Directly beneath the maize ‘M’ sewn on the left chest plate of his Michigan Marching Band uniform, a tattooed block ‘M’ is inked on the left pectoral of TJ Wolfgram, a senior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
The tattoo represents the best experience he’s had at the University.
“This is the best organization in the country,” Wolfgram said. “I don’t think there’s another band in the country that has the unique character and quality that we do.”
But despite the talent and prestige of the MMB, many members do not ultimately pursue musical careers. Wolfgram, a music education major, is one exception to the norm and said being in the MMB not only was memorable but proved essential to the future career he’s planned as a music teacher.
According to LSA senior and MMB member Ross Federman, music students are often discouraged from joining the Michigan Marching Band. The enormous time commitment and technical and physical demands work against the classical training music majors receive.
“It’s a huge time-suck,” Wolfgram said. “If you’re a music major, when can you practice? The music school kids just don’t have time and don’t have energy to commit.”
The MMB gave Wolfgram the opportunity to learn skills like marching, writing and arranging music and drills for the band. As a fifth-year senior, Wolfgram wrote this year’s halftime show for the Notre Dame game.
Though Wolfgram intended to pursue music education since his freshman year, others are inspired by their membership in the MMB to make music their career.
For David Tenerelli, marching in the MMB inspired him to transfer from the School of Engineering to the School of Music, Theatre & Dance to become a band director.
“I had a good audition my first year in MMB, and I kind of realized that maybe I had to make this something that I should do with my life,” Tenerelli said.
Now Tenerelli lives in Frisco, Texas and is the director of the Northern Dallas suburb’s middle school music program. He said he teaches about 310 students.
“There’s too much attrition when it comes to young musicians going through music programs in schools today,” Tenerelli said. “Too many kids quit. That’s something that I hate to see.”
Tenerelli uses his experience with the MMB to inspire his students, showing videos of marching bands performing and simplifying old MMB arrangements so his middle schoolers can play them.
Some MMB members aspire to be in a professional band, hoping for the off-chance that they’ll make it big — some actually do.
When Federman joined the MMB’s drum line as a freshman in 2003, he never thought he would take six years off school to tour with a successful band throughout the country.
In 2004 the local band Tally Hall needed a drummer, so Federman auditioned. The group started out playing at the U Club and fraternities, but within a year it was selling out shows at The Blind Pig.
“One year turned into six and we ended up in New York,” Federman said. “It was something I thought I would just do for a year but things took off in a way we didn’t expect.”
Now back at the University, Federman is still affiliated with the MMB, playing drums with the basketball band.
Regardless of whether music is a career or a pastime, people like Federman can’t stay away from the Michigan Marching Band.
“You’re a part of the team that has so much school spirit behind it,” Federman said. “No other music ensemble on campus starts and ends each practice by playing our school fight song — there’s just this feeling you get.”
That unforgettable, infectious feeling almost always guarantees a lifetime of dedication to the Michigan Marching Band.
“In the trombone section, nobody gets taken off of our listserv,” Wolfgram said. “We reply to all on everything. Someone in our section was at a bowl game and an alum came up to him and knew who this student was. That trombone alum graduated in ’91.”
It’s hard to pinpoint a tangible reason that ties countless generations of horns, drum lines and clarinets together.
“You can’t ply apart the reasons,” Wolfgram said. “I don’t know where it comes from.”