Observant Badgers fans may be wondering why legendary UW band director Mike Leckrone has been missing from the NCAA tournament basketball games.
It’s because the 80-year-old conductor, known for his agility and stamina, recently underwent double-bypass surgery.
According to Jay Rath, marketing manager for the spring Varsity Band Concert, the heart surgery took place Jan. 24, and Leckrone didn’t return to band rehearsals until last week, when he met with the 300-member Varsity Band for two hours before spring break.
Leckrone, the marching band’s conductor for 48 years, received permission from his doctor to return that morning. There was loud applause and some tears from the Varsity Band, as the marching band is known during the spring semester.
For weeks, band staff explained that Leckrone’s absence was due only to a “procedure,” Rath said.
Leckrone said he was anxious to get back. Besides tournaments, the band’s biggest event of the year, the Varsity Band Concert, is coming up April 20, 21 and 22 at the Kohl Center. About 21,000 people attend the concerts each year, according to the university.
The theme is “Nobody Does It Better,” a song from the 1977 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me.” It was chosen before Leckrone went in for surgery.
The theme was meant as a compliment to the band, but lately, band members have suggested that it applies to their leader instead. Others have informally renamed the concert, “This One’s for Mike.”
Besides conducting, emceeing and cracking jokes, Leckrone is known for his stunts, like his tradition of flying through the air with wires and doing somersaults above the audience.
The flying has been firmly ruled out now, Rath said, but Leckrone is looking for other activities.
“The honest truth is that I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to be able to do,” he said in a statement. “We’re kind of planning contingencies, with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.”
Leckrone is not traveling with the band for Friday night’s tournament game in New York, but he’ll be there next week if the Badgers advance.