The Eugene Fischer Years: 1906-1914
Eugene Fischer -- better known as "Ike" -- was a student at the University when he assumed control of the band. As director of the band, he brought insight to the job that was unique, and for this reason, he had a special appreciation of both the problems and potential of the band. While financial problems could not be solved right away, Fischer was able to solve the musical challenges, and the results were lauded by the Daily which said that the band was "the best the University has had in years."
Varsity is born
During the fall of 1911, two Michigan students -- J. Fred Lawton and Earl Vincent Moore -- decided that the University needed a new song. (Since Michigan was no longer a member of the Western Football Conference, the words "...champions of the West..." as sung in the Victors seemed inappropriate.) Together, they wrote the fight song, Varsity, which was an immediate hit at the weekly Friday night pep rally in University Hall at which Moore played his new song on the Frieze Memorial Organ. Fischer was in attendance that night and, upon hearing Varsity, recognized its appeal. He agreed to play the march the next day at the Michigan-Case football game.
Michigan's first Drum Major
In the fall of 1914, the band's reputation was enhanced by a new addition to its "tradition" -- a drum major. While the band occasionally had drum majors in the past, the position was not a continuing one and did not have much importance. All that changed with the advent of a sixteen year old saxophone player from Portland, Oregon named George Olsen. Fischer learned of Olsen's background as a graduate of a high school military school and leader of drum and bugle bands. Quickly, Olsen was named Drum Major of the University of Michigan Band.
Under Olsen, the Michigan Band first began learning precision military drill. The "new" look of the University of Michigan Band had a startling effect on the crowds. At first there was laughter, but then people seemed to like what they saw. With the help of the faculty manager of the band, Samuel Hoexter, Olsen obtained make-shift uniforms of "canvas puttees and caps, similar to what the streetcar conductors wore." For coats, Olsen and Hoexter found some coats "from an old German Band" with braiding on them.
Olsen drilled the band every night he possibly could, and Hoexter worked "with every professor on the campus to make things easy for the boys." The following Saturday, at the game with Syracuse, the Michigan Band proudly marched onto Ferry Field, and when the crowd saw Olsen, twirling his baton in ways that had never been done before in Ann Arbor, it stood and cheered. At this, Olsen became so excited that he threw the baton over the cross bar of the goal post, and "luckily," he was able to catch it on the other side! The crowd, which assumed that this stunt was a planned part of the show, was thrilled. Since then, the goal post toss has become part of the drum major tradition during the Michigan Band's pre game.
The University of Michigan band under Eugene Fischer's direction aroused a genuine source of pride among the students, faculty, and alumni. In the spring of 1914, Fischer left the band to pursue a career as a dance band leader. During his years as director, he received little or no remuneration for his services as director of the University band. Thanks to the eloquence, persistence, and vision of Eugene Fischer, the idea that the University should control and financially support the band was firmly in place. In 1913, the Board of Regents agreed in theory to the plan which Fischer had advocated for so long. Adequate funding for the band was assured; a first class conductor would be hired. While the details of the plan were still being worked out between the Regents and Samuel Hoexter, the band during the 1914-15 school year was led by Herbert Richards.