletics.
When I went to Norwich, I was one of the first female cadets, and thought I was going to be part of Band Company. That didn’t happen. The original cadet ladies were eventually placed in our own company: Lima Company.
But I was fortunate enough to be in a musical recorder group run by Professor Joseph Heed and some other professors. It was flattering to be asked. I always thought it was ironic that I could sit down next to Professor Heed and keep match with his playing ability at the same time I was failing his calculus class. He was such a kind man and helped me with my music and my math, both which fared well in the end.
Every Sunday I played the organ for the religious services at the chapel. Reverend Evans and his wife were the nicest people, always welcoming the cadets into their home. He performed the wedding ceremony for my husband, Alan Fillip ’76, and I, in Mattapoisett, Mass. It was a lovely ecumenical service.
Nancy Young Fillip ’76
“March to Barney!”
One time as I was squaring my way back to my room from the latrine on the fourth deck of Dodge Hall, my platoon sergeant, Cadet Sergeant First Class Schroeder, began playing the Barney theme song on his phone. He ordered me to “March to Barney!” So I marched in step to the song all the way back to my room.
Nathan Ures ’19