Thursday, August 02, 2007

MMB and the stadium atmosphere

Varsity Blue asplode at the "despicable" actions taken by outgoing Michigan Marching Band director Jamie Nix! Seeing the MMB beacon shine onto the clouds above the blogosphere, HSR responds.

Both the Varsity Blue post and this response should be taken with the following caveat: Professor Boerma can and will do things differently. He's a legendary arranger who arrives armed with a war chest of music at his disposal. It behooves him to distribute it liberally this fall.

Tim writes:

In Michigan Stadium, the band is placed in the stand within the student section, so that the sound moves away from the students. This makes it difficult for all students to hear certain songs by the band, and nearly impossible for the poor freshmen in row 98, who can hear almost nothing the band plays.
There is no placement that would reach all sides of the stadium at once. Ultimately, they decided the band members are students and should be associated with their classmates. While the upper area of the student section may not be able to hear the band, the entire south side of the stadium suffered under the old arrangement. There is a possible temporary solution; these are addressed at the end of this post. However, the stadium renovations last year removed and flattened two rows specifically to accommodate the drumline and tubas. Relocating the band is not possible.

His next concern is legitimate for the most part, regarding the variety of in-game cheers played:
The students' participation in cheers led by the band is hindered not only by their inability to hear what the band is playing, but by an utter lack of these cheers in general. On any given Saturday, the band typically plays 3-4 songs with participation by students: "Temptation" (3rd down stop, with the claw and the "You Suck" chant – which I despise),
Let's never mention the Claw again; I maintain that it was an attempt by Michigan Daily football writers to rewrite tradition and invent the worst conceivable cheer to reinforce our proud history of not associating with Wolverines themselves (for the same reason we don't have a guy in a wolverine costume on the sidelines). Instead, they got bamboozled.
"Hawaiian War Chant" (I think, it's the one they play on most first downs, with the hands in the air and the "Let's Go Blue" at the end),
That one is just called "Cheer #1." "Hawaiian War Chant" is played during the postgame show immediately after "Temptation."
"Let's Go Blue" (random, with clapping and yelling "Let's Go Blue" at the end), and "The Victors" (With the singing, and the clapping, and the fist pumping, etc.). If there are any others I'm forgetting, let me know, but this is still sparse, sparse stuff.
If you don't get excited when you hear that one song "with the singing, clapping, and fist pumping," that is not the band's fault. Other songs that students get involved in include "Respect" between the third and fourth quarters of every game, and "Livin' on a Prayer" when warranted. "Ironman" may have been phased out by "Kashmir" this year. The Key Play fiasco is then mentioned and its persistence misattributed:
The band endorses the GD3DKPT by remaining silent, and wiggling their hands in the air, without even having keys to make noise. This renders them literally silent, at a time when every soul in the stadium should be making as much noise as possible.
Much has already been said about the GD3DKPT. At the very least it should accompany screaming at the top of one's lungs and never, ever replace it. However, as an "insider to the ways of the band," let me dismiss the accusations that the band remains silent. On third downs especially, it was quite the opposite. I can't speak for every one at every play, but having spent a year in the student section as well as four in the band, nobody ever supported the team as loudly, consistently, or vocally, with the intensity that the band does. This is true everywhere. The students in the band are the most supportive fans the team has.

The post goes on to blast Nix for not playing The Yellow and Blue at the final whistle:

A very important tradition in college football is the playing of the school's alma mater at the conclusion of the contest, win or lose.
In fact, the Michigan Marching Band does this.
Matt Leinart, confetti flowing around him, conducts the Sprit of Troy in "All Hail" after the Trojans clinch the National Championship over Oklahoma in January 2005. Jim Tressel and his fellow coaches and players stopping in front of the Block O to sing "Carmen Ohio," before (while) the students in Columbus stormed the field after defeating Michigan in 2006.
(The cynic's response: You want us to be more like the USC or OSU band?) Nix may have done those things anyway, but during his tenure Michigan never (a) won a national championship, or (b) defeated OSU at home to proceed, undefeated, to the MNC game. Sadly, all we can do is speculate. During his one Outback Bowl victory, I do remember BJ Askew climbing the ladder with his broken arm to conduct the MMB in "The Victors," which was equally poignant. We hope that Mr. Boerma gets to crack open the under-used folder labeled ABSOLUTE VICTORY this year.
[Nix's] (remarkably rude) response was that he would do things the way he wanted, and if fans wanted to hear the alma mater, they could wait until the end of the postgame show. I can only hope that the new director has the respect for college football tradition (and concerned fans) that Mr. Nix so clearly lacked.
A time-honored tradition at Michigan football games is the postgame show. The band incorporates the alma mater into that; as such, the alma mater at the conclusion of the postgame show leading straight into a Victors trio has itself become the MMB's tradition. Perhaps the people who lack respect for college football traditions are the ones who leave the stadium too soon after the game ends. If you really want to hear it, Tim, stick around. It's always a good show, and Y&B always gets played.

Suggestions for improvement follow.


  • Move. At least not until the next time they go through and dig up the seats.
  • Sell out. We're not going to pipe in German techno, or anything for that matter, nor should the band learn to play some tacky song just because it has words the students might scream along to.
  • Play the alma mater during the game. Stay for the postgame show. Y&B is also played during pregame at Homecoming.
  • Get the students in row 98 off their damn cell phones. Apathy is a worse problem than being able to hear the band.
  • Play more music in the stands. In general. More playing. Between plays, between possessions, and especially if the team is losing. No more frustrated silence. Those who stay will be champions.
  • Play fewer traditionals in the stands. This means less of The Victors, Let's Go Blue, etc., which are often played over and over. I understand the rationale for doing so: Calling up The Victors when the team is losing is a very safe bet. It guarantees people will pay attention and respond, but after a few times, it loses some impact. What to play instead--
  • Incorporate more halftime show music into stands cheers. This solves the first two problems in an easy way, since it doesn't require memorization above and beyond what's already asked (the main drawback to not learning new music, since we don't use flip folders).
  • More directional playing. Professor Nix occasionally would cue a song and instruct the band to turn and project their sound to a side, end zone, or behind them. This would have to be a song familiar to the band, so it can be played without a conductor in view (which may contribute to the "utter lack" of variety), but it excites the crowd that otherwise has not heard the band throughout the day.
  • Get students involved in the drum cheers. An advantage to the new location of the band is the students can now hear the drumline cheers. Coming up with unified chants/motions to accompany these drum cheers, which many sections in the band already do, could easily spread throughout the student section.
While some of the accusations were baseless, the bottom line is the band should -- and easily can -- do more to improve the gameday atmosphere. Non tam pares quam superiores, as they say: Each successive year must not be equal to, but better than, before.


Paul said...

Response to the response will eventually be up on Varsity Blue by the other poster... the one who spent 4 yrs in a high school marching band and really considered doing the MMB...

susieandrew said...

it wouldn't be piping in techno or other "popular" tunes, but what about just miking the band (although not so loudly that it's overpowering)? i wouldn't think that would be "selling out" and it would give a broader section of the stadium an opportunity to actually hear the band.

Unknown said...

Andrew, as a sound engineer, putting up mics in the stands around the band would not do much to improve the sound in the stadium - at least, not without spending a fortune on microphones and crew to make it happen. Sure, you could pick up some of the band and send it to the other end of the stadium, but area mics like this sort of application would require would pick up so much of everything else that I'm not sure it would help much. Just my $0.02.

Lexus said...

While "piping in German Techno" will never happen, how about never again to Michael Jackson? That molester hasn't had a hit this millenium, yet there are songs of his in halftime shows? Why is that? Because the band knows the notes? Because the band director came of age in the 80's? Why CAN'T we have music that has actually been introduced in the past 5 years? Other, less notable collegiate marching bands have done it...

Jeremy said...

The Thriller dance was a highlight of the season by all accounts.

Would you really want a Sexyback show? A Kelly Clarkson show? The band won't pander to the students like that. By pointing out that other, less notable bands have done it, I think that actually weakens the argument.

At least one show a year has played music "from the last 5 years," and that's really all they need.

Lexus said...

So let me get this straight. Because some people said a Michael Jackson themed presentation was great, we must live in 1985? (And playing this ossified music doesn't pander to anyone, does it?)

I don't see what would be wrong with a Kelly Clarkson or Justin Timberlake themed show. It just might indicate the band is willing to keep up with current tastes in music, rather than some timeworn, threadbare tunes from 20 odd years ago.

And to the point that the music isn't for the students, then why not just play what was played back in 1927, and never update the shows?

Jeremy said...

I'd bet few people in the band wish the MMB would "keep up with current trends in music" -- at least not more than once per year. That's just not how (Big Ten) marching bands work.

I think you're talking to the wrong guy. I would actually love to do a year's worth of shows from 1927.

Unknown said...

First, do you really not see anything wrong with a Kelly Clarkson or Justin Timberlake show? I suppose if you take raw musical artistry, appealing to a wide audience, a need for something more musically and intellecutally challenging than "Mary Had a Little Lamb", and general acceptance by the public at large out of the equation for what shows might work, then there's absolutely no problem. Put in your application for the Dean of The School of Music, Theatre and Dance, please.

And if you want music from the last five years, and you haven't heard the MMB play it, then you missed at least three of the shows from last year. Is your problem simply with Thriller, or Jackson?

Lexus said...


I guess the Jackson/Thriller comment is pointing to the tip of my iceberg. Playing those MJ mid-80's songs has gotten old, to my ear. Additionally, I'll grant you that the MMB has played the occasional recently introduced song. (Wait for it!) HOWEVER, I've found myself wondering, "how did they choose THAT song?"

And remember, all you MMB aficionados and defenders...MMB is there to entertain the masses (the great unwashed crowd, who, among other things, watch American Idol, purchase Justin Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson CDs, and listen to Rhianna). It's not an insult to play those songs.

Don't be an Athletic Department administrator wannabe, and act as if you know what music is best for me, when I'm TELLING you, play a broad range, and ditch MJ! (I would go so far to suggest sharing what the dealio is for a season, inside the gameday programs, showing what the theme was, by game, and the songs played. I think a decade-by-decade, or genre-by-genre tribute could be interesting...without MJ for the 80's! HA!)

Thanks for've been a wonderful crowd!

Anonymous said...

You mentioned that the band should play more music. I absolutley agree. Having something to fill dead time will get people more involved and improve the athmosphere.

Although it goes against your next point, "Hawaiian War Chant" it PERFECT for this. As VB demonstrated, even serious fans don't even know the song even though it's a great piece, a good pick-me-up and an MMB tradition. Make it into the anti-'Hang on Sloopy'.

With the band under new management, now is the perfect time for this to happen. Someone in the band Please, push this!

Aram said...

I think another thing the average fan doesn't realize is that there is an incredible amount of scripting that happens with college football games. Yeah, it would be nice to play at every stoppage, but there's announcements that have to be made, PSA's to be shown on the scoreboard, etc. etc.

You want us to play more? Maybe ask the Athletic Department to pimp less crap on the scoreboard.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is a very old post, and I am not a Michigan fan, but I am an alumna of the Indiana Marching Hundred and can sympathize with the band in the face of complaints. I have this to offer up: the Hundred used to be located in the middle of the Student Section, located on the East stands just to the side and behind the visiting team's benches. However, we got pegged for breaking a Big Ten bylaw that states that bands can not be situated between the 25 yard lines behind the visiting team. We were moved to the South endzone bleachers, far away from the student section. We miss them so much. My advice: tell your drumline (or anyone else creative) to get ideas for cheers, teach the band, and teach the student section as best you can. A good student section feeds off the band's energy and vice versa (snide comments along the lines of "Indiana has a student section?" are unnecessary and trite; we've heard it all before, and frankly, it's true, and that's just sad. Don't kick a fanbase when they're down. Just sayin'.) Great blog, I love your work.