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Posted on Sat, Sep 26, 2009 : 11 a.m.

And the Michigan band, despite piped-in music, plays on

By Michael Rothstein


The Michigan marching band performs before the start of the Indiana at Michigan game. (Photo: Angela Cesere |

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.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.



Tue, Sep 29, 2009 : 10:28 p.m.

"The comment about being a Michigan Band purist and Revelli struck me. How pure is pure? Revelli had an all male band until women were forced on him. The band had to reduce the pace of its quick stepping to accommodate the new members. He also required that the band be made up primarily of music majors." cmatteson. Re all male - Women were not forced on Dr. Revelli - He retired before the 1971 season. And male only was not so much a band tradition as a "Michigan" tradition - there were no women cheerleaders for football - and - a woman photographer for the Michigan Daily was removed from the field by the police (security) and told to stay behind the wall - women were not allowed on the field (unless from the visiting school). The discussion started with the photographer and within a couple of years the barriers started to crumble. Women joined the band during the 1972 season.. Funny, I never noticed a slowing down of the stride - the Victors is still at 160 beats per minute - although the band now does a half-tempo high step during the breakup strain of "The Victors". The cadence as the band emerges from the tunnel is the same tempo I recall from the Revelli era. The stride (high step) has been somewhat replaced by a glide step, which minimizes upper body movement, which should enhance the sound. It has been nearly 40 years since The Chief retired - and things change - as they should - Non tam pares; Quam superiores! Without change, the band could only be as good as 40 years ago rather than better than it was.. I don't recall a requirement that the band be made up primarily of music majors - I do recall that all male band majors were required to be in the marching band. Those who did not want to switched to a major in orchestra (grin). In any case, the music school provided a core but the engineering school and LS&A were well represented. There were even a few law students.


Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 7:03 p.m.

Tru2Blu76. Who cares what Bob Ufer would think. MOVE on!!. The guy has been dead for years. I prefer the band but this is not really college football any more is it?? Thousands of dollars for folks to sit in the sky boxes and watch the game on TV while they seal some business deals. Just look at what the pros are doing and that's what M football will look like.


Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 4:04 p.m.

The comment about being a Michigan Band purist and Revelli struck me. How pure is pure? Revelli had an all male band until women were forced on him. The band had to reduce the pace of its quick stepping to accommodate the new members. He also required that the band be made up primarily of music majors. I don't believe that is any longer the case. I am not complaining about the changes and think the band is still terrific. But when people call on tradition, I think they ought to remember all of that tradition and realize that sometimes changes happen because the times change and people want something the old way didn't offer. And they are willing to accept the things they lose because they want what they get from the new way even more. While you and I might like the sound of the band more, the fact is that most sports arenas pipe in LOUD music (too loud for me) because sports fans seem to like it. Why, I do not know. But then again, some football purists wonder why they have bands or music of any kind. After all, it's a football game.


Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 2:06 p.m.

Although I think the sound dynamics, timing, and selection of the music needs refinement, it DOES add more excitement to the game-day experience. It also keeps up the energy levels of the fans and hopefully the players too during long TV timeouts. In my opinion, anything that helps transform the Big House from the quiet, visitor-friendly stadium it used to be to a raucus environment is a good thing.

Cheri Murphy

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 12:24 p.m.

I heard the band a little better at the EMU and IU games than I did for WMU and ND. In fact, for the first two games, I didn't hear the band at all. It was horrible. Now, they do seem to be turning to face the opposite corner, which is helping a lot. The piped in music is played way too loudly through horrible speakers. Most of it isn't really pumping people up in the least. During the IU game, the Alumni Band played only a couple of songs. It seemed like in the first half, every time they would get their instruments ready to play, the piped in garbage would start, so there was no point. Home coming is one of the absolute best games because there are two University of Michigan bands playing the music the fans enjoy hearing. I still haven't heard Moose and Squirrel this season, but at least we did get to hear Hawaiian War Chant.

Deb Anderson

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 11:07 a.m.

I'm a Michigan Band purist. I'd rather hear the band playing any day over piped in music! The band was spectacular on Saturday and it was great seeing the alumni also. What would Revelli think of piped in music? I'm glad I'm not the one who made that decision, I'd be haunted the rest of my life by his ghost and he could be pretty scary in person if something rubbed him the wrong way!


Sun, Sep 27, 2009 : 8:26 a.m.

I am a long time season ticket holder. I think the game day experience is more fun this year. Of course winning has a lot to do with it, but it's nice to see people get fired up especially when the tv time outs and constant video reviews drain the momentum. I think the two (band music and piped in music) can happily co-exist.


Sun, Sep 27, 2009 : 7:24 a.m.

The Big Ten rule must be changed to allow microphoning of the band! We sit in the south endzone and the only time we can hear the band is during pre-game when the band marches south playing The Victors. As for the canned music - the sound is toxic, painful and dangerous to auditory health. The sound engineering must be improved!