Opinion: And the Michigan band, despite piped-in music, plays on
Change, as Sheryl Crow sung, would do you good. And it has done Michigan good when it comes to increasing the stadium atmosphere.
The traditionalists - and Michigan has a ton of them in its large fan base - have complained about the piped in music. Students have had issues with it.
And while, yes, the band would love if they could be the sole provider of musical entertainment on eight Saturdays every autumn, they might be the most realistic group in this whole hot-button issue.
They recognize the need, at times, for recorded music.
“In the moment, in Michigan Stadium, it has its pros and its cons,” junior euphonium player Cameron Guilmette said. “At the end of the day, as loudly as a marching band plays, we don’t have ways of projecting our sound 360 degrees like a speaker system would be able to.
“So the canned music, when it comes in, it sometimes has a great effect in terms of getting the crowd to be loud and what its intended purposes are. That said, most of the things that they’ve chosen to play over it just sound loud and boomy and the quality of it, it just hurts our ears and we have earplugs in.”
Michigan Stadium, with its carved in bowl set below street level, is an acoustical nightmare. Sound, be it cheers or music, escaped easily before the renovations.
Now, with the renovations in part designed to keep sound in, it’s better, but the sound of the band competes with the sound of 110,000 yells and oohs and ahhs.
And it knows it just won’t win. In the Big Ten football game management manual, a full band “is not permitted to play through amplified microphones during the football game.”
Michigan looked into it, spent days studying the possibilities and are ready to go if the rule changes. But so far, it hasn’t, so there is this conundrum.
So, no, the band isn’t playing softer. If anything, they are trying to be louder. They are using more directional playing, meaning they point their instruments at a certain section of the stadium to try and have as many people hear the sound as possible.
And, yes, the band director, Scott Boerma, has met with athletics as recently as this week after the Eastern Michigan game to discuss what has worked, what hasn’t and possible solutions, including moving the band to a different part of the stadium.
There will be no ideal fix, at least unless the league lifts its amplification ban. And even then, the need for non-live music will be critical, especially during the last five minutes of the first half, when the band can’t play because they are maneuvering down from the stands to the field for their halftime performance.
If there is one thing the band is critical of, it is what Michigan has decided to play. Many of the songs selected, from Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’' to Neil Diamond’s epic ‘Sweet Caroline,’ are things currently in the Michigan marching band’s repertoire.
It isn’t exactly Jump Around like Wisconsin or Zombie Nation at Penn State or even ‘Hells Bells’ before Michigan games.
“It’s good to have a couple pump-up tunes, especially things to get the crowd going in addition to what the band can do,” said Kelsy Wilson, a senior trombone who grew up in Ann Arbor. “But when they are just playing things that we can play already, it kind of, for us, it’s just kind of ‘We can play that and if we have a place in the stadium where we can project more to the stadium, that would be even better, too.”
Still, the majority of music played during the games at Michigan are from the band with interspersing of piped-in music when necessary. Through three games, a vast majority of the music has been band-produced. And to keep the college atmosphere - and tradition - there shouldn’t be an elimination of the band playing.
But change is inevitable. It’s happening everywhere as college football continues to grow into big business and big profit and huge stadiums.
“Let’s face it, when you’re in a stadium like the Big House, when you have 110,000 people, the band can only produce so much sound and only connect with so many people,” Boerma said. “The only way to really engage every single member of the stadium is piping in this insanely loud canned music.
“And so, do I wish it was not there? Sure. But do I think it’s just inevitable and just something we all need to work together to get a good combination on? Yes. And athletics have been very open to have those conversations.”