Former UH band director dies at 82

In the late 1970s, David Bertman saw the Cougars on a televised bowl game. What struck Bertman the most during the game’s halftime show was a little old man off on the side, jumping around in a uniform.

It was William Moffit, the director of the Spirit of Houston Marching band, who jumped around on the field -†or as Bertman described him, a ball of energy.

Moffit, 82, died March 5 in his home in Jacksonville, Fla. Memorial services were held Monday in Jacksonville and in Houston. The individuals who knew him described Moffit as an instructor with fervor for music.

"He might not have started here at UH, but (Moffit) is the spirit of Houston," said Bertman, now director of the Spirit of Houston Marching Band.

Moffit directed the Spirit of Houston Marching Band from 1969 to1980. He then directed the band helm at Purdue University from 1981-1988 before retiring.

Moffit was accredited for pioneering contemporary marching band styles. During the 1970s, he worked mainstream and pop songs into the band’s halftime shows. The inclusion of popular tunes in football and basketball games is still present and is known as "sound power."

Moffit is also credited with the innovation of "patterns of motion," a system of techniques that allowed directors to coordinate their bands with fluidity in the field but involving military style organization.

Bertman said the core of Moffit’s innovation for marching band was keeping the audience entertained.

"Before the music that was played in the field sounded like it belonged in an indoor setting, but (Moffit) opened up the spectrum to entertainment," Bertman said.

Moffit played host to major events during his time at the University. Under Moffit’s instruction, the marching band performed at the famed 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King at the Astrodome. Moffit arranged music for various movies and even created a piece for the Indianapolis 500. He also directed the Fanfare Trumpets, a group of Purdue University students, at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Moffit’s first love was for the students and their success with music, Bertman said.

"I don’t care if you’re in middle school or high school or even college marching band -you knew (Moffit’s name); it was on the music," Bertman said.

Even after Moffit left the University, he would return to lead the band, specifically the Alumni Day visits during Homecoming festivities. Former members of the band reunite during these events.

"I took over as director in 2000, and ever since then we’ve had (Moffit) come back to this program," Bertman said. "And for the past eight years, I’ve been only the director of his band – he’s served as a mentor for everyone here."

Ryan Heath, a drum major for the Spirit of Houston Marching Band from 2004-2006, he said he would always get something in return during Moffit’s visits.

"Despite his age, he would light up when he took the podium," Heath said. "He always had a joke to lighten the mood. One of the things that really stands out to me is that despite the fact that he was there for only one game a year, he felt responsible for the quality of the performance."

Heath said that Moffit always reminded the students in the band about the joys of music.

"He was never afraid to remind us how important he thought our job of spreading spirit and energy was, and in that regard he led by example," Heath said. "He would remind us that being a part of a group like this wasn’t worth doing if you didn’t have fun doing it."

A second memorial service is in the works and is tentatively scheduled for May, Bertman said.

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