Fifty years of music

Thursday, October 18, 2007 | 5:25 p.m. CDT; updated 1:11 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

J. Bruce Anderson was born to perform.

A self-proclaimed “show-off,” Anderson, 68, is a musician and actor who, along with his wife Reva, works with about seven different theater programs around Missouri. Anderson estimates he has performed in about 70 different musicals over the course of his theater career.

“You name the musical, I’ve probably been in it,” J.B. Anderson said. “I’m used to being in front of people. I don’t get nervous; I just get excited. That’s a good thing when you’re in front of 70,000 people.”

Anderson’s true passion is Marching Mizzou. This weekend at Mizzou Homecoming 2007, he will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first homecoming performance with MU’s marching band. He will also, for the 27th consecutive year, lead the MU Alumni Band’s traditional pre-game performance.

“He’s happiest when he’s out there representing the university, the music and the longevity of the band,” Reva Anderson said. “He’s really dedicated to getting people to come back to enjoy the camaraderie that they had back when they were in band.”

Anderson, whose friends call him J.B., joined Marching Mizzou as a piccolo player in 1957, when he was a freshman. In 1961, he began his interlude as drum major, which lasted for two years.

Described by his long-time friend John Patterson, another former drum major from Marching Mizzou, as agile and enthusiastic, Anderson’s most famous field stunt was learning to ride the unicycle and cycling out on to the field at the beginning of a show.

“They loved it,” said Patterson, director the Columbia Community Band. “He was a real hit in those days. He’s always strived for the unusual.”

In 1980, when Alex Pickard, a retired professor from the School of Music, helped form the Alumni Band, Anderson was ready to jump back in for a refrain.

“He’s made it to every Alumni Band performance,” said Pickard, who still helps organize the Alumni Band. “He never misses. He’s a boss type; he likes to tell people what to do. And that’s what a drum major is supposed to do.”

The Alumni Band only performs once a year, at homecoming. About 120 former band members and MU alumni rehearse for three hours before the big game, then march to the national anthem as part of their pregame show.

Some years, other former drum majors have come back to help Anderson direct the ensemble. But Anderson is the only one who has never missed a game.

Reva Anderson says homecoming has always been one of her husband’s favorite events, and “one of the first weekends he marks off on the calendar.”

However, to the long-time drum major, one note in this year’s performance is just a bit out of tune. The price of admission to the game for Alumni Band members has risen to $30. Anderson says he is concerned about the effect the higher fee will have on some of the members of his band, especially those coming in from out of town who have to pay for food and accommodations in addition to game tickets for members of their families.

“We’re playing because the big band is just getting through with the parade,” J.B. Anderson said. “So we take the pressure off them. But if they price us out, we won’t be able to play anymore.”

Nonetheless, Anderson sounds upbeat about this weekend’s performance. And he has no plans of cutting his band career off any time soon.

“I don’t think he ever will,” Pickard said. “I don’t know what I’d do if he weren’t there. We’ll try to do it together for the rest of our lives, I guess.”

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