In 1945, a new director joined Western Michigan University's marching band: Leonard Meretta. During Meretta’s 21st year as director of the marching band, the band gained the nickname “Meretta Marauders.” Then, in 1968, Meretta celebrated his 25th year at Western and was honored with the longest conductorship in the MAC. Today, he holds the MAC’s longest conductorship record with a total of 29 years working with the marching band. In his first of 27 years, Meretta held rehearsals in two rooms in East Hall (and later held rehearsal in the East Campus garage) with a budget of $5000. At this time, he used a miniature gridiron, built by a faculty member from the industrial arts program to configure band formations. Once he set the formations, the Western print shop copied and stenciled the formations onto paper. During this time, Meretta arranged the band’s music with the help of three librarians who copied parts for the band.
- In his first year, Meretta led the band in 30 public appearances. The band performed on radio for the first time during the next year. The band was respected by all who witnessed it and the Western Herald reported, “A bouquet of orchids to Meretta and his gang.” Meretta’s accomplishments within his first two years include establishing a $50 stipend for marching members remaining in effect until 1994, changing the seating arrangement at football games from the corner of the stadium to the 35 yard line, hosting the first high school band day, and beginning the annual band banquet and awards presentation.
- Still under the direction of Meretta, the band reached 100 members in 1950, soon to be nicknamed the “Marching 100.” In 1950, the band averaged one performance each week, and about half of the band comprised of music majors. That same season, the band began performing another new fight song entitled “Go Western,” written on a bus ride by Meretta and the band! That tune is still a part of today’s pregame show.
- Beginning in 1950, the band held practice three days per week instead of two. Two of these days, the band rehearsed on a golf course marked like a football field because it was the flattest land around. The third rehearsal each week was held on the field. Meretta would look on from the press box, using the loud speaker to call out positions. One student commented, “It’s not really so bad…after a while you get used to your name magnified all over the East Campus when you are out of place.” Unfortunately, at this time there were still not enough uniforms to go around due to increased membership. As such, alternates would show up to practice, hoping to get a chance when a marching member did not show.
- Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman, one of America’s most prominent band composers, appeared with the band as a guest conductor in 1951, praising the band as, “one of the finest college bands in the country.” In 1955, consisting of 100 marchers and 10 alternates, the band performed its first night game (this was also the band’s first trip to Bowling Green). Shortly thereafter, in 1958, the band had 112 members, its highest number to date.
- The band performed to wide acclaim in Chicago at the Bears-49ers NFL game in November of 1959. There, they performed “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” and made formations such as the Mackinac Bridge to showcase Michigan. 90 national television stations broadcast the game, giving the band its largest viewing audience to date. After the game, the band was invited by Bears officials to return to Chicago the next year. In a letter to Meretta, Bears officials noted that this was the first halftime entertainment that had been mentioned in Chicago newspapers following the game. This newspaper reported a “matchless presentation,” “air of professionalism,” and a “polished performance” from the Western Michigan University Marching Band. The band did return to Chicago in 1960, again to much praise.
- WMU’s High School Band Day in 1963 featured more than 1,700 musicians from 33 high schools.
- Long overdue, a new alma mater, arranged by Robert Longfield, came in 1960. It is still played today. In 1961, the band attained new uniforms, marking a return to the traditional brown and gold and including plumed hats for the first time. 1969 brought the first year end concert in which the marching band performed. At this time, the concert was called the Band Spectacular and featured all the bands at Western Michigan University. Our modern-day Season in Review Concert held every fall began many years later.