I’m proud to say it: I absolutely love the Michigan Marching Band.
I still get goosebumps thinking about the first time I saw it perform. Growing up in New York, I had very little exposure to major college athletics – and therefore, very little contact with major college marching bands. But at an otherwise worthless “New Student Convocation” ceremony, I discovered the glory of the MMB. It wasn’t the full group – the band only sent a small contingent to Crisler Arena that night – but what I heard stays with me to this day. I’ll never forget the way the ‘M’ Fanfare reverberated throughout that building, the way that final, beautiful chord warmed up the barren concrete arena. I’ll never forget pumping my fist with everyone from Mary Sue on down to the lowliest freshman – it was my first live “Victors” experience. And the most amazing thing is how it doesn’t get old, how I relive those feelings at literally every Michigan sporting event (and I attend a lot of Michigan sporting events).
But it isn’t just about the traditional songs and the spectacular way in which the band performs them. It’s about the whole marching band saga, from the brutal summer practices, to the entire Football Saturday experience, to the hockey pep band’s antics.
Think football two-a-days are rough? Arriving approximately two weeks before classes begin, band members have to deal with full 13-hour practices under the summer sun, pounding the turf and perfecting their sound. They practice for over a week straight, not getting a day off until the Sunday before school begins. The long days can be both physically and psychologically exhausting. But the band members keep on coming back, and their sweaty summer afternoons are reflected in the refined product you see on the field at each and every football game.
And even though the focus is generally on the football team, the Marching Band is an inextricable part of the tradition of those Football Saturdays in Ann Arbor. From the stepshow in front of Revelli Hall exactly 90 minutes before kickoff to the march back from the stadium, Saturday afternoon is filled with time-honored band traditions. But for 15 minutes or so, during halftime, the band can temporarily put convention aside and let loose. And this year especially, band director Jamie L. Nix has been willing to do just that.
For those of you who haven’t watched the band’s halftime shows this year, here’s a brief synopsis: For the Northern Illinois game, the band featured classic karaoke tunes, such as “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, and prompted a Michigan Stadium sing-along. Against Notre Dame, they played rock songs from around the world. The show climaxed with a march toward the student section, while the band played – and the students sang – the classic Queen hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Finally, during Saturday’s contest with Eastern Michigan, the band showcased its most unconventional halftime show yet, bringing the Big House down with a full-scale comedic production inspired by Monty Python’s Broadway musical “Spamalot.” The show featured, among other things, a less-than-masculine Sparty, a drunken Wisconsin cheesehead being carted off the field and a crazed rabbit brutally tackling an Ohio State tuba player. As it watched the ruckus unfolding on the field, the student section fell into hysterics.
“I’ve been wanting to try a skit show every year I’ve been here, but those shows are incredibly risky and require a ton of hard work,” Nix said. “So it had to be exactly the right idea to spur that kind of creativity. It turned out better than we all thought it would.”
While the band’s sense of humor may have surprised some fans, it came as no shock to me. At an Ohio State-Michigan hockey game I attended in 2003, the Yost fans were up to their usual shenanigans, mocking a diminutive Buckeye player with chants of “Dirty Hobbit.” Picking up on the crowd’s cues, the hockey band began playing the Lord of the Rings theme song each time the “Hobbit” took the ice, much to the delight of the Michigan faithful.
The band loves entertaining the fans, and it loves putting on a good show. But more than anything, the band loves to see Michigan win. It’s hard to find a more committed group of Wolverine fans, and the die-hard support extends to every sport the marching band plays for – from football to women’s hoops.
The athletic programs appreciate it, too. Each year, football coach Lloyd Carr invites the band to a closed practice, and afterward he gives a speech thanking the band. Last year, basketball coach Tommy Amaker and hockey coach Red Berenson stopped by band practice to do the same. Even former football coach Bo Schembechler made an appearance, discussing the storied history of the Michigan Marching Band and reminding the band that they are of one of just two student groups with the privilege of storming out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel on Football Saturdays.
So there you have it. They’re the best marchers, the best musicians, the best entertainers, the best fans. They take pride in everything they do – every perfectly struck chord, every perfectly timed step, every sore throat from cheering the Wolverines while their instruments are at their sides.
Basically, my message to the band is this: Keep on doing what you’re doing, and I’m just going to keep on loving you.
– Matt loves being woken up at 8 a.m. on Football Saturdays by the Marching Band. Seriously. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org