Humboldt State University [link]

History of the HSU Marching Lumberjacks
Humboldt State College Marching Lumberjacks –
an exercise in problem solving

by Val Phillips


The Problem:

The Humboldt State College Band, 1940s version wore macinaws and hard hats and did half- time performances (“stunts” was the term in vogue then) at football games. Professor Charles Fulkerson (the Humboldt Symphony conductor) was the musical director, Professor Leland Barlow (the choral director) directed the show routines.

This spirited group was succeeded, under new President, Cornelius Siemens, by a far more formal version, with new Block H uniforms (some vestiges may yet exist) in the 1950s. [photos below] For a time, the new version was successful, but by the mid-1960s, band enrollment was declining as the music programs drew students who were more serious about musical studies and a crisis developed, centered on whether or not the band program should include marching. It was well known that some college bands never took the field. San Francisco State, for example, had a very fine symphonic band, but no marching band.

In Spring Term 1966, the music faculty (there were no “departments” at Humboldt until 1967) approved a “white paper” which drew the distinction between marching band, an entertainment function of a band, and concert band, an aesthetic function of a band, and disavowed the need for the music faculty to provide entertainment at athletic events.

As expected, there was concern from Dr. Siemens and from The Dean of Students about this bold action.

Steps Toward a Solution:

First, a transition situation was negotiated by Dr. Leland Barlow, Chair of the Division of Fine and Applied Arts, and Dr. Donald Karshner, Dean of Students. The 1967 college band would prepare one show, and do it at on home game and at one away game (ironically, at San Francisco State) thereby limiting marching activity to one week. The band would march in the Homecoming Parade, pretty much a straight line down the H St. from Arcata High to the Plaza. The route had one right turn and one left turn.

Second, a new assistant professorship for a band conductor/brass teacher instructor would be advertised. This person would be given the assignment to make a recommendation to the new Music Department as to how to address The Problem.

Third, the position was advertised in Fall 1966. Over the next six months, candidates applied, a search was conducted, and a new faculty member was nominated and hired to lead the band program.

The Key to the Solution:

The transitional 1967 plan was workable. Within the constraints of bad weather (the one home marching show was a rainout) and bad SF State planning (homecoming ceremonies took the entire half, no extension requested; the visiting Humboldt Band was set upon by parachutists and passing drills as they took the field) the Humboldt State College Band met designated obligations. The Davis game was an afternoon game. Their spirited band did a show. It was known to be a student body-sponsored band, like Cal and Stanford. After the half, the new Humboldt Band conductor spent the second half in the Davis stands, asking questions and getting permission from Art Woodbury, the Davis Band faculty advisor, to have a set of questions sent to him for more detailed answers. He assented, and graciously responded.

The Solution:

MIchael McDermott, a drummer in the 1966-67 Humboldt Band, had long been advocating a student body band. He and the new Band Conductor wrote a proposal, based on the Davis documentation, for a separate student body-sponsored marching band at Humboldt State, to be known as the Marching Lumberjacks.

The new Department of Music gave it approval. A meeting was scheduled with Dr. Siemens. With the protection of Professor Fulkerson on one side of him and the Department Chair on the other, the new Band Conductor/brass teacher spoke truth to power. Dr. Siemens accepted the proposal, and generously added his own fillip, providing funds for a grad assistant, Mr. Robert Noel, who had experience in the Penn State Band, to assist with music direction and show planning. The Marching Lumberjacks became a Student Body Band in Spring 1968.

Mike McDermott at 25th MLJ ReunionMichael McDermott was eventually beatified by the Band, which financed itself via its exclusive beer concession at the annual Lumberjack Days and deposited its gains in a fund known as DSM (Disciples of St. Michael.)

Saint Michael became a naval officer. He attended the 25th Anniversary celebration. [Photo of Mike at left, 25th reunion]

The Marching Lumberjacks are beloved by HSU Presidents and a host of other people, including themselves.

The new Band Conductor/brass instructor of 1967 retired in 2005, as Dean for Undergraduate Studies at Humboldt State College.

He is amused.

Submitted by Val Phillips


Below: From the Humboldt State College yearbook "Sempervirens '56"

Photo of the Lumberjack band of the 1950s, wearing macinaws


Group photo of the HSC Lumberjack Band, wearing macinaws and holding instruments.


Below: 1973 Marching Lumberjacks, from Oct. 31, 1973 article in the Lumberjack newspaper,

1968 Marching Lumberjacks