Marching through time
An inside look at the history of the UT pre-game music and the man behind its composition
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Helmets crash, a whistle blows, a cannon is fired and the crowd goes wild — but this crescendo of school spirit might not echo across campus without a pregame show that catapults the fans into a Rocket fever from the start.
Before the game begins, the University of Toledo Rocket Marching Band play the iconic UT March and Fanfare that drum the crowd into excitement. Although often unseen by the crowds watching the marching band play, the composer behind our pregame music is UT’s own David Jex.
Jex is a professor of music and an alumnus of UT. He’s also one of three generations of Rockets; his parents and sons attended school here too.
“We feel pretty strongly about UT,” he said.
That’s why in 1973, when he was asked to help compose a new and original march for UT, he wrote the music that is still played at UT games to this day.
“The band director at that particular time — Jamie Hafner — he said, ‘Well for the pre-game show, I want to have a stock fanfare that is recognizable as the UT Fanfare and I want to have a full-size march,’” Jex said.
At that time, UT’s fight song and Alma Mater were the only pieces original to the school. Jex said those pieces were around “well before” him.
But the fight song and Alma Mater had an effect on Jex’s composition process.
“The fanfare has little bits of the alma mater and little bits of the themes that are in the march as well,” he said.
Additionally, Jex utilized the UT archives for inspiration. He riffed on the music that was already a part of UT’s culture and history.
“I mean, it’s kind of a blended song because the actual tunes have been written by other people … especially the first two strings before you get to the trio, because the last trio string is the UT Fight Song,” he said.
Once he composed the song — which he composed on hardcopy manuscripts because there was no way to compose digitally — he sent it to the band to practice.
He said the first run-through for a piece isn’t always pretty, especially with challenging music; however, the UT band got it almost perfect on the first try.
“The first time [I] heard, away from just diddling away on a piano, was passing out the parts and the band playing it. And it worked pretty well the first time,” Jex said. “And that’s always a good sign. Because if the group struggles with it, it’s not going to work because rehearsal time is very compact, especially for a marching band.”
That original score didn’t go without change though. Jex said that as the directors have changed, tweaks have been made to make it easier to play. And as time goes on, the music of UT will continue to change and morph — Jex just hopes the music tradition and his impacts stick around.
Almost 40 years after the creation of these pieces, Jex said he “still gets a kick” out of hearing his music played at football games.
“It’s always fun to have the music you write played,” Jex said, “Every game I go to, I’m always there for pre-game so I can hear the fanfare and the march.”