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6B - The Michigan Daily - Weeked dMagazine - Thursday, September 18, 2003
The Michigan Daily - Weekendiagaine
By Charles Paradis
Daily Weekend Editor
While some might know that
the band was the first to
create a script version of
Ohio, few know that it started as an
unfunded student group that almost
didn't survive. Of course, every
fan has seen the drum
Over 100 years ago, in the fall of 1896, Harry
dePont, a 17-year-old University student, marched
into University President James Burnt Angell's
office and asked that the University grant a new stu-
dent organization a place to practice. DePont had
formed a band of almost 30 students, and while it
received no funding, his only request was for a venue
where the band could hold practice.
History records that Angell offered assistance, on
the condition that dePont could prove that he was
undertaking "a sincere venture." The two agreed that
the band would play at the Law School's celebration
of George Washington's birthday.
A few months later, on Feb. 22, 1897, the
Michigan Band played its first-ever public perfor-
mance. DePont praised it as a success and Angell
agreed to allow the band to practice in a University
building. The following year, the band began to play
at football games and, as they say, the rest is history.
That history is the development of one of the pre-
mier marching bands in the nation. One of the oldest
bands, the Michigan Marching Band benefits from
its great traditions, and with the guidance of its direc-
tors, the band has avoided becoming outmoded and
has remained at the forefront of college bands.
"I would say that the Michigan band is a nice mix
between traditional Big Ten bands and the new mod-
ern drum-core style marching," said Prof. Jamie Nix,
director of the Michigan Marching Band. "We have
a nice balance between old-school traditional style
and a more modern style."
From its humble beginnings of a few dozen stu-
dents, to the currently over 350-member band,
including reserves, the Michigan Marching Band,
like the famous winged helmets, has become one of
the enduring symbols of Michigan football. From
pre-game to post-game, the band is an integral part
of every Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
"It is an essential tradition and it really helps get
the spectacle of a Michigan football Saturday
going," drum major Matt Cavanaugh said. "I really
see it as huge support for the team. I think that's a
huge importance right there."
What the fans see on the field is just a small part
of the time and effort the band puts into the show. For
last week's game, the band had to learn 20 pages of
drill, the choreographed movements and six minutes
of new music, in just one week.
"The thing that is hard in one-week prep is that the
students have to memorize all their music," Nix said.
"Not only are they learning music but they are also
trying to memorize it at the same time. In a one-
week show, it takes a lot of hard work on their part to
get it right."
The music and the movements aren't the only
things that change week-to-week for the band. With
100 reserves, the band has weekly challenges on
Fridays after rehearsal to see who will be in the per-
formance block for Saturday's show. The reserves
push those in the performance block to be the best
they can be, all the while trying to earn a spot on the
field Saturday. Some weeks, as few as 10 to 15 peo-
ple will switch between the two blocks, while in
other weeks, between 30 and 40 members will make the swap.
"It is an adrenaline rush because you hope you make it for the
following game, but even if you don't, you can still make it next
week," tuba rank leader and fanfare director Eric Hachikian said.
Regardless of what block a particular band member is in,
rehearsal time is very intensive. During the school year, the band
practices on Elbel Field from 4:45 in the afternoon till 6:15 p.m.,
and then practices for two hours before the game Saturday. Hours
upon hours of time are spent to ensure that the band puts on its
best possible performance. But, this intensive schedule is nothing
compared to what the band goes through before school starts.
It may be called band week, but as Nix says, it's more like band
fortnight. During the two weeks leading up to school, before all
the other students have arrived and before the festivities of
Welcome Week have begun, the marching band goes through
what Nix calls a "grueling" two weeks of practice. From 9 a.m.
till 9 p.m. the band practices in the harsh Ann Arbor heat. But, as
is so often the case, all the hard work is worth it in the end.
"Sure it is annoying having to be here two weeks before
everyone else, but after the two weeks you feel, especially after
the first football game, that all the hard work has played off."
Hachikian said. "There are rewarding things that go on through
the week. As the weeks go on you see the pre-game shows and
half-time shows come together."
Twice during practice this summer, a few Michigan football
players, who had already finished their day's work, wandered over
to listen to the band play. In recent years, the relationship between
the band and the football team has strengthened, due in part to a
tradition that takes place during band week. The band comes to
watch the end of the last football practice before the season. After
the football team finishes, the band takes the field and performs
their pre-game show.
"The football players watch our show and really seem to like
what we are doing," Nix said. "What we do in pre-game is very
athletic and they are usually pretty impressed by how physical
the pre-game show is. It is also a great opportunity for our stu-
dents to be able to show what they do to the players, because
they never get to see it."
Not only did the band perform in front of the team, but
Cavanaugh also was able to address the football players.
"I couldn't believe it," Cavanaugh said about speaking to
the football team. "I got to do it last year as well. It was after
we had done the pre-game performance. Coach Lloyd Carr
gave a talk and said, 'Now men take a knee, cause someone
wants to talk to you.'
"I had to keep walking back and forth because my knees were
shaking so much. I basically told them, we are gonna be there
for them. We are there to support them and to be there for them.
There is a lot of expectations from some people, but no matter
what, we will be there to support them."
While the band wants to see the football team take the field and
crush its opponents every Saturday, the Michigan Marching Band
has an alternative philosophy of measuring itself. Instead of com-
paring themselves to other collegiate bands, the band has an
uncomplicated measuring stick. Simply put, the band strives to
achieve one - albeit tough - aspiration: excellence.
"We don't compete with other bands," Nix said. "Our philoso-
phy here at Michigan is that we are competing against a standard.
We always want to have the highest standards of excellence in
whatever we do. We try to set the bar for college bands, in the way
we play the music, in the way we march and the way we integrate
the total package. We push the students to achieve excellence
rather than to be better than another band."
As for his students, Nix says, "They are the hardest working
band in the country. They have got to be the best band students in
the country and they are just awesome and great people."
After three years of graduate work at the University, Nix took
over as director of the marching band in 2001, a position he refers
to as a dream job. In his time with the band he has seen students
come in, mature and graduate, all the while participating in the
band. With thousands of alumni, including the Alumni Band, who
play at some of the basketball games and the Blast from the Past
during homecoming, the Michigan Marching Band is as much a
family as an institution. It shapes the lives of all those who partic-
ipate and leaves an indelible mark on the ranks of performers.
"When they leave the program they are so well rounded," Nix
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major's backbend when the marching
band takes the field shortly before
kickoff, and has sung along as the
band plays "Hail to the Victors" after a
touchdown. But what happens on
Saturday is just part of the story ...