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Tune Time

43 years ago this week, Mike Leckrone launched a new Badger tradition of music wrapped in revelry and covered with sequins.

Throwback of the Varsity band.

In March 1975, UW Bands director Mike Leckrone offered up what he assumed would be one of his least popular ideas: Put on a show in which the band played for its own entertainment.

“I thought it would bring a sense of closure to the year,” he says. “After nine months of playing — the marching band, the pep band — I wanted to give the kids one last chance to play together. People told me nobody would come.”

People were wrong. On March 21, about 400 music fans went to Mills Hall in the Humanities Building to hear the Varsity Band play its first spring concert.

It had been a big year for the UW’s band. The previous fall, membership topped 200 musicians for the first time in Leckrone’s tenure, and further the Marching Band had accepted women for the first time, with the arrival of trumpeter Paula Schultz ’77 and saxophonist Mary Ann Thurber x’78. But the concert wasn’t a one-hit wonder: its popularity continued to grow. In 1976, the 700-seat Mills overflowed, and in 1977, the concert moved to the Field House to accommodate the expanding crowds.

Over the ensuing years, the spring concert has become an increasingly complex production. It currently takes about 10 months to plan the event. Leckrone’s costumes — sequined jackets and vests that dazzle audiences — are as legendary as skyrocket cheers and corny jokes. Leckrone has a new wardrobe made each year by the band’s own seamstress, Lois Levenhagen.

For more than four decades, the Spring Concert has been one of the UW’s biggest musical moments, and today about 30,000 people come to the Kohl Center to hear the Varsity Band play over the three nights of its concert. This year’s event will run from April 19 to 21. WAA members will have a special reception prior to the April 20 show as part of Member Appreciation Month.

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