Friday, September 18, 2009

The MMB and the Stadium Atmosphere: Straight from the Top

I emailed Director of Bands Michael Haithcock and MMB Director Scott Boerma regarding the MMB and the stadium atmosphere. They have allowed me to post their responses to my questions.

I offered my summary of the situation, or at least what the discussion involves: That much of the stadium can't hear the band like they used to, and the hypotheses given range from the new seats to fewer members to a greater emphasis on musicality over volume to the rubber on the fieldturf. Therefore, the piped-in music is necessary, because it's better than nothing.

Here is a portion of the exchange. First, Prof. Haithcock presented some national context for the situation:

1) The issue is not unique to UM! MSU had canned music played on Saturday while the band was on the field. Tennessee has a long tradition of the band marching to the stadium, doing a stadium entrance, and sitting in the stands prior to the game to play while the team warms up. At their first home game, the TN band marched into the stadium and was greeted with canned rap music. The band will boycott their previous tradition if canned music is in place. This does not solve our problem, but it does clarify that change abounds in the collegiate arena.

2) The pros are taking from college (the Pistons drum line for example) and the colleges are taking from pros. My sister is a high school athletic director in South Carolina and the HS fans want video boards and the same things they see on TV. The culture at UM has been very specific. Change comes slowly and reaction to change is always severe. I don't bring any of this up to lessen the reality of the current situation but to itemize what I have observed as a college band director over 33 years. [Emphasis mine. --ed.] We are dealing with a sudden shift in UM culture on one hand but a slow evolution that has been building like a volcano at other places. We are fortunate that in-stadium marketing is still off the table at the Big House. Many schools bands can not play the fight song during a time out so that a sponsoring soft drink commercial can be aired on the video board.

"BELLE TIRE!" comes to mind.

Then, he addressed the rumors regarding the band:

"The [enrollment] numbers have been the same in total size since before Prof. Nix left. The specific numbers of instruments change every year and always have. Those that claim the MMB is 'bleeding numbers' due to his leadership are either completely uninformed or have an agenda.

The same is true with the notion of emphasis on musicianship over volume. Is the "sound" of the band within the volume balanced differently? Yes. Is it less loud? No. This "personal" balance would be true of any director as it has been since the legendary Revelli. [...] The evidence just does not support the claim that the band is playing less loud than under Prof. Nix. Those that claim this is Prof. Boerma being a DCI guy and not a football fan just do not have a clue. DCI groups play louder than most college marching bands AND they play with sound qualities that have more staying power do to their blend and intonation qualities.

What would I or Prof. Boerma have to gain from encouraging less than full potential volume within the context of what we know about resonance, blend, and intonation. Those that want to blame me because my work these days is primarily in the concert hall are not aware of the true acoustical issues (you just can not "man up") or ever heard marching bands under my direction."

He points out that he hired Jamie Nix in 2001, Kevin Sedatole ('97-'98 IIRC) was a former student of his, and he hired two former MMB interim directors at his previous place of work.

"I did not, nor have not, changed my standards. [...] If I thought any stone was being left unturned to maximize the potential of the MMB, I would be working to fix the issue."

I offered my own opinion on the piped-in music (I'm against 95% of it). He says that this contributes to the relative volume:

"I will say that the modest volume of the pre-game music that existed previously has been raised significantly. Therefore, everyone who comes in the stadium prior to "band take the field" is treated to a new level of sound than ever before. If you combine this level with the new buildings, the amount of sound in the stadium is much greater. There is no way any band can compete with the number of speakers at the level of volume utilized. From my vantage point, I did not find the Western Michigan band or the Notre Dame band to be any louder than the MMB during recent home games."

Emphasis mine.

I asked two questions:

1. What, if anything, is being done to address the concerns that the band is inaudible to many in the stadium?

"The MMB was moved a few years ago back to the Press Box side after a decade opposite the student section. There were many reasons for this but it was instigated by athletics. We continue to be concerned that everyone can not hear the band in the way we all would like. We used to get the same complaints from people who sat behind the MMB when it was on the other side. We continue to get the complaint from those who sit opposite the visiting band. There is a reason Civil War bands marched at the front of the army with instrument bells that were 'over the shoulder.' These are directional instruments.

We hope to review the location of the MMB with athletics given the new acoustical situation and the reality of our new atmosphere. The band is working daily to maximize volume. Prof. Boerma and the staff will be working to face more directions."

2. How do you feel about the music being played over the PA? Did the MMB staff have any input in it, or was it a decision just handed down?

"I am realistic enough to understand that some variety of canned music will probably be with us going forward. The music selection, when the music is used, and the volume of presentation are all things I hope the MMB leadership will have some input on as we go forward.

The decision to implement canned music was essentially handed down. It has also become an increasing element at basketball games. There was an indication of how it would be used within the game that has been exceeded by a wide margin."

[Emphasis mine.]

[It] makes no sense to ban the amplification of the band and then play canned music while the team is in the huddle or approaching the line of scrimmage. You will remember that the canned music went beyond the line the band is supposed to cease in relation to the play on many occasions.

I suggested that this is telling the band "we don't need you;" he disagreed:

"I honestly think the message is a) we need the MMB to be 'all in,' and b) we need to provide this different experience to shake things up and get the stoic UM crowd involved in a new generation of UM football. The same changes in atmosphere were in place a West Virginia with similar displeasure initially expressed from the fan base. The MMB staff was made aware that these changes would come with the territory once the coach was hired."


Prof. Boerma agreed with much of what Prof. Haithcock wrote, but added this about his approach to rehearsals and performances:

My students are completely involved in the games, and I am asking them to play full out all the time. (As a matter of fact, my new dentist sits on the "visitors" side of the stadium and comments to me often how thrilled he is that the band is now more actively and boisterously engaged in the game than they used to be.) I'm not (or even have been) purposefully having them play softer; I'm constantly using phrases like "fill up that Big House with Big Sound!" Anyone who actually believes that I've attempted to make the MMB play softer is simply ignorant. Do I have a responsibility to make sure that the band plays with balance and blend? Of course I do. Do I want them to be the loudest thing in Michigan Stadium? You bet I do!"

On the architecture of the stadium as a factor:

"We were excited about the new press boxes when they were being built, because their slanting-in architecture was sure to capture more sound from the band. When we rehearsed in the Big House on the Wednesday before the first game this season, we noticed a definite change. However, when you suddenly add 110,000 fans screaming for a newly-proficient football team, there is simply no way to compete. Add to that the insanely loud canned music... All is relative."

On the MMB enrollment numbers:

"Reports that the numbers are declining in recent years are simply untrue, as Prof. Haithcock accurately reported. They've been the same all 3 years I've been here, which is truly remarkable, considering the football seasons we've recently experienced. However, JUST like when Prof. Nix was here, the numbers of certain sections fluctuate year to year, which is something no one can control. Jamie used to complain to me that he could never get enough euphoniums or tubas. We've got the largest tuba section I've seen in this band for years, and we have over the performance block number of euphoniums.

On the canned music:

"I am meeting with the people responsible for this in Athletics this afternoon. If anyone out there thinks we're just sitting around letting this happen, they're gravely mistaken. We take this VERY seriously. Most importantly, the people truly hurting about all of the nasty comments are the students in the MMB who are simply trying to carry on the incredible tradition. Please respect them and encourage others to do the same. They deserve it... and they truly are 'All In for Michigan.'"

Thanks to both of them for allowing me to share their responses. If you do choose to email either of them ( and respectively), please do so respectfully.

Beat the Eagles!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So the comment section of yesterday's MGoBlog post on noise/RAWK MUSIC/the band once again turned into a ridiculous sh*tstorm. I waded through a couple of pages this morning, got bored, and left for work.

Since nobody asked me, this is what I think (That's "me", singular. Not necessarily the view of HSR as a whole):

If the band can play louder, they should. NO ONE DENIES THIS. It's not going to matter to Section 11, though, because of where the band is in the stadium. I guess it could get better when the press box is removed, but the band is angled to play to the visitors sideline. Move the band to the north end zone, things probably get better. Ditch the woodwinds, things get louder. Both of these things are expensive propositions, and unless someone wants to earmark a substantial donation, it ain't happening any time soon. In the meantime, the band should turn and face the student section more often.

At the same time, RAWK MUSIC isn't the devil. Selection and use were better for the ND game than the opener, the players like it, and it has the advantage that everyone can hear it. It probably helped with the noise level, and I'm all for a louder, more electrifying stadium.

What I don't want to see hear is an NFL/NHL/NBA game, where you're bludgeoned with butt rock every time there's a break in the action. I will cut someone if I ever hear Creed or Nickelback played while the band is in the stadium. Piped-in music should be used sparingly, and I'd prefer it if they used music that the band can't play very well ("Welcome to the Jungle", "Lose Yourself", etc).

To any current MMB members: Holy crap, you guys are getting caught in the crossfire. Sorry, it sucks. Halftime, I know the dynamics aren't your decision and the musicianship is always top-notch. But if you could try to peel our faces off with a wall of sound on "The Victors" when you're in the stands, we'd really appreciate it.

There. I've said my piece. Unless something falls under the heading of "actual news", let us not speak of this again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tough as Nails

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

He is Bobby Kennedy. It kind of makes sense. He sort of has the aw shucks look about him and the hair, which belies the fact that he's as tough as nails. He's the guy who is standing in the front of the room in the moment of crisis screaming at a bunch of guys who are older and more experienced than he is simply telling them "I don't care how crazy, inadequate or stupid it sounds. Give it to me." He doesn't get nervous, because he's seen how his brothers did it, he learned from them, and he's made it his own. But mostly, it's because he represents promise and hope, at a time of turbulence when the people he is looking to lead need him the most, he is what the future may hold.

"All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity."

As many of you know, I am an historian by trade, and I have always been fascinated with Robert Kennedy. I've read almost any book I could find on him, simply because I always feel like there is something there, something more interesting than JFK, someone at the focus of what the baby boom generation considers the most important moment in the history of the world. And while by no means is Michigan football comparable to the magnitude of world affairs in the Cold War, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that Tate Forcier has a little bit of Robert Kennedy in him.

"People say I am ruthless. I am not ruthless. And if I find the man who is calling me ruthless, I shall destroy him."

RFK was seen by some as "...the brilliant one, the ruthless one, the guy everybody's afraid of." (to quote Stephen Culp's portrayal of him from Thirteen Days.) Tate Forcier has, in just two games at the University of Michigan, become a legend. He scrambles, he escapes, he makes mistakes, but he just manages to find a way. He's young, but he's learning, and if he is not seen as the heir to his blood brother who here leading us before, he is perhaps seen as the heir to his metaphorical brothers named Henne, Harbaugh, and Leach. But more importantly, he is not alone. He has Brandon Minor in the backfield with him, who is still the heart and soul of this offense. Look at this video and look at Minor whom the play is not being run through, blocking like his life depends on it. He has receivers, a array including Junior Hemingway, or LaTerryal Savoy, a career backup who made good yesterday (the drop was OK, in the Tyrone Butterfield variety. But Dave was right, if Savoy catches that ball, he enters the pantheon of players enshrined in the eternal Michigan highlight reel. As it stands, he still gets major credit for the play to get Michigan inside the five.) He has Darryl Stonum, who did it with the kick return (good grief, Michigan might actually have special teams once more!), and he has Kevin Koger, who has the potential to become a Michigan fan favorite simply by doing his job exactly as people expect him to do so. (The ultra competent possession tight end who can also block. And we thought that all of Michigan's offensive traditions were being foresaken?)

"It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task."

There is still a lot of season left to go and there is still a lot of time for Tate to grow, to mature, to fulfill the hopes and dreams of what will be an ever growing crush of expectations and demands. But he is a piece, an important one, and we can only hope that he keeps moving forward.

(Images from AP and from Life Magazine)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ten Years On

The '99 Notre Dame game was my first in an MMB uniform. It was ungodly hot under a cloudless sky, but somehow we escaped without anyone passing out. I tried to take it all in before pregame. I watched Notre Dame's band march up and down the field, dropping flip folders and plumes along the way. Then Carl Grapentine came over the PA, intoning, "Ladies and gentlemen, preeesenting the TWO hundred and thirty-five memberrr MICHIGAN Marching Band. Baaaaand take the field!" After that is something of a blur, trying to figure out the stands cheers, remember my music, and will the team to victory. At halftime, with the Irish ahead, Notre Dame played a tribute to Ricky Martin and we did a Star Wars show. The game itself was a battle, and it was Tom Brady and Anthony Thomas driving down the field to score the winning touchdown with a minute and a half left in the game. It was an amazing first game. I was exhausted and drenched in sweat back at Revelli Hall. Hopefully, ten years later we get another Michigan win out of the Irish.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

WTI: Western, Notre Dame, and RAWK MUSIC

Saturday, September 05, 2009

MGoMix 2009--Barker Edition

Geoff was right, I do indeed have my own mix for this season and here it is, with some explanations. Unlike 2008, no holdovers from last season (for obvious reasons):

1). Elvis Costello -- "Pump It Up"

Always a good way to start off any hype mix.

2). The Black Crowes -- "Twice As Hard"

In many ways, I suspect that this season will have the phrase "Twice as hard As it was the first time" feeling very appropriate from time to time.

3). Cracker -- "Get Off This"

New era, new coach, so the line "Get off this, get on with it. If you wanna change the world, shut your mouth and start this minute." seems wholly fitting.

4). Foo Fighters -- "Times Like These"

Sort of self-explanatory, also a rocking number.

5). The Wallflowers -- "Everybody Out of the Water (New Frontier)"

A song about an impending apocalypse. No, I am not developing a theme here.

6). AC/DC -- "Thunderstruck"

I think I am legally required to include this on any pumped play list.

7). The New Pornographers -- "Challengers"

I was playing this all the time that when Michigan was headed back to the NCAA Tournament last season, so I rolled it over here.

8). R.E.M. -- "Living Well is the Best Revenge"

Another one that sort of speaks for itself.

9). Oasis -- "Supersonic"

In honor of Coach Rod: "You need to be yourself, You can't be no one else."

10). U2 -- "Desire"

In honor of the spread offense and its rising ubiquity: "Over the counter with a shotgun, Pretty soon everybody got one."

11). Coldplay -- "The World Turned Upside Down"

Partly chosen to reflect last season, partly because this line I think speaks deeply to the fans: "What is this feeling that I can't explain, and why am I never gonna sleep again. What is this thing I've never seen before, a little boy lost in a breaking storm."

12). The Animals -- "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"

"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." Remind you of anyone?

13). The Dandy Warhols -- "Bohemian Like You"

"You got a great car, yeah what's wrong with it today?" Yep...

14). The Hives -- "Tick Tick Boom"

It's not hockey, but it also just gets one pumped up listening!

15). Pearl Jam -- "Dissident"

Solely picked for the gallows' humor aspect of it in light of this past week.

16). Beck -- "E-Pro"

A favorite of my college roommate and game day partner in crime.

17). The Smithereens -- "Time Won't Let Me (cover)"

A fantastic cover from Time Cop. I think the line "I can't wait forever, even though you want me too." Yeah, I think we can see the theme clearly now.

18). Tom Petty -- "I Won't Back Down"

"Hey baby, there ain't no easy way out. Hey, I, will stand my ground. And I won't back down." Well, here's to hoping anyway.

19). Dropkick Murphys -- "Cadence to Arms"

Bagpipes into a rocking version of a call to arms. Yeah, somehow this makes perfect sense to me.

20). J.J. Johnson & His Orchestra -- "Michigan Replay (Across 110th Street Theme)"

21). Michigan Marching Band -- "The Hoover Street Rag"

22). Michigan Marching Band -- "Temptation (Blue Album)"

23). Michigan Marching Band -- "Hawaiian War Chant (Blue Album)"

24). Michigan Marching Band -- "M Fanfare"

25). Michigan Marching Band -- "The Victors"

So that's it, that's the list. I hope you enjoy it and Go Blue!

Game Day Mix, 2009

Here's mine. Craig will have his own up, I'm sure.
  1. The Gaslight Anthem – Great Expectations
  2. Rilo Kiley – A Better Son/Daughter
  3. The Mountain Goats – This Year
  4. Pixies – Gouge Away
  5. Gram Rabbit – Devil's Playground
  6. The Hold Steady – Constructive Summer
  7. Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You
  8. Sleater-Kinney – start together
  9. Andrew Bird – Dark Matter
  10. PJ Harvey – The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore
  11. Drive-By Truckers – The Righteous Path
  12. Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
  13. Dinosaur Jr – Out There
  14. The Black Lips – Short Fuse
  15. Ms Dynamite – Don't Stop
  16. Clash – I'm Not Down
  17. The Budos Band – Up From The South
  18. Better Than Ezra – All In
  19. Gillian Welch – Wrecking Ball
  20. Heartless Bastards – The Mountain

And It Teases You For Weeks In Its Absence

This video should be in as many places as possible. Go to MGoBlog. Go right now.

Gallows humor was the best I could do last year. After the Toledo game, I quipped, "Nothing left to do but burn it down for the insurance money." And it felt like something was missing, like it did after The Horror. We weren't mathematically eliminated from a .500 record, but the team didn't look like it was even close to making that happen. It was only grim determination that kept me in my seat through the whole Northwestern game, that microcosm of a miserable season.

But nobody gave up. Frozen hands gripping the football, a saturation bombing campaign from Juice Williams, and an overmatched team struggling through a more than respectable first half against Ohio State only to give way to the inevitable. They'd play on.

And now we have a chance to begin anew. The moment before kickoff is often the sweetest of the year. The possibilities aren't quite endless, but they might as well be. Anything can happen before that first whistle, but only one thing will. It's the moment I'm most prone to wild, unchecked optimism. The cold, rational part of me was saying "6-6" in the offseason, but it's hard to keep myself restrained now. I can't wait for football to be back.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

WTI: The Return

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

As the season starts on Saturday, I thought I would take a moment to put down some thoughts on the beginning of the season. Not on the team, because well, I don't do well with player analysis or schematic breakdown, so instead, I am going to put down my thoughts on what I resolve to do this season as a Michigan fan. So with that in mind, here are my new year's resolutions (with occasional tangents!)

  • I hereby resolve to explain where we were for three months. (Yeah, um, life sort of got in the way. Sorry about that.)
  • I hereby resolve to remember to charge my cell phone when I get home on Friday night so it's fully ready to go for game day. (Between the Twittering and the efforts to check ESPN's scores from the stands, having a full battery is vitally important and each of the last three seasons, I have had at least one game where I went in with a undercharged battery and cursed myself for the failure.)

  • I hereby resolve to no longer call Nick Sheridan "Death" or "Sheridon't" or "Sheridammit" (He doesn't deserve it and I made my case as to why at MGoBlog earlier.)

  • I hereby resolve to do my best to save the Eagle and the art deco letters for the completed renovation. (Yeah, this one may be tougher than I thought.)
  • I hereby resolve to remember that these guys put in at least six hours (and probably many many more) during the week for every hour we see them on Saturday. (Yeah, I think we covered that yesterday.)
  • I hereby resolve to remember that one Brandon good, two Brandons better.
  • I hereby resolve to make at least one good Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference per game. (Try it, it really does make the game go a lot better. A personal long time favorite: "Good morning Doctor Meachem. Hope you slept well....'cause it's time to die!")
  • I hereby resolve to donate money to Brian Cook at MGoBlog because he not only deserves it, but he earns it. (Besides, that way you can use AdBlock and not feel guilty for taking money out of Brian's pocket. I recommend either $18.17 or $24.12. If you're going to donate, why not have some fun with it.)
  • I hereby resolve to use MVictors provisioning guide as a good place to start.
  • I hereby resolve not to even attempt to pick any fights with people in the seats around us and to let things go if they try.
  • I hereby resolve to remember that 2008 was bad, so that things can look better in 2009, even when they don't.
  • I hereby resolve to be very happy that Michigan Stadium now has Coke Zero and not give in to the temptation of regular Coke during the game.
  • I hereby resolve to support M-Den and its awesome Twitter feed.
  • I hereby resolve to add the Block M twibbon to my Twitter avatar. (OK, I made this, but still an awesome way to support the Maize and Blue I think.)
  • I hereby resolve to completely rework MGoMix for 2009 so that the demons of 2007 and 2008 can be exorcised in that sense (I will miss you "America, F--- Yeah" but it had to be done.) (Full play list post next week.)
  • I hereby resolve to use CoverItLive for Whatever This Is, because, well, it's so much easier. (I also promise to not go ape-poopy if the CILs at MGoBlog go poorly.)
  • I hereby resolve to not obsess about Michigan's recruiting class, especially as it now hits amazingly close to home.
  • I am sure there will be more things as the season goes on and I am sure I will break about half of these by the time the Eastern game rolls around, but you have to start somewhere, no?