Floating in blue southern California sky, the MetLife blimp seems to be held aloft by the hot air of mass bedlam below. Inside packed Los Angeles Coliseum, two crosstown rival football teams clash - and the crowd reacts as if the future of the free world is at stake.
Amid earsplitting sound where neither conversation nor one's own thoughts can be heard, a lone figure gestures animatedly toward the stands from a stepladder on the sidelines. He rolls his arms, lassos the air, stomps his feet. He shakes his fingers, shimmies his shoulders, pumps his fists. He bleats, barks, and snarls - apparent commands lost in the tumult. "Do NOT allow so much as a nanosecond of peace or quiet in this stadium," his cries and actions seem to say.
He is Art Bartner, and he is standing in front of the University of Southern California Trojan marching band. His carefully cultivated überconductor routine - part drill-sergeant, part mime - is the engine for one of the biggest success stories in the history of college marching bands. As he'll demonstrate on national TV Jan. 4 - when his school battles for the national championship vs. Texas in the Rose Bowl - the arm-flailing and dragon persona are all about personal excellence and school spirit. By most accounts he has achieved both in 35 years at USC - teaching students the meaning of passion and self-discipline through music, marching, and having a ball.
"Art Bartner is unquestionably one of the great elder statesmen of the American college marching band," says Mark Spede, chair of the College Band Directors National Association. He says Dr. Bartner has developed a high-energy, high-stepping style known for its free-wheeling creativity, swaying horns, versatility, and surprises. Other bands, he says, are usually bestknown for a particular style - military precision at Texas, Ohio State, or Michigan for instance, the show-style of many southern university bands, or the iconoclasm of Yale or Stanford. Bartner's Trojans do it all.
Bartner will perform on the sidelines and on field in the Rose Bowl.