Students who thought band was a boring, middle school prerequisite may have been surprised to hear strains of “Thriller” and “Stairway to Heaven” fill the Big House at halftime this football season.

Jessica Boullion
Members of the Michigan Marching Band perform during half time at the game against the University of Iowa on Oct. 21. This season, the marching band has performed music by Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and many others. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

With neither Robert Plant nor Michael Jackson at hand, how does the Michigan Marching Band translate rock music into arrangements fit for the Big House?

The answer lies with band director Jamie Nix.

Nix takes the original music, which often features guitars and vocals, and rearranges it for the band’s instruments. This means Nix has to decide whether to put a specific guitar riff with tubas or trombones.

The process generally takes about three weeks from start to finish. That includes arranging the music and preparing other aspects of the show.

A big part of the time is spent listening to iTunes. Nix said he arranges just by hearing a song instead of seeing the musical score.

After Nix has prepared music for the wind instruments, drumline instructor Chuck Ricotta takes both Nix’s new arrangement and the original song and uses them to write a new percussion line.

Nix admits to being a big rock and heavy metal fan, which may explain why many recent band performances have been modern rock music.

The downside is that the band must pay royalties to use these songs. Older music is usually in the public domain and can be used for free.

Jake Holmes

– Pondering a great mystery of the University? Let the Daily step in and help you out. E-mail suggestions to news@michigandaily.com.

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