How do you top marching in a big band through a mammoth stadium as thousands cheer?
Head to Europe with the U.S. Army band and back up the likes of luminaries Jack Benny and Ingrid Bergman, that’s how.
In 1942, Longhorn Band trumpeter Van Kirkpatrick, now 95, was drafted into the army right out of the University of Texas, which had pretty much been his home since childhood. His mother, Lee Kirkpatrick, ran a boarding house for UT students at 19th and Wichita streets.
That’s the current site of the Perry-Castañeda Library. Wichita no longer extends that far south.
Last week, Kirkpatrick — flanked by his daughter, Karen Kirkpatrick (clarinet) and son-in-law Max Werkenthin (trumpet) — was among the hordes of players who occupied Scholz Garten and attached Saengerrunde Hall. The beaming World War II veteran was surely among the oldest members of the Longhorn Alumni Band in attendance.
The next day, some 700 former student musicians marched at Royal-Memorial Stadium before the season-opening game.
The elder Kirkpatrick, an Austin High School graduate who lives in Round Rock, led his own dance orchestra for decades while teaching high school band in Yoakum, Palacios and Leander.
He recalled playing for fraternities, sororities, women’s clubs, the Bachelors Club — a social group, founded in 1933, that your social columnist has yet to infiltrate — and at the old Tower club in South Austin.
Although his eyesight is failing and he uses a wheelchair, Kirkpatrick’s love of music has not abated.
"He lives for his CDs," his daughter says.
His favorite all-time musician: Doc Severinsen of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" fame.
Others at the 50th Reunion of the Longhorn Alumni Band — the student ensemble started in 1901, the alumni group in 1963 — were Becky and Malcom Fox, who were among the four couples who founded the ex-student group.
"I remember going in and asking director Vincent DiNino if we could put it together," says Malcom Fox, a graduate student back in 1963. "He said yes, and that was it."
Their first gig was marching at the tail end of a parade of high school groups on Congress Avenue for Band Day.
The most kinetic bundle of energy at the reunion, however, was Donna Beth McCormick, who was in the first group of women to join the band in 1956. They marched in 1957.
She owns — or, as she says, "it’s all in my computer" — of a treasure trove of images from the Longhorn Band and Longhorn Alumni Band’s past. This lively history flickered in a slide show while seven decades of musicians gobbled sausages and chips and sipped beer at the old German social center.
Earlier, they had rehearsed under the trees in Scholz Garten’s back patio. The sound could make any Orange Blood feverish, even if the Longhorns’ first opponent was over-matched New Mexico State University.