Backstory: Rose Bowl's brassy Trojan general
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How Bartner gets 275 helmeted, uniformed, and instrument-wielding marchers to do it is an annual saga that legions of alumni are only too happy to recount - usually with equal parts antipathy and affection. They recall 16 hours of weekly practice and grueling field sessions where band members must "hold the chair" - stand on one foot with the other leg raised. Errant notes or missteps can cost a couple of laps around the field, pushups, embarrassment, ridicule, or all of the above.Skip to next paragraph
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"He is a taskmaster and domineering. And you're hating him and at the same time thanking him in the realization that the only reason you are doing what you are doing with such excellence is that he has achieved what he has achieved," says Ross Simmons, who played trombone for the Trojans from 1981-85.
Baton twirler Taylr Takagi, who has traveled the world with the band, sums up Bartner's effect: "Being in this band is the best thing that's ever happened to me."
The sense of excellence comes from an exhaustive list of national appearances including 28 Rose Bowls, the 1984 L.A. Olympics, Super Bowls, presidential inaugurations, international theme park openings, and the rededication of the Statue of Liberty. In 1979, the Trojans performed on Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" album.
"We're the only marching band in America to have a No. 1 song on the pop charts," Bartner says. The band's reputation as "Hollywood's Band" has come with credits in movies, commercials, and sitcoms. (In "The Naked Gun," the band marched famously over former USC Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson.)
An uncommon bond between team and band came in Bartner's first years at USC when a defensive coach began impromptu pep talks on Fridays before big games. Coaches and players stood and talked from the heart about the importance of excellence and winning. The band was invited to circle around the team and play fight songs.
Thirty-five years later the bond is epoxy-tight. "The first thing [Heisman Trophy winner] Reggie Bush did after beating UCLA in the biggest game of the season," says Bartner, "was to come directly over to the band and direct us using a Rose as a baton. The students were there, the alumni, the faculty with the whole world watching ... a moment of true school unity. Those are the moments I live for."
Bartner says he has no intention of ever leaving a job that keeps him hoarse half the year, where helicopter-cams hover, where a sword-wielding Trojan mascot on horseback gallops by his director's ladder after every score. (And where his practice podium has been nicknamed the "god tower.")
He says he will continue to tackle his work as hard as he flattened an errant fan who dashed onto the field to grab the drum major in 1993.
"This isn't a job.... This is what I love to do," says the former Michigan University student who played for famed conductor - and task master - William B. Revelli. "I wanted to be just like him. He was a dictator from the old school. He wanted involvement from the students at every level and got it. That's what I demand here and I think is the secret of whatever success we've had."