Interim marching and athletic band director Christopher Hoch stood on the top rung of his ladder Saturday morning, a black-clad figure dark against the gray, overcast sky. A hush fell over the crowd of about 800 current marching band members and alumni, who returned to march during the Ohio State home opener against the University of Hawaii.
“I regret to inform everybody we have lost two members of our band family today,” Hoch said before announcing the passings of former band director Jon Woods and alumni band member Bill Werner Sr. “(Woods was) my friend, my mentor, I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for him.”
Woods died in hospice Saturday morning. He was known to have suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
“I know many of you were in the band under his leadership and under his direction,” he said. “And it is because of his leadership and because of who he was that you’re here today and you’re marching down the ramp one more time.”
Hoch climbed down from his ladder to join the alumni and current band members for “Carmen Ohio,” after asking for a pitch and everyone to put their arm around their neighbor.
Woods retired from his position with the marching band during the 2011–2012 academic year after serving as director for 28 years — the longest anyone has held the position. He also served as associate director for 10 years prior to that.
Woods studied music education as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and went on to receive a master’s degree in music education from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate’s degree, also in music education, from the University of Michigan, according to a biography published on the College of Arts and Sciences website.
During his time at OSU, the university’s marching and athletic bands, under Woods’ direction, performed at 35 bowl games, three U.S. presidential inaugural parades and NCAA tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball, the College of Arts and Sciences website stated.
The university issued a statement regarding Woods’ lasting legacy at OSU in an email Saturday afternoon.
“The Ohio State University community is very sad today to hear about the passing of long time band director Dr. Jon Woods,” the statement said. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to his family. Jon Woods was dedicated to precision performance on the field, and this remains the hallmark of the Ohio State band.”
A.J. Babcock, an alumni sousaphone who marched from 2000 to 2003, said that when he played, Woods was “the face of the band.”
“He was at the top of his profession,” he said. “He was someone respected by all of his peers across the country.”
Babcock said Woods relentlessly pushed enthusiasm within the band, simultaneously cheering and joking with them.
“He had a funny sense of humor,” Babcock said. “He’d be serious, and then he’d just slide in a musical joke or something.”
David Lee, who marched under Woods during most of his band career between 2008 and 2012, said that as much as Woods affected the band from a technical standpoint, for him, Woods’ legacy is cemented simply by his interaction and ability to help band members grow during their time under his leadership.
“I think the way that he interacted with people, and the way that he helped people grow was more than what he added to the technical stuff,” he said.
Standing in front of the north entrance of Ohio Stadium, Lee said the moment was grounding.
“It makes you think about what’s actually important,” he said. “Stuff like this: Being able to do what you love to do, with the people that you love to do it with. That’s what’s important.”
The university also offered its condolences to the family of Werner in an emailed statement Saturday evening. Werner had collapsed on the practice field Saturday morning while warming up with the alumni band in preparation for the afternoon’s performance at the ‘Shoe.
Hoch shared a few words with the band in memory of Werner.
“He was here doing what he loved: Being a part of this organization, being a part of this band family, to march down that ramp one last time,” he said. “So, when you do so today, think of that, please. He passed away doing what it was he loved, and what we all love.”
It is this shared love for the band that keeps alumni coming back to march on the field year after year.
Dan Crist, an alumni bass drum who marched from 1977 to 1981, marched Saturday with his son, Alan Crist, a baritone in H-row and a fourth-year in music education.
Dan Crist said he was proud to march and share the band’s traditions with his son.
“We consider it one family,” he said. “There may be a younger group of kids playing, but it’s still TBDBITL.”
Alan Crist said he wasn’t pressured by his dad to attend or march at OSU, but when the time came, the decision was his and no other marching band in the land stuck out to him.
“I teared up today,” Alan Crist said to his dad. “Thinking about you and all the people I’ve met through this.”
Joe Myers and Cyril Costoff have been coming back for the annual marching band reunion almost every year since it began 47 years ago. Myers, who is 87 years old, took over drum major duties for Costoff, who is 89 years old, in 1945. Meyers was only 17 years old at the time.
“I was the youngest until you got there,” Costoff said jokingly. “He screwed it up.”
The two men have been friends for 70 years.
“We growl at each other all the time,” Costoff added. “We’re holding down the ’40s.”
Myers said he always feels like he is in good hands under the guidance of current band members, adding that it’s still a thrill taking the north ramp into the ‘Shoe.
“I don’t know if there’s a favorite part. Just getting out there,” Myers said. “And hoping I don’t fall over.”
Myers didn’t seem to be running any risk of losing his footing during practice, as he twirled his baton around his neck, behind his back and even under his leg. But, at his age, he said he felt this reunion would be his last.
Costoff said he hopes to make it back once more, next year, when he’s 90 years old.
For Myers, his final performance served as a fitting opportunity to honor the memory of Woods and Werner; to stand proudly at the 50-yard line as drum major, and to march down that ramp one last time.