Title

Exhibit - Leonard V. Falcone: MSU's Musical Pioneer

Early Years

Leonard Vincent Falcone was born April 5, 1899 in Roseto Valfortore, a Province of Foggia, Italy, one of Dominico and Maria Filippa (Finelli) Falcone's seven children. Falcone began his musical career in 1908 at the age of 9 playing the alto horn in the prestigious town band, known as the Roseto Valfortore Band or the "Banda Municipale," directed by the famous Donato Donatelli, Neapolitan Bandmaster.

Leonard's brother, Nicholas, also was a member of the band. Nicholas emigrated to the United States in 1912 to pursue a career in music. In 1915, at the advent of World War I, Leonard joined him. Nicholas found work in Ann Arbor as a tailor and clarinet player in a theater. Upon arriving in Michigan, Leonard became a tailor's assistant, and as a trombonist in a silent movie theater band in Ypsilanti that his brother conducted.

In 1917, Leonard Falcone enrolled part time at Michigan's University School of Music, while continuing to play in theaters. He was granted citizenship in 1924, and in 1926 graduated with a diploma in the violin. During this time, Nicholas had been appointed director of the Varsity Band at the University of Michigan. The Falcone brothers began to develop a sound reputation as musicians and conductors in the Ann Arbor community. The secretary of Michigan State College contacted the treasurer of the University of Michigan and requested his recommendation for the position of Director of Bands at Michigan State. Both brothers were seriously considered for the position, but since Nicholas was settled with a wife and child in Ann Arbor, it was decided that Leonard, the bachelor, should take the position in East Lansing.

Leonard became the director of Michigan State College Military Band in September 1927. The band consisted of 65 members and performed for all occasions, including concerts and military and athletics events. By the fall of 1928, the Michigan State Institute of Music and Arts was established and Leonard was listed as director of the band and instructor of wind instruments and Italian. Although the football team performed poorly during the 1916-32 football seasons, the band steadily built a strong reputation.
 

MSU Years

 

Leonard Falcone reintroduced open-air concert performances to the college in 1930. These events proved very popular, and by 1934 the band was performing before audiences as large as 3,000. The band made 54 public appearances in 1930-1931. While accompanying the Spartan Football team to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, the band had the opportunity to perform on the White House lawn for President Herbert Hoover on October 31, 1930.
 

In 1935, Leonard's brother Nicholas was forced to take medical leave for one month from his position as director of the University of Michigan Band. Leonard agreed to take over his brother's responsibilities for the month. The treatment, however, became prolonged, and for one year Leonard maintained full duties as band director for both institutions.
 

With the ever-increasing popularity of the MSC band's open-air concerts, a donation from the graduating class of 1937 of $2,500 made it possible to construct the Band Shell in 1938. In 1941, MSC hosted the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association's State Festival in which the band performed its first concert in a newly constructed auditorium during the event, which attracted crowds of 5,000.
 

During World War II, Leonard opted to enlist in the army to avoid being drafted mid term. But by October 1943, he had returned full time to the college and resumed his duties as director and professor. It was during this period that the Concert Band started to recruit female players due to the depleted numbers of male members. This remained unchanged after the war, as women became active members in the music community. Since women could not be members of the marching band, the Concert Band and the Marching Band became separate units in 1946.
 

On Sunday, December 19, 1948, Leonard married Betty Beryl Cromer, a high school teacher who met Leonard while she was a graduate student performing in the Concert Band. They had two daughters: Mary Beryl, born August 6, 1950, and Cecilia, born May 25, 1952. On January 17, 1953, Leonard celebrated his 25th anniversary as director of MSU Bands during a large banquet held in his honor.
 

The Concert Band began a series of successful tours in 1951, most notably the "Cap and Gown" series, which began in 1954. Falcone was eager to bring the same high regard of the Concert Band to the Marching Band. This attention soon came with MSC's 1953 entrance into the Big Ten competition and the football team's bid in the 1954 Rose Bowl. The Michigan State University Marching Band performed at the Rose Bowl in 1954 and 1956, televised across the nation.
 

In 1960, the Band Shell was demolished to make way for Ernst Bessey Hall and the adjacent parking ramp. Although reassurances were made that a new open-air venue would be constructed for the Concert Band performances, the plans never came to fruition, and subsequently the attendance for the outdoor concerts diminished as the seasonal performances moved from site to site with no fixed location.
 

In 1964, the MSU Marching Band represented the state during Michigan Week Activities at the New York World's Fair. In 1965, the Band once more represented the state during Lyndon B. Johnson's inaugural parade and also made a third trip to the Rose Bowl.

 

Retirement Years

 

In April 1966, Leonard Falcone submitted his request for retirement. His request was granted and on July 1, 1967, Falcone retired from the university exactly 40 years after his arrival on July 1, 1927. During the course of his tenure, Falcone's original single 65-piece Military Band developed into four units: the 175-piece Marching Band, the 115-piece Concert Band, the 100-piece Activity Band, and the Spartan Brass.
 

Retirement from the university did not end Falcone's role in music. Throughout his career, he had been involved with organizations and in events outside of MSU, and as professor emeritus, he continued to accept invitations to be a guest conductor, soloist, adviser, or adjudicator at innumerable concerts, festivals, and contests across the country. He also continued to teach courses for MSU's music department until the early 1970s. In 1971, Falcone conducted and toured internationally with the Blue Lake Fine Arts International Exchange Program. In 1976, the music camp dedicated its new Band Pavilion in his honor.
 

Notably, Falcone was a prominent baritone trombone player, one of few in the country, and was lauded for bringing the previously obscure instrument into the public eye. He made numerous solo appearances across the country beginning in 1929, and even made three recordings of baritone solos with Joseph Evans, an MSU pianist. Falcone also collaborated with the First Division Band Course company with the publication of The Leonard V. Falcone Baritone Solo Series and The Leonard V. Falcone Trombone Solo Series.
 

Falcone was also a published writer. In 1932, he wrote "How to Choose a Solo for the Baritone" for the Educational Music Journal and published nine more articles on bands and band instruments that appeared in the School MusicianInstrumentalist, and the Music Educators Journal. He also transcribed and arranged music for bands, particularly the works of Italian composers. Falcone was strongly affiliated with various other professional organizations such as the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, Kappa Kappa Psi, the American Bandmasters Association, the College Band Directors National Association, and the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association.
 

In recognition of these endeavors, Falcone was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1978, marking 50 years of involvement with MSU. Although this award usually is reserved for figures not affiliated with the university, it was argued that Falcone's tireless duties outside MSU and as professor emeritus should easily entitle him to consideration.
 

In June of 1985, at the age of 86, Falcone arranged to tour his native province in Italy with the Falcone Alumni Band, a group which had been recently formed by some of his former students. That May, however, just before embarking on the trip, Leonard Falcone died in his East Lansing home. The tour continued in his honor.

 

Finding aid to the Leonard Falcone papers (UA 17.133).


Written by MSU Archives staff.
Exhibit created by Megan Badgley Malone.

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections

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