Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More Damn Sound

Back in August, we created a list of suggestions to improve the gameday atmosphere based on an interblog conversation between HSR and Varsity Blue. Some of them happened; the band played more, and they incorporated a rotating Let's Go Blue. One stands out, though:

Suggestion: 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.

(This didn't happen at all, but that's not the point of this post. It was nice to still have the drumline "featured" at the end of the first quarter, but it did nothing to unify the students. I had to listen to the drums to identify most of the songs; this means they should've been used more.)

This is indicative of a problem that emerged this year: The students can't hear the band. Some were quite turned off by this, as evidenced by these MGoBlog comments from Matt K:

Putting the band in the student section was a great big middle finger to the students. With the band opposite the students, the entire north end was loud and intimidating. I remember when the band pointed at the MSU huddle in OT in 04 and played the Victors continuously through a timeout. That was f-ing AWESOME. 2 other band related complaints: They're playing the Victors more slowly under the new director. And they're not nearly playing loud enough. I was sitting not that far behind the band on Saturday and I couldn't hear them even a little bit. OSU's band sounded like it was playing 4 inches from my face. It's not the band's fault as I understand it, but it's got to change. In terms of improving game-day atmosphere the band fell far short this year.
Not good: The students beyond row 50 can't hear the band. Unfortunately the decision to move the band was out of the band's control, and comes from the fact that the seats across the stadium sell for more than seats in the student section. Their PR answer was "student unity," and letting the southern half of the stadium hear the band better, but what good does that do? They didn't cheer any louder. The students need to hear the band as much as possible. His comments also suggest that the changes to the tempo and volume of the performances, Victors included, are drastic enough that "outsiders" are piping up about it.

On Tempo: I disagree that the Victors needs to change back to its Nix-inspired tempos. His unbridled enthusiasm affected the tempo at which the fight song was played, so not only was it very fast, but it fluctuated depending on the excitement of the play that inspired it. Some see this simply as his wielding of the Victors as a weapon to be used how he pleases. That's understandable. However, I think it should be rigorously maintained at the same tempo, and that tempo should be something close to the current one. The Victors should be above modifications to fit the needs of the crowd.

It's possible the students may just want a faster tempo because they can't hear the current one, which inevitably ends with them rushing three or four full beats ahead of the tune by its conclusion, and assuming they are correct. When they can hear it, they stay with it. This is why the band should be facing the student section in the stands, instead of facing away from them.

On Volume: Dynamic contrasts are important to the general effect of a show. A band that can perform a broad range of styles and intensities benefits from such versatility, which is essential for marching bands on the competitive circuit. Michigan football, however, is not the competitive circuit. It is 110,000 people who are probably not paying attention to the band. From what I've heard from shows this year, as well as comments left on this blog, is that the sound is being explicitly suppressed in the interest of such contrasts and "quiet sections." Again, this has its place; that place is not halftime in Michigan Stadium.

There is a simple fix for all of these problems: Play louder. We know it is possible; it's not like all the volume graduated last year. Playing louder would allow more of the students to hear the band, let them stay together on the Victors, and allow everyone to enjoy more of the halftime performances. The MMB did sound more balanced and rounder this year but it was at a significant and noticeable expense of volume. Row 80 does not care about legatos and mezzo pianos. Row 80 only cares about why their faces aren't being peeled off by the first note of M Fanfare.

George Cavender said it best: MORE DAMN SOUND.


Al McCord said...

Volume aside for a moment, the tempo of the Victors has gone up and down over the years. In the Revelli days, the tempo for most field music (including the Victors) was about 160. Things slowed down during the 80s and into the early 90s as the lockstep during pregame was emphasized.

I noticed that during the Lewis years that the crowd consistently "sang ahead" of the band. Sedatole reviewed old band videos and restored what he called the "traditional step" (about half a lock-step) and the Revelli-era tempo. Tapia and Nix increased the tempo ... now it seems that Boerma is slowing it down again.

Jeremy said...

I have some recordings from the '50-'52 season, and what surprises me is not how closely the Victors tempo resembles today's, but how fast they took Varsity. That tune screamed! OH how I wish they'd play that more, in any form.

Aram said...

Hey, I just want to play full Varsity -once- before I graduate. Just once. Time's up for marching band... Still hope for hockey.

Only every time I ask, I get laughed at. Seems that everyone thinks the song is a total joke.

And once again tradition, like the old band jacket design, takes a back seat.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

as long as i've been going to games (about 29 years now) i've wondered why the m band was so quiet compared to other schools'. if it's getting worse (i didnt notice), god help us.

Jeremy said...

That makes sense in the Big Ten. MSU and OSU have the only D-I bands that don't have woodwinds (besides saxophones). Additionally, Wisconsin's band seems to pride itself on sheer overpowering volume.

While we're all against tender, delicate softness, we shouldn't condone blasting out of control with a bright and terrible sound either; there is a comfortable range between these two extremes.

Al McCord said...

Sound is a function of many things, including instrumentation and size of sections, field placement, arrangements, and air volume (I had the good fortune to get an "A" in George's Marching Band Techniques class many moons ago).

Some bands are huge and cover the field (Notre Dame comes to mind). UM typically charts tighter formations, one of the reasons being that UM music charts are among the most difficult played by college bands (technical intricacy, exposed parts, high scoring).

Other bands have greater numbers of brass. Woodwinds add color and depth to a band's sound, but it is clearly the brass that projects the band's impact. If OSU is marching 225 brass/percussion players, then UM would need to field a roughly 300 piece band to put the same number of brass players on the field.

But I've heard UM push Wisconsin, MSU, and OSU off the field sound-wise. I've also heard MSU push UM off the field. Wisconin in the 80s had a huge sound, but IMHO are a shadow of their former sound and intonation seems to get worse every year.

Bottom line: UM probably has "top three" musical talent, and there is nothing technically that should prevent UM from having one of the biggest sounds in the business, even while maintaining good intonation.

Aram said...

Went to my first basketball game of the season tonight.

The sound problem has infected Crisler, too. Can't hear anything from the basketball band in the Maize Rage section. If I wasn't in band and didn't know what most of the songs were, I would have had no idea what the heck they were playing.

Come. ON. Volume, please.

jeffsl said...

In '92, we played Varsity, doing a 1950's era drill, and marching what is now called "traditional step." It was the first time this style of step had been used by the MMB since lock-step took over in the late 70's / early 80's. We were shown a video of the old band, and just like you said, they tore though Varsity". it was around 176 bpm.

I remember Jeff Grogan (former grad asst. and interim director), telling me prior to the '96 season that there was a big push to speed up The Victors from the School of Music. Hence, the re-introduction of the traditional step and the extended pre-game (and an excuse to scrap the lock-step). I remember watching practice and seeing them target 168 bpm.

I attended the season opener that year and enjoyed watching the confusion of the crowd during the revamped pregame. Pregame prior to '96 meant the Hollow Block M marching to the 50, then breaking up into the "formation of the week" while playing the visitors fight song. So the crowd was conditioned to start booing once the band hit the 50. Needless to say, there was a weird combination of boos, cheers, and huh? when the band started locking at the 50, still playing The Victors.

Agree that it was a huge mistake moving the band. Not only do the students and the home sideline no longer get to hear the band, but the sound doesn't get on tv as much anymore. Clearly, this was a decision by some jerkwad in the athletic department who didn't realize that sound is directional.

Lewis said...

There's only so much the band can do in regards to increasing volume under the new directorship. Dynamic contrast is emphasized to the point where it is taking away from the louder end of the scale, and the slightest bit of "overplaying" has been met with harsh call-outs, and more egregious examples (of which i've been guilty) with intense one-on-one scoldings, all of which makes it hard to be a soldier in Cavender's Army. I'm in agreement with Jeremy and aram 100%, but there's unfortunately not a ton we can do about it without leeway from the directors, and with all due respect, Boerma's still doesn't seem to be aware that he's no longer trying to fill a high-school sized EMU stadium, but rather the largest in the nation on game day. I think this will improve over time, but it looks like it'll be too late for me as a performer.

Aram said...

Jeff, great info there.

This may have been around the same time period (96-98ish), but I remember when the MMB used to stop the last lock step and just stand there just to screw with the crowd. "duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh... SILENCE... Trio." Hilarious.

I really think pregame is in some serious need of revamping, but there's several factors that make that impossible. 1: having the team be on the field for the national anthem. Drives me crazy that we now only play Yellow and Blue at pregame once per year. 2: The reserve system makes it nearly impossible to put anything new into pregame, given the amount of turnover from week to week. You can't do anything innovative when people are constantly learning new spots. One of the many deficiencies of the "let's be nice and give everyone a chance!" system. 3: Given the decreased amount of time spent on pregame this season, which is likely to translate into future seasons, you can't even begin to put a wrinkle into any of it without making it a total mess.

I've read that there were pregames in the 50's where Revelli didn't even play the Victors! So much emphasis is put on the fact that pregame is this strictly traditional thing that never changes and the sanctity of it must be maintained, blah blah blah... No way.

Jeremy said...

New pregame: Full Varsity into full Calyptors. Make it happen.

Al McCord said...

I really like the Let's Go Blue "four corners" bit ... that got put in shortly after 9/11 ...

One pre-game bit that would be fairly easy to do would be to have the band to to one corner of the stadium (a different corner each game) with a Victors trio and then lockstep ... and then play a reprise from a prior halftime show (or even Calyptors to make Jeremy happy). Guaranteed great crowd response from whichever corner was visited ... and it would be fun for band members to play into the southeast corner when the OSU band was sitting there :-)

Aram said...

I would like to note that the Michigan volleyball band became the first Michigan student band in quite some time to play FULL VARSITY tonight at the NCAA tournament game at Crisler.

I can now leave the Michigan Bands a complete and fulfilled man.

jeffsl said...

With regards to volume, here's a comparison of the wind instrumentation between MMB, MSU, and tOSU, the bands in the Big Ten that I consider to be the elite ones. (I included what I think the MMB Pregame block is, since it's considerably smaller than the halftime block. More recent members feel free to correct my numbers):

Instrument MMB/MMB(Pre)/MSU/tOSU
Trumpet: 48/48/48/44
Eb Trumpet: 0/0/8/10
Flugelhorn: 0/0/0/18
F Horns: 24/12/24/24
Trombone: 36/36/32/24
Euph: 12/12/16/24
Tuba: 24/18/16/24
Alto Sax: 18/12/32/0
Tenor Sax: 12/12/16/0
Clarinet: 24/18/0/0
Picc: 18/12/0/0

Total Brass: 144/126/144/168
Total WW: 72/54/48/0
Total Winds: 216/180/192/168

So it's true that our pregame block has considerably less brass than the other two bands. However, I think the volume thing is probably directed at halftime shows. In that case, the MMB should be able to crank out as much sound as the competition, based on number of people on the field.

Mike B. said...

As someone who played on the original turf in the 80s and then on the grass with the alumni bands in the 90s and now the field turf in the 00s, the field turf just eats the sound up. All the instrumentation in the world isn't going to correct that.

As to aram's comment about nothing being new in pregame, in the 80s we threw new things in all the time. The only thing that was constant was entry/fanfare/Victors/other team. Since we didn't do Varsity or Let's Go Blue except for homecoming, we usually added in a new song for pregame. This would lead to the one awkward time where we needed extra percussion for a song beyond the usual pregame 14, so 6 of us hung out by the goalpost until the band came down and then joined them.