Origins Of The Michigan Band
"A sincere venture"
The history of the Michigan band began in the fall of 1896 when a seventeen year old lad from Ann Arbor, Harry dePont, invited all musicians on campus to attend a meeting for the purpose of organizing a band for the University. The idea of a University band was not a new one -- in previous years, there had been several attempts to start up a band. All of these endeavors had failed due to lack of support. To dePont's delight, nearly thirty musicians gathered in Harris Hall on November 13, 1896 for an initial meeting where Ray P. Warren was elected the conductor. Warren, a talented cornetist, was a vocal student at the Ann Arbor School of Music, a private institution run by the University Musical Society at the time.
An entirely student-run organization, the band received no support from the University, and the biggest problem confronting the members of the band was that they had no place of their own to rehearse. In search for a suitable home for the band, dePont decided to go to the University's venerable president -- and close family friend -- James Burrill Angell for assistance. Harry boldly entered President Angell's office and requested that the University provide a rehearsal site for the band. Angell replied, "I shall be very glad to assist the band, but you must show me that this is a sincere venture." It was a safe answer; the president, after all, was a cautious man. In response, dePont assured Angell that the band was prepared to provide music for the Law School's annual observance of Washington's Birthday -- one of the most important events of the school year. On the twenty-second of February, 1897, the band performed on stage of University Hall, and in dePont's opinion, the band's performance was "a hit." President Angell granted permission for the band to rehearse in Room A of University Hall. Unfortunately, the thin walls were not sound proof and the band was forced out of the Hall and into the fencing room at Waterman Gymnasium.
By spring, the band had established itself as one of the most popular groups on campus as it played at all the indoor track meets and baseball games. It was at one of those track meets that Louis Elbel, a sophomore, tied the world record for the 40 yard dash. During Commencement Week that spring, the band played at the social event of the year -- the Evening Promenade. As the academic year came to an end, the Michigan Alumnus magazine praised the University of Michigan Band -- "a new organization this year" -- and hoped that it would be continued.
On the field
The fall of 1897 found the University Band beginning its second year with a new leader, Lewellyn L. Renwick, who was the instructor of organ at the School of Music. On October 7, 1897, the band announced that formal uniforms were "still a thing of the future." For the first rehearsal, the thirty-five members were reminded to bring their own instruments and music racks. With only a few days of practice, the band was present at the first campus Mass Meeting of the new football season and played "several lively two-steps which brought hearty applause and started the enthusiasm." The Michigan Alumnus noted that the band played at all "the big football games and mass meetings." Wearing blue serge coats, white duck pants, and "M" caps that were purchased the previous spring, the twenty-five member University band accompanied the football team to Detroit on November 13 for the game with Minnesota that Michigan won 14-0.
By the fall of 1898, the presence of the band at the football games had become an indespensible part of the Michigan football tradition. After Michigan's season-ending come from behind victory against the University of Chicago, a post game celebration began in the streets of Chicago. Leading the festivity was the University of Michigan Band. Among the revelers was Louis Elbel who thought that the band "didn't have the right celebration song." Later, Elbel claimed to have heard a band "singing" a tune in his head which he described as "victory song." At that moment, the refrain of what was to become The Victors March came to him. Thus, partly because of the University Band, Michigan received its great fight song.