For the past 2 years, I have had the honor of serving as drum major of the Michigan Marching Band. It has been, without a doubt, the most amazing and humbling experience of my college career. From the doing the back-bend to the roar of the crowd, catching the goal post toss, or strutting down the field to “The Victors,” I have memories that will stay with me long after I have graduated. Even now, I find it hard to believe that I’ve been part of such a storied tradition.
I always love hearing non-band members say, “I love the band”, or “I get tingles every time they explode out of the tunnel,” because this is exactly what fuels the band. I’m not talking about the comments themselves. I’m referring to the feeling that is behind these comments. I’m talking about that intensity, or that overpowering emotion, that feeling of pride in Michigan, in everything that “The Victors” represents…this is what fuels the Michigan Marching Band.
Most of us have seen a band performance. But to really understand what it’s like, you need to imagine yourself as a member…
It’s a hot and sunny September Saturday. Say, high 70s. You are standing at attention outside the mouth of the stadium tunnel, clad in a thick, navy-blue, wool uniform that covers everything from neck to toe. You’ve got on a tall hat, so any heat that escapes your head is directed right back at you. It’s hot, it’s sticky, and you can feel your uniform getting heavier as you start sweating. At this point, you load the tunnel. It’s rather dark, and an orange light basks everybody in a strange glow. This is when the adrenaline starts pumping. Every band member is stretching, jumping up and down, staying loose. High fives, chest bumps, push-ups – any “pump-up” ritual you can think of is done by the Michigan Marching Band in that tunnel before pregame. And then we get the two-minute warning. Now, everybody is focused. Some yell, others remain quiet. Either way, it’s electric, it’s intense – you’re ready to go. And then it starts…
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” (you can feel the anticipation of the crowd grow), “Presenting the 235-member Michigan Marching Band…Baaaand, take the field!” and as soon as you hear the report of the snare drum, you’re a machine. You have no thought process. Your sole purpose is to be the most intense and precise marcher. In an explosion of maize and blue, you storm the field, knees above 90 degrees, arms up, yelling, radiating every ounce of energy you can. And as you emerge from the tunnel onto the field, the world literally opens up before you and you lose yourself to the moment. The green turf, the sun lit crowd and that sky – so blue and pure – you lose yourself. And the best part is, you have more than 235 other people feeling the exact same way; ready to pour their heart and soul into the performance, and leave every drop of sweat on the field.
So at this point, the band has folded out into the famous “Block M” formation. You’re standing still, but you’re out of breath, gasping for air because for the past couple minutes, you’ve sprinted across the field while keeping your knees above your waist. You can’t rest now, because you have to play your instrument, spin your flag, or twirl your baton for “M Fanfare.” Regardless of what you’re doing, your energy is fading fast. Finally, the song ends. But instead of a break, you go right into “The Victors”. And you better use all your energy to play this song loud, proud, and in tune because everybody knows this one. While doing this, you’re high-stepping toward the north endzone. Once you get there, you don’t stop, you flank to face the south endzone and keep going all the way down the field. At this point, your legs are lead, your lungs are burning and maybe that hot dog from the tailgate wasn’t such a good idea. But you can’t stop. Alright, good job, you’re halfway done with pregame.
It doesn’t matter how tired you are, because you love every second of it. You love being a part of the band. You love the football team. You love Michigan. You are a part of that Michigan tradition.
Once pregame is done, you’re drenched in sweat, and wearily make your way back to where the band sits. You’re drained, but you still manage to notice how your performance has affected the crowd. You see the fire in the alumni’s eyes, the smile of the little kids, the cheers of your friends in the first row, or the subtle nod of approval from the event staffer in the yellow vest, and you’re reminded again of why this has meant so much to you for the past four years.