Band suspended for graffiti at Game

At the Yale-Harvard football game on Nov. 22, the Yale Precision Marching Band may haven taken its “respectfully irreverent” motto too far — at least according to Director of Yale Bands Thomas Duffy.

After the band used a prop bearing profane writing during its Game halftime show, Duffy suspended the YPMB on Nov. 24. The band’s leadership said they were unaware of the graffiti in question — which Duffy termed “completely inappropriate and highly offensive” — but would have nixed the graffiti had they known. As of press time, the band is still suspended, and band members are not commenting on what exactly caused the controversy.

Members of the Yale Precision Marching Band hoist a graffiti-covered model of the Berlin Wall during the band’s halftime show at The Game.
Ryan Galisewski
Members of the Yale Precision Marching Band hoist a graffiti-covered model of the Berlin Wall during the band’s halftime show at The Game.

“I was personally embarrassed and offended, and professionally compromised,” Duffy wrote in a Nov. 24 e-mail to band members. “I am suspending the Yale Precision Marching Band from all activities and performances, effective as of this very moment.”

The prop, a graffiti-covered replica of the Berlin Wall, was the centerpiece of a halftime show that cast Harvard as a communist empire and Yale as the savior of the free world. Although Duffy approved most elements in the program — including a large, phallic missile prop bearing the University name — he did not approve the profanity on the wall, which band leaders said was a last-minute addition.

In two e-mails sent to the News last week, Duffy said he had no further comment on the incident, which he called an “internal matter for the Yale Bands.”

What exactly Duffy found offensive remains to be seen, as neither Duffy, YPMB Drum Major Rosa Li ’09 nor 11 other band members contacted by the News made any comment on the graffiti. Six students interviewed who sat in the bleachers at the Game said they do not remember anything inappropriate being written on the wall.

Two days after Duffy’s e-mail, Li released a statement apologizing for the obscenities written on the prop.

“The contentious graffiti was the result of a poor judgment call on the part of one or two members who, exhausted and sleep-deprived from working through the night and into the morning to build the prop, allowed their emotions regarding the Yale-Harvard rivalry to get the better of them,” Li wrote, adding that Duffy’s e-mail was the first she knew of the profanity. “Had I or any other Yale Band student leader noticed the offending graffiti, we never would have allowed it on the field.”

In a separate e-mail to the YPMB, Li acknowledged that the wall contained “some genuinely inappropriate things on it (i.e. more inappropriate than ‘sucks’).” In interviews, Li would not comment on whether she knew which band members were responsible for the graffiti in question.

Only two of six Yale students interviewed said they found the halftime show offensive, and neither of those cited the wall’s profanity.

“The whole ‘Yale penis’ was a little out of the ordinary,” Danielle Torres ’09 said, referring to the missile used to tear down the wall. “It was a bit disrespectful. People weren’t cheering and laughing about that as loudly as they normally do during the halftime show.”

Alan Wesson ’11 added, “Honestly, I wasn’t really looking too closely. It looked like graffiti, and I was distracted by the cold weather.”

Of the six students interviewed, four said they believe the band’s punishment is out of place.

In a phone interview Sunday night, Li said the YPMB’s suspension is still in effect, and band leaders do not know when it will end.


  • wow

    YPMB is SO badass.

  • H.

    Hahaha… NOT badass. DEFINITELY horrible.

    I was a member of my high school marching band and had considered joining Yale's my freshman year but their "shows" are so tacky and poorly performed that I couldn't bare it. They should be permanently disbanded and replaced with a competitive DCI-style marching band that performs real shows [that the audience understands] in real uniforms.

  • Brown Band member

    I'll never understand the appeal of "traditional" bands. What is it about marching in lockstep that people like so much? I can promise you that scrambling is much more fun to do.

    People like whoever posted comment #41 should keep in mind that these are Yale students under discussion. Like all Ivy League students (including Brown students), they have an abundance of intelligence and wit, but an alarming deficiency of free time. This allows us to write funny, literate scripts, but prevents us from drilling for hours and hours so we can look like we're going off to invade Poland or whatever. Scramble bands play to our strengths and minimize the impact of our weaknesses.

    One more comment to outraged commenters: You call this vitriol? PLEASE. When the Princeton Band accidentally walked on the Citadel's magic road, now THERE was some righteous anger on display. Amateurs.

    On an ending note, just let me say that the Harvard Band are a bunch of tools. They probably said some stuff way more worthy of outrage than some tiny words written on a fake wall.

  • Charybdis

    Remember, this is the same Thomas Duffy who did his best to kill the Saybrook Strip. Isn't there a nice, orderly, disciplined Catholic high school somewhere that could use a band director?

  • SY09

    Wait, how did he try to kill the Strip?

  • Will W.

    #4, the Saybrook Strip used to be performed to a song the YPMB played, "The Stripper." In the mid-90s Thomas Duffy told the band to stop playing the song in an attempt to get them to stop, and as an act of defiance Saybrugians strip anyway, making up a new chant to go with it. Do a google search, there are a couple of YDN/herald articles about it.

  • Anonymous

    For all of H's pretension, he needs to learn to spell. Bear, not bare.

    By all means, the YPMB is meant to be humorous, not serious. Most of the members are in serious bands and probably use the YPMB as a chance to unwind.

  • H.

    If I came off pretentious, I apologize. That was not my intended tone. I didn't intend that my high school marching band was the best marching band ever, in fact it was probably on the bad end of high school marching bands fielded in the state. What I meant was that my high school marching band was an outlet for artistic and musical expression, whereas the YPMB is more of a comedy troop with sound effects. A lot of the humor is political also, so it doesn't necessarily resonate with everyone.

  • Anonymous

    @ H.

    "Comedy Troupe."

    "I didn't intend TO SAY that my high school marching band was…"


    "A lot of the humor is political also, so it its doesn't necessarily resonate with everyone." What is this supposed to mean? One could say the same thing about fart-jokes, Owen Wilson films, Russian humor, and so on.
    Everyone has different taste. Everyone understands differently. Look at the Humanities in this university. Take a course which involves some kind of theory of meaning.
    Please don't just mindlessly criticize. The YPMB is not even really a target - it's an organization which is supposed to be ridiculous.

  • '08

    Interesting article, but Person (who is still a rower) got Vogelsang's tap - she wasn't his first choice. They insisted he didn't choose the captain of the male heavyweight crew.
    I think the idea that saying tap-lines still exist because of the large % of people involved in societies who do extracurriculars is a bit stupid (#4). The society obviously has to know who you are to tap you. If you're a great musician, but you stay in your room all the time, you're not going to be noticed, which is the most important factor in being tapped.