Carnegie Mellon University Kiltie Band - A Tradition Since 1908
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    Kiltie Band History

    A Brief History of the Kiltie Band


    "How a Band Lost Its Pants and Decided it was Better Off Without Them"

    In our second century, we strive to continue the great traditions of the previous generations. On this page you will find some descriptions of the Kiltie Band over those years. This is by no means a complete history, so if you have anything to add to or correct please contact our current Vice President of Public Relations*. We apologize for errors and are eager to set the record straight!

    Humble Beginnings

    As the story goes, the Kiltie Band was founded in 1908 by a group of just seven students who one fall day decided to play a smattering of musical instruments in support of the football team. Not much is known from those early years, but all past, current, and future Kilties certainly owe a great deal to those original seven and their passion for Carnegie Tech. We do know for certain that their first official performance was held November 25, 1922 on the 87th birthday of the school's founder-Andrew Carnegie.

    One of the Biggest Upsets in History

    The band performed for the 1926 Carnegie Tech-Notre Dame football game. Knute Rockne, so alarmed by rumors coming out of Pittsburgh regarding the prowess of the Kiltie Band, decided to skip the game in favor of attending the Army-Navy contest in New York. It didn't weigh on his mind, since his team was undefeated and favored by several touchdowns. Well, CIT won and the legend of the Kiltie Band grew.

    Band alumnus Dean Streator (CFA 1951) recalls that period fondly. "When I was a kid I remember seeing the Kiltie Band take the field at Pitt Stadium when Carnegie Tech opposed Pitt in football. I think the band was comprised of students and alumni then, a friend of my dad who worked with him at US Steel played trumpet in the band. Most impressive was the band's quickstep entrance and the release of a helium balloon rigged with a Carnegie Tech banner that floated high out of the stadium. The Pitt band was big and ROTC structured but the Tech band stole the show".

    Another alumnus, Jack Purcell (CFA 1941), recalls the 1938 season beating an undefeated Pitt squad which had gone to the Rose Bowl the previous season. At that time the band was composed of about half music majors and traveled to one away game a year.


    The year 1939 was a momentous one for Carnegie Tech football, and thus, the Kiltie Band. The team, after defeating Pitt in 1938, traveled to New Orleans to take on Texas Christian in the Sugar Bowl. Your intrepid historian, through difficult negotiations and several trips to the depths of the Mellon Institute mailroom, has managed to obtain an original copy of the itinerary of this famous journey and can now confirm the Kilties made the trip. Housed in sleeping cars parked at the train station the band performed at the game and around the city.

    Carnegie Tech would continue to compete with the best football teams in the country, while the Kilties enlightened and entertained, right up until WW II. Very little information survives from the period of the war and the decade or so after. What is known is that while Carnegie Tech's football team ceased competing in the highest division of college football, the Kilties did not back down. They continued to perform and heckle at games.

    The March Goes On

    In the sixties, a student enrolled at Carnegie Tech and joined the "Band Without Pants", trumpet major Paul Gerlach, a name that would later become legend. The band of his student years was run by the School of Music. Marching band members were all males but women were included in the concert band (although they were forbidden to wear kilts!). The ensemble, comprised mostly of music majors, continued to support the football team through some especially lean years on the gridiron. A highlight of those games featured John Defazio (CFA 1970) doing a never to be forgotten R rated performance while the band played "The Stripper"! Meanwhile, the concert band reached high levels of success, traveling several times to New York City where they played at both Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Selections included "A Carnegie Fantasia", a medley of school songs penned by nationally noted arranger Mr. Edward Madden. Reviews from the prestigious New York Times were laudatory.

    Gerlach remained in school earning an MFA in Performance (trumpet) through the merger with Mellon Institute of Industrial Research and holds the distinction of having received degrees from both Carnegie Tech and Carnegie Mellon. After being awarded his degrees he left for a lengthy career as a teacher in the public schools.

    Fall and Rebirth

    In the early 1970's, for reasons not thoroughly clear, the marching band disappeared from campus, followed several years later by the concert band. These were dark days for CMU as there were no Kiltie Crusaders to entertain the students. Gradually, the campus community realized what void had been created by their absence and in 1978 turned to Warren Mercer (CFA 1958), highly regarded director of bands at North Hills High School, to revive the program.

    After a four year stint, Mercer left the position and learned soon thereafter that one of his former students, Paul Gerlach was considering an appointment. Warren called him with some off the record advice:

    "Don't let them put that on you Paul". He did!

    Director for Life, Without the Possibility for Parole

    Mr Gerlach, then director of bands at Northgate High School, agreed to lead the Kiltie Band and the rest, they say, is history:

    While continuing to teach at Northgate he began the task of rebuilding the Kiltie Band, now configured under the Office of Student Affairs. After a constitution was written and ratified student officers were elected and Student Senate officially recognized them as a campus activity.

    Originally they performed only at football games but eventually concert performances were included: Holiday Concert (late November), Mid Winter Concert (late February), and Spring Carnival where they continue to be the traditional opening act.

    And On

    Thanks to aggressive recruitment efforts the band grew significantly in the 90s and 00s, reaching a peak membership of over 130 during 2011-12.

    To much astonishment and acclamation Mr. Gerlach consented to continue as the band's leader eventually bestowed with the title "Band Director for Life, Without the Possibility of Parole"! The position of Cheermaster was firmly established passing from trombonist to trombonist in what remains the greatest case of political colluding since the Corrupt Bargain of 1824.

    A new tradition, that of the King of the Britons (and pantless) Arthur and his loyal sidekick/steed Patsy, was added early on. Drawing inspiration from the critically acclaimed 1975 film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" , Kiltie trumpeter Ray Strobel (CFA 1993) arranged "King Arthur's Quest" for the band. To this day the King, along with Patsy, take to the track between the third and fourth quarter of every home game.

    Never short of 'traditions' nor adding new ones, the role of Anti Cheer Master as a direct challenge to the supremacy of the Cheer Master was created. Dan "Old Dude" Fernandez (DC 2003), Anti_Cheermaster numero uno, has this to say about its founding: "I always called them Kiltie Band games. I felt it our duty to entertain the fans. Even though our football team was pretty good we were a major part of the experience". Feeling that one of the Cheer Masters was weak he originated this role. In regards to both old and new traditions Fernandez said: "We established traditions by experimenting and trying new things. If it works out it stays, if not it goes away".

    To Skibo Gym

    In the mid 1990s a group of Kilties gathered in Skibo gym to play at both the men's and women's basketball games. The Pep Band became an officially sanctioned activity in 2007, continuing to grow each year, filed in no small part by the pizza and soda supplied by the Athletic Department. These games, usually on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons helped alleviate much of the stress that built up by the week's academic demands.

    Changing of the guard

    The true reasons for his retirement may never be known (certainly not his age). Many feel that his undefeated record over 39 years coupled with the fact that baking 10 dozen donuts and squeezing 6 half gallons of orange juice into Donald Duck containers for Saturday morning rehearsals had grown tiresome and led to an appeal for a commutation of his sentence "Band Director for Life Without the Possibility of Parole". It was granted by some powerful force within the university (no one is sure who it was) and the search for a successor began.

    ...and Beyond

    Now well into its second century the "Band Without Pants", the "Precision Standing Band" continues to entertain students at one of the most demanding universities in the country. And if their hearts are in their work, at least the Kiltie Band can take their minds off of it for a brief time.


    * Johnny Morris is the current Vice President for Public Relations of the Kiltie Band. He'd like to thank Dan Becerra (ENG 2012) for writing the original history of the band. Additional thanks to Mr. Paul Gerlach, alumnus and Director for Life for his many years of service to the band, as well as Dean Streator, Jack Purcell, Dan Fernandez, and all of the other alumni contributors.

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