Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – UW Marching Band Conductor and One Of The Best Days Of My Life-Part 1

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I just got back from spending three of the most fantastic days of my life. Seriously. As I’ve been blabbing about for weeks now, I had the great honor of conducting the 300+ musicians in the Marching Band at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, as they played my songs at the Homecoming football game which, btw, we won!

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I was completely thrilled to be asked and took it very seriously, if for no other reason that I don’t read music and therefore knew I’d have absolutely no idea how to follow–let alone lead–the band as they played. I rehearsed every night by conducting the actual records as they were originally cut, a bunch of Earth, Wind & Fire and the theme to Friends, and then watched literally hundreds of marching bands playing the songs on YouTube, most versions of which were completely different from each other not to mention the original records. Ultimately I decided I would just have to feel the groove and move my custom-made-by-me Wisconsin red and white glitter drumsticks with bicycle handlebar grips spontaneously and instantaneously catch up with any tempo change or unexpected accents that may occur.  Beyond anything, I knew I had to stay cool because I was doing it in front of 82,000 people and my choices were either to be nervous and uptight or hang loose and savor every incredible second knowing that this is something that doesn’t happen to everyone and would be a moment I would remember forever.

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One of my biggest dilemmas was trying to figure out how to blog about this incredible adventure in a concise and meaningful way. I take my blog very seriously. I may write about crazy objects that I’ve collected forever but ultimately my feelings about the objects are all a key to myself.

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I’ve long been aware that as an artist my primary canvas is myself. My songs, if I have any control of the lyrical content, are completely autobiographical. My art has always explored some kind of situation I was in whether I was conscious of it or not. And as soon as I jumped into digital technology in 1991 I knew instinctively it was all about social connection and that I, as a consummate party host, would learn more about myself through the people I connected with than I ever would on my own. So, I don’t want to just throw bunch of pictures and videos up here that documented my experience so much as use those things to talk about the impact they had on me as a conscious human being and artist.

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All weekend I was blessed to have great friends around me who took care of everything so all I had to think about was keeping the glitter on my drumsticks and be mindful of tempo. Anyone who knows me knows I take making friends very seriously because I realize the impact they have on me. Hell, I even wrote the theme song. Here I am with Jon Sorenson, from the UW Foundation, who came up with the idea of me conducting the band in the first place…

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… and Mark Blackwell, who I work with in LA and who flew in with me to video everything…

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…. and Mike Leckrone, the beyond legendary bandleader/arranger who’s been at UW since I went there in the 60′s.

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Even some of my sorority sisters showed up to support me. There were more of my SDT sisters there but we never were all in the same place at the same time for a group photo.

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Standing right next to me is Muffin Alschuler. Mark and I stayed at her house and she and her husband, Eddie, were absolutely the best babysitters/ tour guides/handlers one could ever hope for. But in all of the 600 or so photos I got from everyone’s cameras there wasn’t a single photo of me, Muffin and Eddie together. Which is real shame as they’re two of the nicest people in the world and I never would have had this degree of the world’s most incredible weekend had I not stayed with them. But a threesome photo isn’t the only thing that was missing concerning documentation and the Alschulers…  All weekend long Eddie had a little Sony digital camera that he was taking incredible photos and movies on. But I asked him to shoot my conducting debut on one of the big HD video cameras I brought with me because he and Muffin were going to be sitting across the 50 yard line from where I’d be conducting and would have a spectacular overview of the band with me facing them. I decided to do this at the last moment right before I marched through the tunnel with the band and out onto the field.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t tell Eddie that the camera is in record when the light is red, not green. So I ended up with lots of footage of Muffin’s crotch as the camera lay on her lap patiently waiting to go into record, red light blazing, only to snap off as soon as you hear my name being announced and my music starting. Here’s what was captured of my performance:

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I know, I’ve never looked better. Alas, I believe in synchronicity and so consider the fact that Muffin, Eddie and I never actually got it together to take a photo with just the three of us a matching set to the non-video they graciously took at the game. Throughout it all I remained cool because Mark was right there with me on the field shooting away so I knew I had reliable backup.

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Ha ha. Despite my proclivity for a massive overabundance of documentation as well as the fact that I had the time of my life and now want to be a conductor, the video gods were not looking down on me as Mark’s footage was filled with blips, as if someone put their finger on the tape head every few minutes to make it gag. That’s it for me and Sony Mini DVs. I’m sick of all the aliasing too, as if the edges of everything had been cut by one of those scissors with the diamond shaped teeth that people go slaphappy with in their crafts projects. Check out the drumsticks. They’re not striped in real life. Neither am I.

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Anyway, I would like to think that I was more reliable than Sony tapes when I taught a couple of classes while I was in Madison. Here I am with The Wisconsin Singers, students who are passionate about singing and performing and most of whom aren’t majoring in either, something I can totally relate to.

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I also spoke to students at the Hamel Family Digital Media Lab. They were probably expecting a big visual presentation and lots of tips about how to get into the business but I was there to talk about my belief that anyone can do anything they want to do if they just have the vision and balls to do it. I’m definitely not the one to talk about how to get into the business as I’ve functioned outside of it is a self-funded artist for at least half of my career. If I had to live up to the standards of the entertainment and art businesses I may have had more hits but I’d be a shell of a person for having to club my brain to death so I could stay within the lines. So I just talked about being yourself and and making the absolute best of that.

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The only school I ever went to to learn about music was the radio. I like it when people study one thing and do another. I like it when I don’t know how to read music yet can conduct an incredible marching band. At its best, life is about learning to do what you love by whatever means necessary. The last place I ever thought I’d be is in the middle of a gigantic stadium conducting music that I have no idea how I ever really got it together to write in the first place. But there I was anyway. And that’s something that no faulty video tape or green and not red light can ever erase.

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Video, complete with blemishes, coming tomorrow!

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Categories: Earth Wind & Fire, Educational, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, Music, Self expression

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16 Comments

  • Heidi Ehrenreich says:

    Allee,
    I love the way you are documenting this. Not perfect but astounding.

    Actually, the whole thing is making me cry! whew.

    zie forever.

    Heidi

  • Troy says:

    Can’t wait for the video tomorrow!

    Loved this part: “They were probably expecting a big visual presentation and lots of tips about how to get into the business but I was there to talk about my belief that anyone can do anything they want to do if they just have the vision and balls to do it.”

    Allee, the “vision and balls to do it” is the major missing component in nearly every guest lecture made on any college campus, unless it’s some watery “dream big” afterthought that leaves the “balls” out of the equation completely.

    Looks like you had a great time!

  • Allee says:

    Love you, Heidi. Was great seeing the sistas. I told the chancellor of the University that we were in STD, knew I had scrambled the letters up but then repeated the same thing again. She took it rather well. I have it all on video.

    Troy, love u too. I agree. It was always exciting when people whose work I knew came to speak to any class I was in but I don’t remember getting that much out of it. I thought the best thing I could do was to instill a spirit in the students as opposed to a ‘how to’, which, with the entertainment business falling apart as it is isn’t really relevant anyway anymore.

  • Blake Rhiner says:

    Hey Allee,

    I’m one of the members of the Wisconsin Singers who you spoke to on Sunday. I just wanted to thank you again. You’re talk really was enlightening and inspiring to all of us, and it really inspired me to start going after the things I want to do now rather than later.

    If you would like to keep up with us, follow us http://www.facebook.com/WisconsinSingers
    https://twitter.com/WiscSingers

    Thank you again,
    Blake

  • Deli says:

    PURE JOY!!!! I love everything about this!!!!

    There is something so profoundly magical about
    conducting a marching band (Richard Dreyfuss was at his most joyful and adorable conducting ‘Louie Louie’ in Mr Holland’s Opus!). And to conduct a marching band that’s playing songs YOU wrote?!!! Divine.

    Looking forward to seeing the video tomorrow!!!

  • Greens says:

    Allee,
    This blog captures the highlights of the weekend. I am so psyched that I was there to share the moments with you! I totally lost it when they introduced you on the field…..I’m so very proud of you!

    Your outfit was perfect! You looked as good as Bucky!

    Love ya,
    Greens

  • Thanks for taking the time to share this with us fans. I really liked that you shared your unique artist’s manifesto with the students. I know that gave them food for thought because it does me and I am 64.

  • Sharyl says:

    This is SUPERB, could be a whole movie! :-)

  • Beth Lapides says:

    I love this blog and you. Ox b

  • "Lady" Pullen says:

    Allee: It is amazing what being an SDT means. Here
    I am, still following what you accomplish, and loving every minute of it. We would not have met
    without SDT. Because of you i have now signed up for You Tube and i have read my first ever blog!
    I can feel your emotion when you write! I wish everyone could read the parts of your blog that
    encourage each person to go after their goals. That is what our youth of today need! You are a
    special person to everyone you meet.
    “Lady” Pullen
    SDT Alumnae

  • Erman Fur says:

    How fantastic to see your dear friend having the time of her life again and again…She is living proof that Dreams come true and that hard work,tenacity,along with one’s creative gifts cantake you places you never could have imagined…UofWIsconsin bandleader, Broadway,Tonys,Grammys, award-winning records, movie music, magazines, radio, tv.shows, etc. etc. She is the real deal….she just gets better and better. Keep sharing your joy! Erman fur Allee

  • Chery Rentie says:

    I’m so honored that you shared this with me. So inspirational you are. God bless and keep you. Always…. Minister Cheryl

  • Deborah Korash says:

    From Mumford to the present-You Go Girl!
    Thank you for sharing

  • lindy :morgs" says:

    From the very start of this adventure I get the chills every email, blog, picture et al. It’s a wonder I haven’t got pneumonia!!!!We all shared vicariously through your documentation and it was a THRILL!!!!
    keep doing what you’re doing and thanks for sharing
    much love sdt sista

    • Allee says:

      Love you, Lindy!! I had BEYOND a fantastic time and I’m soooo up for doing it again. Now my sights are set on my high school in Detroit, Mumford. They were just finalists in a marching band contest sponsored by McDonald’s and it was also the high school made famous in Beverly Hills Cop, which I won a Grammy for, so that’s such a perfect fit it’s crazy!

      Time for another reunion in LA very soon so think about dates that would work.

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