Scott Boerma reflects on 6 years spent in the Big House as director of U-M Marching band
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
The team rebounded, went to the Capital One Bowl and beat Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators, but the next year their record was 3-9, and the 33-year stretch of going to a bowl game ended. In six tries against Ohio State, there were five losses.
“This type of thing hadn’t happened to my predecessors since 1967,” Boerma said. “Our football fans look for things to complain about when the team isn’t doing well, and if you don’t think the band is affected by the results on the field, you’re wrong. Despite the disappointing seasons, the members of the band kept coming back, even knowing that they might not get to a bowl game in warm weather. They didn’t walk away. Our numbers actually grew during my six years, from 330 to 380. To me as a teacher, director, and the one who had to motivate them, the response of the students was gratifying.”
Boerma announced his resignation on Jan. 8, to be effective June 1, after being offered a new position as director of bands at Western Michigan University.
Now that things have improved with the football team, there is the obvious question: Why leave Ann Arbor and performing at the Big House on Saturday afternoon to go to a school that has lost more games than it has won in the past decade and has a stadium capacity of 30,000?
Football fans scratch their head and say, “What is he thinking?”
But Boerma, a musician, is thinking as a musician. “It’s a promotion,” he explained. “Here, I am Associate Director of Bands, director of the marching band and associate professor of conducting. At Western, I will be in charge of the entire band program, something that most in my field aim for. I will conduct the top concert wind ensemble, which is the band world’s equivalent of a symphony orchestra.”
And as much as performing in the stadium is a plus at Michigan, one down side is practicing outside on those cold, wet, windy days in November. At Western, he will be overseeing the marching band, not directing it.
OK, I guess I can see his point. But still, going from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo?
“Ann Arbor is an amazing city,” Boerma says. “It’s going to be tough to leave. I can say, however, that downtown Kalamazoo is flourishing and much more ‘happening’ than it used to be when I was a student there.”
It helps, too, that Kalamazoo is only 35 miles from Boerma’s hometown of South Haven, where his parents still live. And he will be closer to his younger sister, who is a professor at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids. Boerma did his undergraduate work at Western, before getting his masters at U-M and doctorate at Michigan State University, so he is well aware of the high quality of the band program at WMU.
But will you at least miss us and the football games a little?
“There is nothing like game day in the Big House,” he said. “I will never be part of that again. I will miss it. Watching my students run out of the tunnel, high-step down the field, with the crowd going wild it is fun, exhilarating, and gratifying. Standing on the ladder with my white gloves, leading everyone in The Victors or Temptation you can’t imagine the feeling. When band members look back some day to their college years, they will probably remember game days more than their academic classes. To me, it’s profound that I get to share that with them.
“I have also had the privilege of working with brilliant colleagues/artists in the School of Music, Theater and Dance (of which the bands are a part), who also happen to be great people.”
One member of the marching band, Jeffrey McMahon, the most recent drum major, remembers his first day in the band five years ago, wandering around Revelli Hall, hardly knowing anyone, when a man came up with his hand extended saying, "Hi Jeff, I'm Professor Boerma." McMahon had never met him, but learned that it was his goal and practice to memorize the names of each student in the band before they stepped foot on campus.
“In my musical career I have had many directors,” McMahon said, “but none has equaled professor Boerma in musical talent, dedication, passion, and drive... he was our leader, the object of our ire during cold and rainy rehearsals, and the object of our affection when the season was over and we looked back at all that we had accomplished together.”
Music was always important in Boerma's family, and continues to be. His father was his band director at South Haven High School. His wife, Amy, is a successful public-school music teacher, and her father played in the U-M bands when William Revelli was the director.
Boerma was a high school band director for 12 years and director of bands at Eastern Michigan University before coming to U-M. He has composed for concert bands, arranged music for drum and bugle corps and marching bands, conducted bands and orchestras, given clinics, among other things, compiling quite the resume. Even I recognized names like “President’s Own” Marine Band, Carnegie Hall, and Interlochen in the write-up.
Since 1995, he has arranged many of the half-time shows for the Michigan Marching Band, and hopes to continue doing so.
Boerma said he is proud of upholding 115 years of Michigan Marching Band excellence during his years at Michigan. He considers the many compliments he has received from band alumni as confirmation of his efforts. “I think we have been successful in bringing to life many different genres of music,” he said. “Of course, the most difficult, and impossible, task for the band is to please everyone at every football game. But we try to reach everyone’s tastes if not this Saturday, then the next or the next.
“We also try to be progressive in our eight-minute half-time shows, like when we interact with the video boards. That has its risks both because some people prefer watching the band by itself, and because we have to depend upon the timing and operation of the videos. For our highly-interactive viral video show in 2011, the power went out in Ann Arbor, and the video boards were out until just before half-time. One of the boards came to life just in time for half of the crowd to see the show, but the other half must have wondered what in the world was going on.”
Boerma’s favorite MMB half-time shows? “The Wizard of Oz, and Cody Martin’s Day Off,” he said. “Those seem to be a couple of the fans’ favorites, too. I also liked the patriotic theme we did at the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day this year. The crowd went crazy!”
If you want to hear Boerma and his band before he leaves — or at least 70 members of it — come to one of the remaining men’s basketball games, if you can get a ticket, that is. “As at football games, we play lots of tunes to get the fans engaged,” he said. “Our goal is to get people up and moving, to inspire them so they will, in turn, inspire the players.”
Bob Horning is a lifelong Ann Arbor resident who writes U-M sports human interest stories for AnnArbor.com. If you have ideas for future columns, please email email@example.com.