UNLV Magazine – Spring 2008
By Erin O'Donnell
Degree: '70 Pre-Medicine
Occupation: Optometrist, UNLV Pep Band leader and saxophonist
A Musician at Heart
William Carpi studied both music and pre-medicine at UNLV from 1967 to 1970, and he was a charter member of the first pep band. After earning his optometry degree in California, he returned to Las Vegas in 1976 and joined his father's optometry practice. "My dad put me in the office as an apprentice optician when I was 14. Music was my first love, but it was a tough way to make a living. UNLV has been very good at allowing me to keep music as the second part of my life."
It was Christmas break 1977 and the band was short of players, so the director of bands, an acquaintance of Carpi's, asked the doctor to sit in. He made it a holiday tradition for the next three years – as season ticket holders, he and his family were at most games already. In 1992, he started playing at every game. "We've now got about 12 to 14 alumni who play basically full time. They saw how much fun I was having and decided to stick around. People in the crowd will say, 'Man, I've seen you here for years. What's your story?' A lot of people probably think I'm one of the instructors."
The Family That Plays Together
Carpi's children have followed him into the stands. In the early 1990s, a grad assistant for the band asked Carpi to play a Lady Rebels game for the first time. "He said, 'We're short of players. Right now it's you, me, and a drummer.'" So Carpi brought two of his kids. His eldest, Melissa, brought her clarinet, and son, Lee, played trombone. They were 12 and 14. "It became a really good parenting tool. It was an activity my teenagers wanted to do with Dad."
Ready for the Big Time
By the time they were 8th and 10th graders, Melissa and Lee were playing at every men's game. As high schoolers in 1998, they got their first taste of March Madness. "We had scheduled a wind orchestra concert for the first week of the NCAA tournament. Then we won the WAC championship, and the band didn't have enough bodies to put on the road. So we had about eight alumni, my kids, and a few others making the road trip to Connecticut for the tournament."
Catching the Bug
One night, youngest daughter Deborah sat in the band with Dad. A grad assistant teased her, "If you're not playing, you can't sit here," and handed her a tambourine. She came home that night and said, "Dad ... I want to be a drummer."
All three kids came to UNLV. Melissa got her degree in hotel management and is now a concierge at the Bellagio. Her husband, Larry Ransom, also plays trumpet. Lee is about to complete his bachelor's degree in hotel administration. Both still play with the pep band. And Deborah – now the band's lead drummer – is a percussion major and wants to be a music therapist.
Don't Stop the Music
Carpi also plays in the UNLV Community Band, which is open to any adult with band experience. "There are not a lot of places for you to play when you get out of school," Carpi said. "One of the band members recruited me to fill out the instrumentation for the first concert, and it got me playing again." The band will celebrate its 20th anniversary in April with a concert featuring a piece of music commissioned especially for the band.
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