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Blast from the past

Cal State Long Beach's alumni marching band relives the glory days of long-lost tradition at LBSU.

Gary Nouskajian (right) directs the Big Brown Music Machine alumni band at a 2007 basketball game. Former members of the Big Brown Music Machine reunite once a year to play music from old field shows.

Photo courtesy of the Big Brown Music Machine alumni website

Gary Nouskajian (right) directs the Big Brown Music Machine alumni band at a 2007 basketball game. Former members of the Big Brown Music Machine reunite once a year to play music from old field shows.

Ann Austria

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They come from different professions, ideals and walks of life. But they share one common experience: the Big Brown Music Machine, Cal State Long Beach’s once-famed marching band.

The alumni of the Big Brown Music Machine gather once a year to come back and play the songs they performed in the heyday of Long Beach State football and marching band.

The alumni band performed at the rivalry basketball game against UC Irvine on Feb. 2 to an enthusiastic crowd, and despite LBSU’s loss to Irvine, the alumni were more than eager to show that they still had what it takes to sound like a world-class band.

Under the direction of Mark Day and Gary Nouskajian, who were former band members in the 1970s, the alumni band performed songs such as “Malagueña,” “Ja Da,” “Turn the Beat Around” and “Super Star.” Some band members even brought their children to perform alongside them.

Throughout the basketball game, the alumni recounted memorable moments from the Big Brown Music Machine days.

“I remember playing for the football games. I remember playing at the [Los Angeles Memorial] Coliseum,” trombonist Jeannine Flores said. “I came from a small high school, so playing for a large marching band was a lot of fun.”

Trombonist Doug Fischer, whose two kids are currently music majors at Cal State Long Beach, remembers the trip to Scotland in 1980, where the band played for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo band festival.

“We also stopped in London and performed there,” he said.

To Fischer, the marching band was the culmination of everything he learned at CSULB.

“The band took me to the next level and helped prepare me for my career,” Fischer said.

Jerry Nouskajian, who played for the band from 1970 to 1974, remembers performing for Long Beach State football fans at Anaheim Stadium.

“A large crowd stayed around to watch us perform after the games. It was pretty exciting,” he said.

The Big Brown Music Machine was disbanded with the termination of the Long Beach State football program in 1990, due to the lack of state funding. Flores, who is also the band director at C.E. Utt Middle School in the Tustin Unified School District, was in the Big Brown Marching Machine in its last year of existence.

“I had five other music groups to play for, so I was OK when the marching band was cut,” Flores said. “Plus, there’s no point without a football team.”

Fischer, now the band director at Pioneer Middle School in Tustin in Orange County, was disappointed when he heard the marching band would be cut.

“I thought the music program would lose a lot of the non-music majors who were in the marching band,” Fischer said.

While some band alumni are professional musicians, most are in music education, and many alumni are involved in professions outside the field of music, including law enforcement, engineering, real estate and computer programming.

The Big Brown Music Machine, named after CSULB’s former colors of brown and gold, supported the football team at games and performed halftime shows with musical selections from “Star Wars,” “Rocky” and other popular movies of the day.

They were accompanied on the field by CSULB’s dance team, the Gold Dusters. The band also marched in the 1977 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

According to the band’s website, there were no slackers and no blasting. “Good sound, clean execution and great intonation made our signature sound, unmatched before or since by any other band on the West Coast,” the website proclaims.

Many members of the band were also in the music fraternity that was recently revived on campus in 2005, Phi Mu Alpha. CSULB’s chapter was once the third largest in the nation and published the Armadillo Newsletter, which, legend has it, was named after a dead armadillo band members found on a trip and dragged back to campus to preserve.

Although the marching band era at CSULB has come to an end, this yearly reunion is a small testament of the powerhouse band that once graced the football field during countless halftime shows.

For more information, visit the band’s alumni website at www.art.csulb.edu/bbmmab/.

1 Comment

One Response to “Blast from the past”

  1. Linda Taylor on November 30th, 2017 7:39 pm

    I was circa 1967-72 with the BBMM Marching Band under Larry G Curtis. I then came back in 76-77 while going for another degree. I have one vinyl record we made while we were performing as the guest band for the Long Beach battle of the bands. As we were leaving the Long Beach arena you can hear us with what sounds like boos. It was us saying “Beach” if you ever wondered where that came from. I just found the website on a whim. We played half time shows for the Raiders, SF 49ers, Rams etc. I remember people starting to leave the stands at half time and stop and sit on the stairs to listen.

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