January 20, 1922, the Eau Claire Normal Band comprised of 22 musicians made its first public performance in assembly. During the formative years, the band was a student run organization with guidance by faculty members, most notable Clara Mae Ward, who served as adviser until the hiring of Mr. Charles Harris in 1936. From 1922-1936 membership varied from 17-33 members and performed at a variety of sporting events and student meetings. During the 1933-1934 academic year, the band was broadcast monthly on the regional radio station WTAQ and received many positive reviews.
When Charles Harris was appointed as the first Band Master, the band was reorganized, new instruments were purchased, and the band began performing in local towns off campus. During the Harris years, the band continued to grow, perform more frequently, and continued local radio broadcasts, now on WEAU Radio (present day WEAQ). During the 1940-1941 academic year, the band program consisted of two bands, the Concert Band, and the Marching Band. The Marching Band of 50 members with two drum majors performed at football games and at homecoming. The first documented works performed by the Concert Band were at commencement in 1941: Democracy Grand March – Lake, and a transcription of the Coronation March from “The Prophet” by Giacomo Meyerbeer.
From 1945 to 1956, Robert A. Gantner served as Director of Bands and the band program continued the grow and thrive. During the Gantner years, the band frequently toured regionally as representatives of the University, a proud tradition that continues today. Following the rebranding of the Eau Claire Normal School as the Eau Claire State Teachers College, the band received new blue and gold uniforms with grey trousers. In 1954-1955 the band grew to 70 members, recorded a concert that was played nationally on NBC, and toured to Cleveland, Ohio to perform at the Music Educators National Convention on March 7, 1955. This first conference performance included Overture and Allegro by Francois Couperin, First Suite in Eb for Military Band by Gustav Holst, Legend by Paul Creston, The Sandpaper Ballet by Leroy Anderson, and March of the Steel Men by Charles Belsterling.
From 1957-1963, Dr. Leo Christy served as Director of Bands. During his tenure, new initiatives were implemented that continue to this day. The Festival of Contemporary Music featured guest composer-conductor William P. Latham, and the band performed several of his works. In 1960, a third band was added to the program, the Dance Band. The Dance Band (present day Jazz Band) was under the direction of Larry McCaghy and consisted of 13 musicians. Tours continued under Dr. Christy and the band traveled to Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Winnipeg, Canada. Sunday afternoons, WEAU – TV broadcast Music Department programs at 5:45pm to feature faculty and student performances.
Dean Kool served as interim director during 1963-1964, prior to the hiring of Dr. Joseph Casey. As Director of Bands, Dr. Casey conducted the Symphonic Band, Jazz Ensemble, and the Marching Band. New initiatives and growth occurred during the Casey years including, the addition of a second Concert Band 1965 (David Keuhn, conductor), the First Annual Wind Clinic in 1966 (High School Honor Band), and the beginning of the Eau Claire Jazz Festival in 1968. The Blugold Marching Band traveled to Minneapolis to perform a halftime show in Minneapolis at the Packers-Vikings Game in 1966, and the stage band attended a clinic in Madison.
Dr. Donald S. George was appointed as Director of Bands and clarinet teacher in 1968, a position he held until his retirement in 1995. Early in his tenure, the University opened the new Fine Arts Building and the band program continued to flourish. We saw the addition of a third concert band and the jazz area grew to include four jazz ensembles under the direction of Dominic Spera and Ronald Keezer. Prof. Rodney Hudson joined the faculty in 1971 to teach low brass and conduct Concert Bands I and II. In the late 1970’s oboe professor, Ivar Lunde, Jr. began conducting Concert Band II. Frequent guest artists on campus included William D. Revelli, Carlos Surnach, Frederick Fennell, Merle Evans, Karel Husa, Harry Begian, Vincent Persichetti, Norman Dello Joio, Henry Charles Smith, and Eugene Rousseau. And, in 1985 the Symphony Band performed at the American Bandmasters Association Conference in Kohler, WI and continued recording works for Manhattan Beach Music Publications, a partnership that began in 1980 and consists of over 40 recordings that are available on the publisher’s website.
Under the leadership of Dominic Spera (1968-1977), Henry Mautner (1978-1986), Ronald Keezer (1969-2001) the jazz program quickly grew to include five jazz ensembles. In addition to rapid growth, the Jazz Bands quickly gained national attention with performances at the National Jazz Festival and the Elmhurst Jazz Festival in 1971, the Music Educators National Conference in 1972, in Atlanta, GA, the first National IAJE Convention in Chicago in 1973, and the premiere of Robert Beadel’s Improvisation and Dance for Stage Band and Orchestra with the Minnesota Orchestra in 1974.
During the 1980s and 1990s the Jazz Area gained international attention while traveling to Europe to perform at the Graz American Music Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, performing at the International Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and winning their first two Down Beat awards for “Best College Big Band” under the direction of Robert Baca. Over the years Jazz I has performed in China, added 7 more Down Beat Awards, received a Grammy Nomination, frequently performed at music conferences across the upper Midwest, and founded Eau Claire Jazz, Inc., to support the jazz area and run the annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival. The current jazz area consists of four jazz ensembles and numerous combos. Jazz faculty also include Dr. Jeffery Crowell and Dr. Aaron Hedenstrom.
From 1995-2000, the concert bands and Blugold Marching Band experienced a time of transition and restructuring. The concert bands were renamed (Wind Ensemble, Symphony Band, and University Band), and the marching band consisted primarily of music education majors. In fall 2000, Richard Mark Heidel was hired as Director of Bands, and Dr. Randal Dickerson joined the Music Education faculty as Director of the Blugold Marching Band. Under the leadership of Dr. Heidel, the Wind Symphony was selected to perform at the College Band Directors National Association North Central Regional Conference in Omaha, NE, and the Music Educators National Conference in Milwaukee, WI.
In 2003, Professor Rodney Hudson retired as professor of trombone and conductor of the Symphony Band, and Dr. Phillip Ostrander was appointed as trombone professor and conductor of the Symphony Band in Fall 2003. Under the leadership of Dr. Ostrander, the Symphony Band continues to thrive and frequently interacts with guest composers.
Under the direction of Dr. Dickerson, the BMB began to flourish once again. During his 23 years as director of the BMB, the ensemble has grown to over 450 musicians representing almost every major on campus. In addition to this growth, the band frequently performs within the community, region, and internationally. Recent performances include Bands of America Regionals in St. Louis and Indianapolis, Youth In Music in Minneapolis, and international trips to Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
From 2008-2013 the concert bands went through another time of change with interim director James Colonna, Director of Concert Bands Dr. Peter Haberman, and interim Brian Diller. Under Haberman’s leadership the Wind Symphony performed at the Wisconsin Music Educators Association Conference, and the tradition of guest conductors continued with Craig Kirchhoff, Robert Ponto, and Eric Rombach-Kendall.
In fall 2013, Dr. John R. Stewart joined the Department of Music and Theatre Arts as Director of Concert Bands and conductor of the Wind Symphony. During his tenure the Wind Symphony has performed at the International Tuba Euphonium Convention and performed twice at the Minnesota Music Educators Association Midwinter Clinic and the College Band Directors National Association North Central Regional Conferences. The Wind Symphony and Symphony Band have collaborated with guest artists and composers such as Rodney Dorsey, Cynthia Johnston Turner, Frank Battisti, Allan McMurray, Michael Colburn, Brian Bowman, Andreas Hofmeier, Timothy Northcut, Nick Weiser, Dana Wilson, Kevin Day, and Jodie Blackshaw.
In 2021, David Lofy joined the band staff as assistant director of athletic bands and serves as conductor of the 100+ member University Band.
At the end of the 2022-2023 academic year, the UWEC Bands held their Centennial Celebration of the Bands at UW – Eau Claire. The week of concerts featured performances by the University Band, Symphony Band, Wind Symphony, and two Alumni Bands that represented every graduating class from 1970-2023. Just over 200 alumni returned for the celebration and guest conductors included Erika Svanoe, Robert Ponto, Russel Mikkelson, Rodney Hudson, R. Mark Heidel, Phillip Ostrander, and John R. Stewart. Thanks to the support of 33 schools across the US and Canada we were able to commission and premiere Symphony in Blue and Gold by Erika Svanoe.
As the bands move into our second century on campus, we are committed to meeting the artistic and educational needs of all our students. The bands presently serve approximately 700 students across campus each year. We are committed to high quality performances of traditional repertoire while promoting and performing high quality repertoire by historically underrepresented composers.