For Whom the Band Played

Art Barnes was instrumental in transforming LSJUMB into the world’s largest rock ’n’ roll band.

May 2024

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Art Barnes conducted on the field

Photo: Robby Beyers, ’80, MS ’82, PhD ’89

After her father died in February at age 94, Jennifer Barnes-Wolfeld, MA ’76, discovered two piles of paper—one of love letters, the other of hate mail for the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. The Band’s director of 34 years, Arthur Barnes, DMA ’65, was never fazed by the dichotomy in alumni sentiment. “He recognized how intelligent those kids were,” Barnes-Wolfeld says, “and their halftime shows were incredibly creative.”

It may have helped that Barnes was more responsible for LSJUMB’s music than for its manners. Anyone who has jumped to the “woo!” in “All Right Now” or felt their heart swell during the long drumroll that begins the Band’s unique “Star-Spangled Banner” owes a debt to Barnes.

When he inherited its directorship as a first-year doctoral student in 1963, the Band was a student-run organization that “bordered on being a collection of social miscreants,” Barnes said in a 1996 article in the Stanford Daily. “I never thought I’d stay here this long,” he added. “I was supposed to start an indoor concert band and do the Band on the side.” By the time he retired in 1997, he had arranged more than 300 pieces for the group. “They wanted to be the world’s largest rock ’n’ roll band. But they had no one to write their music for them. So that’s what I did,” Barnes continued. “After all, that’s the point of getting together, isn’t it? Playing music.”

‘I never thought I’d stay here this long. I was supposed to start an indoor concert band and do the Band on the side.’

The professor of music cut a recognizable figure on campus, enhanced by his yellow 1966 Dodge convertible and his antic grin. He was a jazz pianist and composer, studied brass band music in York, England, and directed the university’s wind ensembles and symphonic bands as well as community philharmonics and a Unitarian church choir.

Although he was always game to transcribe a Grateful Dead or Beatles tune, Barnes most loved complex music. When she was 6, Barnes-Wolfeld found her father sitting in their darkened living room, with tears on his face, listening to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (a ballet score so convoluted and discordant that at its 1913 debut, it caused audience members to riot). Barnes-Wolfeld asked her father what was wrong. “He said, ‘Nothing’s wrong. This is just so beautiful.’”

Summer Batte, ’99, is the editor of Email her at

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