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1923-1974: Pre-History

Prior to the 1973-1974 school year, the RPI Pep Band was run by a salaried manager rather than by student managers. The one and only non-student manager was A. Olin Niles, the arranger of the "Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer" chart that the Pep Band still plays.

From a 12/2/81 issue of The Polytechnic:

"At its founding in the early 1920s, the band had eight members and often had to hire professionals to complete an orchestra. Today, the band fields 76 pieces including 38 woodwinds, 32 brass, and 6 percussion instruments. The roots of the band can actually be traced back to 1923, when a local musician named A. Olin Niles organized the school's second musical group (the Glee Club had been formed about 45 years earlier.) Mr. Niles had been performing in the pit of the American Theatre in the days of silent films. The President of the Union asked him to start a music program at the Institute, and Mr. Niles complied. As the talkies (modern movies) came into being, orchestras such as the one at the American became less popular and Niles was able to devote more time to the Engineer ensemble. In the early days, the band not only played at athletic events, but also gave concerts and played at dances. The group performed for the lacrosse, hockey, basketball and football teams, and would play not only the RPI school song, but also the alma mater of the opposing squad. In 1954, when the hockey team won the NCAA championship, the band took two buses and greeted them at the airport. Membership grew and through the years players broke off to form other musical groups. Niles, who was a big fan of the marches of Sousa, Goldman, and others, retired in 1973 after 50 years of service. Now 88 and living in Troy, he remains an avid fan of RPI sports."


Forward, March!

During the 1960s, RPI's band was a marching band, in addition to being a pep band. Of course, it didn't do any marching during hockey season, but it performed halftime marching routines at every home football game and participated in an occasional parade.

The marching band's halftime routine varied from game to game, but the ending was always the same. At the conclusion of the routine, the band would form an "R" and play the alma mater from that formation.

Fight Song

Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer was the fight song in the 1960s, and it consisted, as it does today, of an introductory fanfare, an eight line refrain, a four line interlude, and a repeat of the eight line refrain. However, there were some differences in how it was performed.

The fight song used to be played at a noticeably slower tempo than it is today. Basically, the marching band of the '60's played the fight song at the same speed as that at which they marched. They would have worn out pretty quickly if they had tried to march at the tempo at which the fight song is played today.

In the 1960s, the band would play the fanfare and the eight line refrain, as it does today, but would then sing the four line interlude, rather than playing it instrumentally. The only band members who played their instruments during that interlude were the drummers, who rattled through a drum solo during the line "Hear the rat-tat-tat of drums that beat." After singing "Hear that might shout of", the band members would bring their horns back up and play the refrain for the second and final time.

After Olin Niles' retirement, there was a period of a year or two when the interlude was dropped entirely, so that the fight song consisted of the opening fanfare followed by the refrain being played twice straight through. Eventually, the interlude was restored as an instrumental version, and it has remained that way since.

It was customary during that time, as it is today, for the band to play the fight song to salute the hockey team's arrival on the ice at the start of the period, or the football team's arrival on the field for the start of a half. While that was going on, it was also customary for all RPI fans to stand up and clap along in time with the music.


RPI's hockey coach of the 1950s and early 1960s was Ned Harkness, after whom the field to the north of the Houston Field House is named.

Harkness always put competitive teams on the ice, but for some reason he always seemed to have a problem recruiting a full roster for his teams. RPI usually dressed four or five players fewer than the rules allowed, which led to fatigue problems for the players late in games. Harkness was known for doing anything he could to offset this disadvantage.

During Harkness' era, the third period would begin in the following manner. The band would salute RPI's return to the ice with the traditional playing of the fight song. As is customary at all hockey games everywhere, the teams would skate a couple laps around the ice to warm up and then gather around to tap their goalies on the pads for luck. Then those players who were not starting the period would go to their benches, while the starters moved toward center ice for the face-off. Finally, just before the referee got ready to drop the puck, the Field House P.A. announcer would intone, "And now, the (name of the opponents) alma mater," whereupon the band would play the visitor' alma mater, followed by our own.

Eventually, opposing coaches figured out that, while this practice had the symbolic effect of showing respect for the visitors, it also had the very practical effect of giving Harkness' chronically undermanned skaters several extra minutes of badly needed rest before starting the third period. After that, an NCAA rule was passed requiring that, if anybody's band wants to play an alma mater, it has to do so before the teams return to the ice.


Sometime before '74-'75, the Pep Band wore very heavy red wool jackets. By '74-'75, newer lighter- weight (but still heavy) red jackets were being used. Both styles of jackets had the RPI seal on the front breast pocket.

In addition to playing for football and hockey games, the RPI Pep Band played at men's basketball games (up through '79-'80). The basketball band was quite a bit smaller than the bands for football and hockey games. Hail was played when the team came out and if they won, the usual cheers were played during time-outs, and 5 special short cheers were arranged for when RPI made a basket.

For details from the seasons 1974 to the present, follow the links below to the pages for each season.

1970s xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 1974-1975 1975-1976 1976-1977 1977-1978 1978-1979 1979-1980
1980s 1980-1981 1981-1982 1982-1983 1983-1984 1984-1985 1985-1986 1986-1987 1987-1988 1988-1989 1989-1990
1990s 1990-1991 1991-1992 1992-1993 1993-1994 1994-1995 1995-1996 1996-1997 1997-1998 1998-1999 1999-2000
2000s 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003 2003-2004 2004-2005 2005-2006 2006-2007 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
2010s 2010-2011 2011-2012 2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020
2020s 2020-2021 2021-2022 2022-2023