The Michigan Marching Band performed two shows this football season-but not in the Big House.
by Jan Schlain
From the December, 2020 issue
"Everything's completely virtual," says MMB director John Pasquale. The 268 student musicians, flags, twirler, and drum major are recording individual performances that are being digitally stitched together.
Pasquale describes the first, originally intended as a live half-time show, as "a celebration of the incredible people on the front lines and the health care workers, and a tribute to those who are gone." "Hail to the Frontline Heroes" was due to be released November 28.
Pasquale and band members wouldn't say much about the content of the second show, "Bringing Back the Big House," scheduled for release to coincide with the OSU game on December 12. But "we've been recording marching and music, playing toward the camera," says tuba section leader Sara Jex, including pieces composed by the band members themselves. "We'll put them into a big audio file, mix it, and create the final product."
Jex says she "had the opportunity to dress up in the uniform and come into Revelli Hall in a socially distanced manner and record with a green screen in the background." But most students, she says, "are recording in their homes ... or outdoors somewhere, or on our practice field with some of their housemates or roommates. And so it's going to be a big collage of everywhere."
Drum major Walter Aguilar's responsibilities include drilling band members in marching. Last summer, once it became clear that there would be no "band week" practices, he made his own videos to demonstrate the movements. "I spent dozens and dozens of hours at local high schools, basically whatever was open--that was a challenge, finding places that were open. I was all over the place--at the beginning of the summer, it was Pioneer, then it ended up being at Saline. I also recorded some shots at Chelsea. And toward the end, once or twice, at Skyline. The Big House wasn't open. Elbel wasn't open. So we had to be creative. But it worked out."
out that Aguilar will graduate as "the only drum major in the history of our program who hasn't performed at a football game." He was allowed into the stadium for a socially distanced photo shoot with the flags, but otherwise the closest he and the other band members have come to a game is hearing recordings of their "stand cheers" playing in the background during televised games.
Has it been hard for the musicians to keep their spirits up during this losing season? "Even though the team is working through their game performance, the MMB fully supports them and the coaching staff, unequivocally," says Pasquale.
He adds that they also have a mission to make music as an ensemble, for themselves. "In terms of the experience, what we're doing is trying to make the best out of a pretty tough situation for everybody," he says. While he understands the students' disappointment at being unable to perform in person, he reminds them "that our experience is just inconvenience compared to those who have lost their lives, or a job, or have significant issues going on" in their lives.
He says he tells the young musicians, "What we need now is compassion and empathy and understanding. So, while it's okay to be upset about the experience, we keep in mind that people have it way worse. It's important to keep that in perspective."
[Originally published in December, 2020.]
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