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Thursday April 17, 2014
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Chuck Cowley

 

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Next to the bleachers, from the two-story director's stand, Scott Boerma leads the rehearsal. At the moment he's on the stand's lower level, wearing his microphone headset and issuing commands through the speakers below him. Boerma does more than just keep time through his hand movements--he explains the emotion of the music. "There's no edge to the sound, no anger," he explains after stopping the band in the middle of a piece. "It's just gloriously expressive."

"He's just so good!" Cowley says admiringly.

Contrary to the students' speculation, Cowley, seventy-eight, was never in a marching band himself. He sang in the U-M Choral Union and, before that, in the Men's Glee Club at the University of Virginia, where he earned his B.A. As a kid, he tried the piano but found he had a "much better ear than ability to read music. I would always listen, and once I heard it, I could play it."

It amazes Cowley how the band moves, synchronized to form complex shapes and spell out words with precision: "They all have these little booklets that supposedly tell them where to go, and they all get to the right places with remarkably little effort." The marching formations are designed with computer programs, and then the kinks are worked out in rehearsal.

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