Roy Johnson era spans 50 years with no end in sight (Fall 2006)
Alums like to identify themselves as Spotts era, Wright era, Moffit era and so forth. But there's one man whose “era” cuts across more generations that any of the “All-American” Marching Band's legendary directors. It's Roy Johnson, who celebrates 50 years of association with Purdue Bands in 2006-07 as a student, faculty member, announcer and fan.
It's his voice that fans associate with “I Am An American.” It's his pictures that freshmen see in the famous camp week slide show. It's his admonition to freshmen (also during camp week) that they should look around the room, because their future spouse just might be there, that's resulted in many band marriages.
With a great deal of pride that Fanfare , and the faculty and staff of Purdue Bands & Orchestra, salute Roy on this significant anniversary. Here's the man behind the voice
Reason I joined AAMB: My high school band director told me that a new director at Purdue, Al Wright , was making great strides there and suggested I look into it. I came down to Purdue for a visit during Gala Weekend my senior year, saw the band marching in the alumni parade and was hooked for good!
Most memorable experience from student days: Going into Notre Dame stadium my freshman year as a member of the Big Bass Drum crew. What an environment and how proud I was to be part of the AAMB!
Director I learned the most from and most important lesson learned: Al Wright was my greatest mentor. He emphasized the value of effective public relations in telling the band's story.
Favorite part of the game day: Seeing the Block “P” in our pregame show.
Worst part of having a job in the press box: Not being able to cheer out loud when the team does well.
Most emotional “I Am An American”: There are two. The first was the home game after 9/11 when everyone in the band, and in the stands, had tears streaming down their faces as the crowd responded: “I Am An American!” The other was during the first Gulf War. We had received a letter from a Purdue grad written in a foxhole in Iraq saying how much “I Am An American” meant to him there. I read the letter to the crowd before we started “ America the Beautiful,” then launched into the reading. I could barely get through it with the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes. I get very emotional about patriotic things.
Football game I'll never forget: Purdue's first Rose Bowl game when I was conducting across the field from Al Wright and we heard the roar of the crowd at the conclusion of the Circus Show. We wiped the Southern Cal band off the field!
Best foreign trip with the band: The first South American trip when we were venturing into totally unknown situations. Riding the buses through the Andes Mountains with armed guards onboard and in jeeps front and rear made us all rather nervous – and very relieved when we reached our next performance site.
Biggest difference between students of 1950s and today: Today's students seem to keep a much more hectic schedule with evening exams, odd class hours, addiction to cell phones and the latest electronic communication devices. They don't seem to be able to just sit down, relax, and enjoy the wonderful cultural opportunities which Purdue has to offer.
Most rewarding feeling working with the marching band: Seeing them come together as a unified group, achieve great performances, build their own self-confidence and leadership skills and watching them mature into adults ready to take on the world.
When/why did you first start saying “look around the room, your future wife or husband might be here”: My wife and I had been honored to be invited to many, many band weddings of students we knew well, and when so many of the couples had both been band members, the idea just came naturally. Year after year, without fail, I hear from alumni who come up to me during avisit with a greeting like, “Hey, Roy , do you remember what you said about meeting your future spouse in the band? Well, we just wanted to tell you…” And now they send pictures of their children with Christmas cards!
What's kept you going longer than any other faculty member at Bands: The wonderful students I have an opportunity to get to know. They really are our family, and having family constantly around keeps you going in spite of mishaps that are bound to come your way.
Other reflections on your 50th anniversary: I remember how nervous I was that first day 50 years ago, sitting in Room 15 when Al Wright came in and introduced himself to the group of new band freshmen. I could not have imagined still being closely involved with Purdue Bands for this many years! Having my parents, and occasionally my high school band director, come down for many of my performances, both as a member of the band and as a conductor, was always very special. I look ahead with anticipation at being able to maintain my involvement for the foreseeable future. Of our close involvement with students, my wife and I always say that “The students never get any older, so neither do we!” What a wonderful opportunity I've had for all these years to be part of something so special to so many people. Their dedication to excellence reminds me every week to do the very best job I possibly can in supporting them.