Pitt Band History Mario S. Rocereto
Mario S. Rocereto

Director: 1918-1934?Director Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh Bands

The band got its first great leader in 1918 with the arrival of Mario S. Rocereto as the band coach. He was one of the most respected musicians in the city and remained as director until the mid-30s.

Victor Herbert, who was conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony in the early part of this century, is credited with persuading Rocereto to leave Italy and come to the United States. Rocereto played in the Symphony and established a reputation as one of the best music teachers in Pittsburgh. He is probably best remembered as a composer and arranger of band music and for his long association with Pitt.

Band activities were suspended during World War I and reorganized by William A. Gregory in 1919. The Athletic Council took an interest in the early '20s and purchased blue overcoats for the bandsmen. Later blue and gold capes were added.

Keeping up appearances was just as important in the 1920s as now, according to a 1924 edition of The Owl. It was reported that the band had 60 members, "all completely uniformed, including capes and petty officer overcoats."

"The overcoats were purchased by the Athletic Council last year and the capes were secured this year, adding a classy taste to the appearance. They are lined with a golden colored lining and the top part is of a blue cloth, matching the overcoats and the uniforms of similar color scheme. . .There is over $6,000 expended in the equipment of the band, which includes the instruments..."

Dr. Gregory's early contributions were invaluable to the band's success. As a student leader, he was credited with putting the band on a "modern basis." The Owl reported:

"He was (the) instigator in putting on band concerts, opening up in the Carnegie music hall last year and playing a concert at Geneva. So well was the concert received that it is being followed out this year (1924). Causing a demand by various people and towns to have the band journey to various places to give a concert."

The band gave its first home concert in Carnegie Music Hall on April 5, 1922. The program was a mixture of marches and classical music.

By 1926, the band's popularity had spread across the campus. There was representation in the band from the College, Schools of Engineering, Law, Business Administration, Medicine, Dentistry and the Graduate School. No other campus activity enlisted students from as many schools.

The Pop Warner era was followed by even higher drama as Pitt football soared to new heights under the direction of Dr. John Bain "Jock" Sutherland, the most victorious coach in Pitt's long history. As Pitt enhanced its role as one of the football powers in the nation, the importance of the band grew.

By 1926, the band was playing at all home football games and had won recognition in college circles. That year the band traveled to the Syracuse game and also made a vaudeville appearance at the B.F. Keith Theater in that city. In fact, the band was so well established that it was invited to Durham, N.C., for the dedication of Duke's stadium.

In the spring of 1930, the Military Department of the university took over training of the band. The bandsmen changed to the standard cadet uniforms of the R.O.T.C., with a few embellishments such as cross belts, pompoms, band chevrons and overcoats. The band became much more rigidly structured under the Military Department. To be eligible for membership, a freshman was required to be enrolled in the R.O.T.C. program.

The band was a military organization and part of the Cadet Corps. The aggregation was limited to 120 and the rules were strict. Bandsmen were formally advised:

"It is very important for each member to realize that he is voluntarily participating in an activity made possible and sponsored by the university and that he is working for the prestige of the university. Any member who fails to abide by the recognized regulations for the band will be dropped from the rolls upon recommendation of the faculty advisor."

The standards were raised. Every recruit had to demonstrate an aptitude for music and marching by passing tests. At the opening of the 1930 football season, a revamped and greatly improved unit of 103 pieces marched onto the field to the surprise and delight of the spectators who showed their appreciation with generous applause.