Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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John Peifer

A Band Director for Life

  • John Peifer

On an autumn day in the late 1940s, John Peifer '36 stood in the press box above Williamson Field and hollered instructions through a bullhorn to his marching band below.

In a house on the opposite side of College Avenue, a young woman listened to the loud admonishments and fretted over whether they might be aimed at her boyfriend (and husband-to-be).

"Oh, he was gruff and rough and he could use some colorful language up there, but he was really a pussycat inside," said Aaron Martin '50, whose girlfriend was the one paying special attention to band practice.

Whether in the press box or anywhere else, Peifer was never bashful about his enthusiasm for the Franklin & Marshall College Band. He couldn't afford to be.

"For many years, the school had no Music Department, yet John was able to field a marching band of 70 individuals and put together a fairly high-quality concert band," said John "Jack" Neigh, M.D., '55.


A clarinetist, Neigh remembers Peifer as outgoing, self-confident and unfailingly devoted to those who played under his direction.

The students appreciated his long hours of volunteer service and responded with loyalty of their own, traveling with Peifer to virtually every home and away football game and many competitions and special appearances in between.

"For somebody who was not a teacher at the College, he had a trememdous impact on the students - and a tremendous impact on the alumni," Neigh said.

Indeed, joining the Peifer-led band meant joining for life. He kept in touch with students for many years after they graduated and showed genuine interest in their lives and successes.

"He wrote newsletters and kept you informed about the other band members," said Martin. "Just knowing there was someone like him in your corner kept a lot of people on the straight and narrow."

Karl W. Poorbaugh '51, agrees that Peifer was a force to be reckoned with. "He didn't pull any punches," said Poorbaugh with a laugh. "He was a drill sergeant, a father figure and a band instructor, all in one!"

Poorbaugh said Peifer worked the students hard while at the same time telling them they were part of the best small college band in the country. Peifer was demanding, but he never forgot his alumni.

"When you joined Johnny's band," said Poorbaugh, "you became a part of his family."