We’ve not much longer here to stay,
For in a month or two,
We’ll bid farewell to ‘Kaydet Grey,’
And don the ‘Army Blue’
-L.W. Becklaw, ‘Army Blue’
Every February in West Point, a certain electrifying phrase pulses through the heart of every Firstie (fourth-year): 100th Night.
100 nights to graduation. 100 nights to adulthood. 100 nights to freedom.
But what does the West Point Band have to do with that?
Let’s step back in time…
Before Facebook, before TV, even before radio, there were “entertainments.” Jokes, dances, poetry, and storytelling pulled together into a show designed to dazzle any pre-electronics audience.
And in the 1800s, West Point’s appetite for such spectacles was just as strong as anywhere else. From the earliest days of the Academy’s history, touring groups would travel to the post to perform amateur theater shows and musicals, providing students a welcome break from the rigors of cadet life.
But after the troupes had left town, what was a bored cadet in need of excitement to do?
Why, make his own of course!
Starting in the mid-1800s, cadets took the important matters of mood-lightening and merriment into their own hands and began crafting entertainments aimed specifically at a West Point audience.
The West Point Dialectic Society began putting on their own evenings of skits and dramatic readings, which quickly evolved into elaborate, fully-staged shows based on quirky West Point-isms that left their fellow cadets roaring with laughter.
Cadet originals with names like “Toodles” and “Nineteenth Century Brevities” titillated students and faculty alike for years. As time wore on, the entertaining evenings gradually coalesced into one annual night of West Point-centric satire that persists to this day — the 100th Night Show.
Though its content has always been 99% inside jokes understood only by the Corps of Cadets, West Point’s 100th Night Show quickly gained traction in the outside world, drawing crowds from around the area.
It was kind of a Big Deal.
So much so that in the 1940s and ’50s, Academy Award-winning lyricist Sammy Cahn took time off from writing for a guy you might have heard of — I think his name was Frank Sinatra? — to travel to West Point and help craft the next big 100th Night hit.
But wait, you say, certainly a musical production of this magnitude must have a fine pit orchestra to accompany it!
That’s where the West Point Band comes in.
We at the West Point Band have always been lucky enough to be honored guests at the 100th Night Show.
Each year requires a uniquely perfect soundtrack to tell the saga of that particular class’s journey from Plebes (first-years) to Firsties. West Point Band saxophonist Master Sgt. Mike Reifenberg composes all the original music for the 100th Night Show, crafting just the right melodies to tell the tales of the cadets’ bravery, adventures, and, of course, the occasional mishap during their four years at the Academy.
The band spends the week of the 100th Night Show — this week!— rehearsing with cadets, putting the finishing touches on the musical numbers.
This year’s show debuts on Thursday and we can’t wait for it!