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Final Plum City Band Alumni Nite rocks Jan. 6

The 39th and final Plum City Band Alumni Nite will take place Friday, Jan. 6 at Plum City High School. The band is expected to start at approximately 6:30 p.m., after the junior varsity basketball game. (Submitted photo)

PLUM CITY -- Since 1979, Plum City High School band alumni have come together once a year to dust off their instruments and test their memories for a single night of pep band music.

Merlyn Aude has directed the event since its inception; he began his teaching career in Plum City in the Fall of 1976.

“I decided our big thing, or claim to fame, would be what we did in the gym with our pep band,” Aude said. “I wrote a letter to band alumni in the Fall of ’79, just thinking it would be fun to bring them together.”

Aude gathered addresses and mailed letters out to all the alumni he could find. Shortly after, the first “Band Alumni Nite” was held. Always held during a boys’ basketball game, the first BAN brought around 45 alumni.

“We had a good turnout,” Aude said. “In the early years, I took attendance.”

In the last 10 or so years, technology has made reaching alumni a little less labor-intensive, with Facebook and email being used as the primary way to spread the word.

On average, somewhere between 75 and 100 alumni attend the annual event. The pep band takes up about 25 percent of the seating in the gym on BAN, with a line of low brass on chairs lining the floor in front of the bleachers, and a slew of percussionists on the stage.

In the early ‘80s, Aude created a pep band arrangement of the Mecco disco version of the “Star Wars” theme song. The song was played at every game for a few years, but eventually became a keystone of BAN. Only Plum City High School has the particular arrangement, which is only played on BAN.

“No matter how much the kids begged to play Star Wars through the year, we only performed it on Band Alumni Nite,” Aude said. “No other school has the arrangement.”

Aude put the arrangement together in a week, and the band played off a hand written copy until the early ‘90s when Aude took a music writing class, and as a project, printed the arrangement.

A wide variety of alumni attend the event. Some alum that stick out in Aude’s mind include Todd Glaus, from the class of 1978, and Terry Madsen, from the class of 1977.

“The person with the most attended Band Alumni Nites would be Sarah Bechel-Diesing,” Aude said. “She’s from the class of ’82, and plays trombone. I think she’s only missed one, but if she told me she’s been at every single one, I’d stand behind that statement.”

Aude said when he first started the event, he never thought he was creating something that would last so long into his retirement, and into an athletic co-op between Elmwood and Plum City high schools. He retired from teaching at Plum City High School in 2010, and spends his time subbing, helping with concert set-up, adjucating music competitions, playing in a variety of bands and orchestras, skiing, golfing, and otherwise enjoying his time.

For most of the alumni, they only play their instruments once a year, and haven’t seen the music since the prior year’s event. The band plays prior to the varsity game, and again at half-time.

“All years are pretty fantastic,” Aude said. “The basketball team is always so pumped, and I’ve had players claim they can jump higher during the performance of Star Wars. They’ve won games they have not been predicted to win on Band Alumni Nite.”

The event also usually draws a full house. Friday, Jan. 6, will mark the last Band Alumni Nite at Plum City High School. According to Aude’s math and records, the event is the 39th annual BAN. “I turned 65, and like all good things, Band Alumni Nite must come to an end,” Aude said.

The alumni band will come together one last time at the Elmwood-Plum City Wolves’ game versus the Boyceville Bulldogs. The playlist will include alumni favorites such as “Stray Cat Strut,” “Hey!,” and, of course, “Star Wars,” as well as other popular pep band selections. The band is expected to start at approximately 6:30 p.m., after the junior varsity game.

Submitted by Christina Lindstrom, former editor of the Durand Courier-Wedge