"It's outstanding and unique," says Bartner, that the broadcast contract with ABC guarantees that each band's halftime show will get about three minutes of coverage. "Over the years, the networks have sold halftimes for commercials - that 20-minute period where bands used to shine."
Play by play, from kickoff to final buzzer, Bartner cues his players from a full menu of fight songs, charges, cheers, and musical tributes keyed to the on-field game. (First down means "Fight On;" third down is "Charge;" a quarterback sack means "Another One Bites the Dust;" and a Trojan fumble or lost interception brings "All Right Now.")
"He doesn't allow one second of down time ... we're either yelling, or chanting, or playing, or screaming - it's all about focus," says Julie Mattson, a clarinetist and the band's student general manager. "We train for music and marching but we also practice spirit."
On field, Bartner will direct carefully crafted, meticulously drilled marching, dancing, gliding, boogieing, and high-stepping with over-the-top energy. Bartner calls his style "driving it," requiring lifting each leg until the calf is perpendicular to the ground with toes pointed down - more difficult than the common glide step.
How Bartner gets 275 helmeted, uniformed, and instrument-wielding marchers to do it is an annual saga that legions of alumni are only too happy to recount - usually with equal parts antipathy and affection. They recall 16 hours of weekly practice and grueling field sessions where band members must "hold the chair" - stand on one foot with the other leg raised. Errant notes or missteps can cost a couple of laps around the field, pushups, embarrassment, ridicule, or all of the above.
"He is a taskmaster and domineering. And you're hating him and at the same time thanking him in the realization that the only reason you are doing what you are doing with such excellence is that he has achieved what he has achieved," says Ross Simmons, who played trombone for the Trojans from 1981-85.
Baton twirler Taylr Takagi, who has traveled the world with the band, sums up Bartner's effect: "Being in this band is the best thing that's ever happened to me."