The first time Richard Bundy stepped onto the green grass of Beaver Stadium, he wasn’t holding a director’s baton.
He was holding a trombone. It was 1966. He was a member of the Blue Band, studying music, thinking one day he would be a music teacher.
He was right. He just wasn’t thinking big enough.
On Saturday, when the band takes the field, it will be the end of an era, the last home game for Bundy, the fifth director to lead the musicians in their 115-year history and the only director to have ever carried an instrument in the band.
“What makes college football unique is the traditions. The Blue Band is the soundtrack of Saturday afternoons,” former assistant coach Jay Paterno said. “All the years, all the places I’ve been, there is no better band than the Blue Band, and no better director than Dr. Bundy.”
Bundy, a Beaver native, came to Penn State because his high school band director was an alumnus. After a high school music program visit, he opted to make it his choice for college. For grad school, he opted for Michigan but came back to his roots for a doctorate. That was when he also became a graduate assistant for the Blue Band under the direction of his predecessor, Ned Diehl.
The program that he will leave when he is officially finished with teaching in the spring definitely shows his fingerprints from the moment one steps through the door. That is because those doors didn’t exist before.
“There are a lot of tangible things,” Bundy said, sitting in his office, a football season hodgepodge of music and paperwork, with blue and white everywhere and pictures of his band in formation on the walls. “One would be this facility.”
The Blue Band Building, across Park Avenue from the stadium, gave the band a permanent home to meet the needs of the growing program. Under Bundy, the ranks stand at 310-315 for the Blue Band and band front, including the Touch of Blue majorettes. The program, however, is even larger.
“We added another band to the athletic band program,” Bundy said.
The Fall Athletic Band started about 10 years ago. It plays at other autumn sports, like the women’s volleyball games. Bundy said it satisfies multiple needs. Not only does it alleviate pressure on the Blue Band, but it gives additional opportunities to other players, giving them a chance to perform and maybe serve as a steppingstone to the big show on Saturdays.
Jay Paterno said that his father, the late former football coach Joe Paterno, enjoyed getting a chance to hear the band perform at other events, such as basketball games.
“On Tuesdays, they would practice on the football field outside our office,” said Jay Paterno, who remembered the music filtering through while the coaches watched game film.
For Bundy, some of the best moments in his tenure mirror the football team’s accomplishments.
The 1982 national championship game was a standout. The Nittany Lions pulled out a 27-23 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, but, for Bundy, it was memorable for a different reason.
He was a graduate student at the time, and his James Bond-themed halftime show was selected from the year’s catalog of performances to be showcased on the national stage.
Then there was the 1987 Fiesta Bowl and the Nittany Lions’ second national title. The 2009 Rose Bowl might not have ended in a Penn State victory, but it is still a standout for Bundy.
“Who doesn’t want to take a band to the Rose Parade?” he said.
When it’s all said and done, when he trades his baton for a chance to spend Saturdays watching the games with wife, Chris, and visiting his four kids and five grandchildren, his real accomplishments will be the musicians who went through his program.
Many, like him, came to Penn State with a plan to share music education with children around the country. Many of his students are doing just that, including some at the highest levels, like Brad Townsend, a Blue Band alumnus who took the reins of the University of Pittsburgh’s band last year.
“I’ve been getting a number of notes and letters. I have a little box started at home,” Bundy said.
A bigger box might be needed. He admits to have “literally thousands” of band alumni and students who have passed through his programs.
“Richard Bundy has been an exceptional mentor to thousands of students, a talented professional, and an extraordinary entertainer and teacher. It will certainly be hard to fill his director shoes,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “After 35 years at Penn State, however, his retirement is well-earned and we wish him all the best.”
Bundy says he doesn’t have an official last day. It will be sometime in May or June, as the search for his replacement goes on and plans for the transition are made. But he knows that after Saturday’s Michigan State game, he will have just one more outing with the Blue Band, at the yet-to-be-named bowl game the team — and the band — will attend.
There is one thing he knows he will take with him.
“There are a lot of memories,” he said.