By Filip Bondy, page C4.
COLUMBIA BAND MARCHES TO ITS OWN TUNE
NEW YORK - This year alone, they have
burned an imaginary American flag, educated
Villanova fans on the fine points of being
Jewish, and - last Saturday at Wien
Stadium - formed a map of Bensonhurst
complete with routes of hasty retreat.
They are the Columbia University marching
band, coming to your town, playing at your
football game. Hide the cheerleaders. Bare
"I tell people we're not their father's
marching band," says Lyle Zmskind, band
poet laureate and drum major. "We're the
cleverest band in the world. Outrageousness
is the goal. The only goal. We'll take a dig
In recent years, they have driven an
imaginary car - their formations leave much
to the imagination - off the Chappaquiddick
bridge at a Harvard game. They have thrown
Lions to the Christians at a Holy Cross
Some days, when the weather is not good,
there are only 30 or 40 band members. Some
days, the songs all sound alike. The
uniforms are rag-tag. The instruments are
crude - like the box of noodles that is the
mainstay of the percussion section. But the
Columbia band gets its point across, which
has nothing to do with the point the band at
the University of Texas, say, might make.
"Fascist," Zmskind says. "Those kind of
bands are fascist."
A few people, including the Columbia
football players, might find this next fact
hard to believe: The Columbia band is
censored. Not everything Zmskind and his
fellow band members have written has gotten
past the censor, Columbia's dean of students.
The pre-approval mandate started 15 years
ago, after the now infamous Yale Bowl
incident. On Children's Day in New Haven,
the Lions' marching band performed a show on
birth control at halftime of the
The band formed a diaphragm on the field,
then played a song that has become its
standard: "I Hear You Knocking, But You
Can't Come In."
Enough was enough. Deans such as Roger
Lehecka stepped in. Lehecka now reviews each
script with band manager Adam Grais in
One of the band's all-too-easy targets has
been the Columbia football team, its coaches
and officials. When you lose 47 of 49 games,
you automatically qualify for exemption from
So Lehecka rejected one script that
presented a mock resume of athletic
director Al Paul. Paul's former jobs would
have included personnel director for the '62
Mets, campaign manager for George McGovern
and security consultant at the Beirut
"I think generally the administration has
gotten a little looser,'' says Zmskind. "I
was sort of surprised the flag thing went
This season, the band's relationship with
the football team has improved. For the
first time in anyone's memory, the band took
part in a pep rally for the team on the
steps of Low Library.
The band played. The noodles were shaken.
The students cheered. And since this was
Columbia, the football team lost.