Beginnings: 1901–1920

As early as the year 1893, before Syracuse University had organized an official University band, it was documented that individual colleges would hire their own bands to perform at games and other events. Freshmen traditionally organized a band for the annual meeting against Colgate.

It wasn’t until 1901 that an official University band was organized. Hamilton E. Cogswell, supervisor for music in the Syracuse Public School District, directed the first rehearsal of the SU Band on February 4, 1901. Floyd F. Decker ’01 was elected president of the band.

On May 9, 1901 the band, in uniform, performed its first concert in the Crouse College Auditorium. The band’s first football game appearance took place on October 9, 1901 when SU lost to Lafayette College 5-0. The football team was 7-2 that season.

In 1904 the band was disbanded, possibly by Chancellor Day, due to “financial indiscretion.” Individual colleges then resumed the practice of hiring their own bands for events.

A meeting to reorganize the band took place on January 9, 1907. Professor Hugh M. Tilroe, who had founded the Northwestern University Band as a student, attended the meeting and continued to be an instrumental figure in the band for many years after its reformation.

The band continued to grow, and on January 9, 1909 it performed at the first men's basketball game played in the new Men’s Gym. The team played St. Lawrence. Chancellor Day eventually recognized the importance of the band and authorized 20 $60 scholarships for band members on October 27, 1909.

The first performance of the SU fight song, “Down the Field,” was played by the band on November 14, 1913. The following day it performed the fight song at a pep rally for the Colgate game, which Syracuse lost 35-13.

Throughout World War I, the band continued to be a presence at the University by performing at several functions on campus. President Theodore Roosevelt even attended a performance in 1915. In order to support the war effort, the University became a Student Army Training Corps for the United States during 1917-18, and scholarships were discontinued until after the war.

Professor Tilroe was granted a leave of absence to work with the YMCA in France on April 4, 1918, and a year later the band merged with the ROTC band that had formed during the war. The University supplied 20 $50 scholarships, while the uniforms and instruments were supplied by the federal government. By 1920, the combined band represented SU and scholarships were handled by the ROTC.

—Sherman Hasselstrom