When the Stony Brook University Marching Band plays its first event next semester, there will be new faces. One face, however, will stand out among the new members of the ensemble, because at the end of this semester, John Leddy, 61, Director of Athletic Bands, will be retiring from his position.
Leddy has been in charge of the marching band since the day of its foundation in 2006. He said he has watched it grow almost 10 times in size. “When we had our first band camp, there were 20 kids,” Leddy said. “By the third year we might have crossed 100 and now we’re at about 185.”
The Brooklyn native and Huntington-grown man, who has led this new band to such feats as playing the Javits Center in Manhattan, being in an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and being in a New York Lotto commercial, has always had a passion for music.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be Ringo Starr,” he said. “I just wanted to sit in the back of the stage and play the drums.”
And play the drums he did.
He said he started playing them when he was 10 years old and still plays them today. In fact, it was the drums that sparked Leddy’s interest in marching bands.
“I remember being a little kid and feeling the thud and sound of the drums when a marching band would go by,” he said. “It would take my breath away.”
Leddy took that interest and taught music and directed bands in the Connetquot School District for 33 years. When that came to an end, he said a friend of his told him that a marching band was starting up at Stony Brook University. Leddy was not so enthused.
“I was really not interested in being the director at first,” he said. But after some persuasion from that friend and some interaction with the staff and students, he said his mind had been changed.
The first performance the band played is a memory that sticks out above the others, Leddy said. It was the 2006 Homecoming, and he had a “bag over the head feeling.” He felt like things were not going to work. But as the band went around the stadium to exit the field, he said that all the fans were standing up and applauding them and he realized that they really loved the band.
He said it was moments like these, where the fans showed a thirst for spirit and appreciation for the band, which motivated him.
That same moment came again, he said, one day after a basketball game. “I was packing up and coach Steve Pikiell slapped me in the butt and said, ‘That was awesome! You guys are the best!’,” Leddy said.
Even more of his motivation came from the band members’ “enthusiasm and their ability to never give up.”
Some of the members said, though, that this enthusiasm was a result of Leddy himself.
Karthik Rao, 21, who is studying neurobiology and one of the three current drum majors, said that when he first joined the marching band in 2009, he always thought of band directors as strict and discouraging because that was how his high school’s director was. Leddy made him believe otherwise.
“I messed up once and he was very kind and laid back about it,” Rao said. “Not in a way that he didn’t care, but that he knew I would a find a way to correct myself.”
He was the kind of director that believed in his students, Rao continued.
“Leddy was flustered during a show once and I told him maybe we should do this and that,” he said. “And he trusted me enough to go through with my idea.”
Leddy said he knew he was “teaching smart people,” and knew they could handle themselves. By letting them do their own thing, he said, the band developed cheers and traditions that fans enjoy to this day, such as the fourth quarter Godzilla versus King Kong dance and chant set to “We Will Rock You”.
“The cheers are so cute,” Sava Babar, 18, a biology major, said. “The marching band is very school spirited.”
According to Megan Spicer, 23, a former drum major from the class of 2012, Leddy was more than a director.
“He was involved in everything we did, not just the band,” Spicer said. “I’ve talked to him in his office for like three hours just about what was going on in my life. He was my head honcho.”
Besides his caring personality, the phrase “Oh baby!” will never be forgotten. According to Eric Kunz, 22, studying neurobiology and another current drum major, Leddy would say this when something went great. Leddy said that he feels like he may have picked it up from American basketball sportscaster Dick Vitale.
The married man of 38 years and father of two said it has been an incredible journey and will be hard to give it all up, but it is time to move on, for him and the band.
“It’s a young person’s job,” Leddy said. “I’ve taken them where I can take them. They will continue to grow. The band is ready to explode musically and creatively.”
According to Leddy, however, he will not be going far after he retires.
“The plan is after I retire to take on a more behind the scenes position,” Leddy said. “Somebody will take over my current job and I’ll work part time and help to promote the band.”