Southeast's Barry Bernhardt to direct bands at college bowls

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
SEMO band director Barry Bernhardt wears his credentials from past bowl games on Thursday, December 13, 2007. This year Bernhardt has designed charts for eight bowl games. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Barry Bernhardt only assisted when USC band director Art Bartner surrounded Chubby Checker and the Rockettes with 88 grand pianos at halftime during the 1987 Super Bowl.

Bernhardt was beginning his teaching career at California State University at Long Beach. Bartner had conducted the bands at the Olympic Games in 1984 and did similar work for Disney World. "He was the guy in the 1980s," Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt, the director of bands at Southeast Missouri State University, is at least one of the guys in this decade. This college bowl season he will direct the bands for the pregame and halftime shows at the Champs Sports Bowl and at the Gator Bowl New Year's Day. He also is choreographing the movements of the marching bands at six other bowl games, including the BCS national championship game.

In some cases Bernhardt is orchestrating the movements of 10 to 15 high school bands accounting for up to 2,000 performers. He accomplished this feat on a computer operating a software program that allows him to create pictures made of people and view the result from different angles. One picture takes three hours to draw. He has to make sure the drums -- as many as 200 of them -- and tubas are centrally located because they're the music's pulse. He stacks the brass around them and then the woodwinds on the outside and toward the back, all to achieve the best sound.

Each person in the show has to know where he or she is going, and Bernhardt has to figure out how to get the bands on and off the field. Because all are nationally televised, the show is timed down to the second.

Bernhardt works for a Salt Lake City company called Bowl Games of America. They are responsible for the halftime shows at the Orange, Champs Sports, Gator, Sugar, Liberty, Alamo and Holiday bowls. This year they also have the BCS championship game because their crew will be at the Superdome for the Sugar Bowl the week before.

He and his three-man crew of past and present university band directors leave for Florida the day after Christmas for the Champs Sports Bowl between Boston College and Michigan State Dec. 28 in Orlando. Typically they hold a four-hour afternoon rehearsal with the bands at a high school stadium the day before the game and another shorter rehearsal at the high school stadium before being bussed to the performance. Then the band directors will move on to Jacksonville and begin preparing more high school bands for the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

While most college professors are enjoying a break at the end of the semester, Bernhardt is busiest.

One year Bernhardt directed a program that included Aretha Franklin. Another year the country band Lonestar was the featured act. The best experiences have been when his children Anne-Marie and Jonathan were younger and accompanied him and performed in the shows. They were at the Sugar Bowl national championship game where Jessica Simpson sang the national anthem.

Bernhardt's work isn't limited to football. He charted the movements of bands that spelled out "Dodgers" in script for the opening day of the baseball season. He did similar work for the San Francisco Giants.

Marching bands have changed dramatically since Southeast's Golden Eagles became famous under director LeRoy Mason in the 1960s and 1970s. "Those were precision drill bands. They were all about patterns of motion," Bernhardt says. "Bands generally don't do that any more. It's more about playing to the audience and entertaining."Marimbas and dancing flag carriers are an integral part of marching bands today but hardly had a role 30 years ago, Bernhardt said.

Not that the Golden Eagles have given up marching. In 1999 they became only the second American band ever invited to participate in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland.

In August they will return to the event, which is watched by 10,000 people in Edinburgh each night except Sundays from Aug. 1 to 23 and is televised to 100 million people around the world.

335-6611, extension 137

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