The William D. Revelli Years: 1935-1971
With the arrival of William Revelli, things took on a new color and a new life. He invigorated the students he inherited; he recruited musicians like a football coach. Revelli required all male wind instrument majors to participate in the Marching Band. (In the fall of 1940, the University took over full management of the School of Music. It had been an adjunct part of the University since 1929.) This requirement greatly swelled the number of students in the Marching Band which made the rehearsal space of Morris Hall overcrowded and inadequate for the band's needs.
To raise money for the band's growing needs, Ernest Jones, the band's student business manager in 1936, convinced Revelli to put on an all-campus talent show sponsored by the University Bands, which they called Varsity Night. By the 1960s, this annual fund-raising concert had evolved into Bandorama which features all the University Bands.
No advertising allowed!
Since the Falcone years, Buick and Chevrolet had sponsored occasional trips for the Marching Band to attend out of town games. In 1938 in the belief that he was expressing appreciation to Buick for all it had done for the Marching Band, Revelli and the ROTC drill master came up with the idea of moving the letter "I" from a "Buck -- I" formation -- it was the OSU game -- and moving it between the "u" and the "c" in "Buck" creating the word "Buick" while playing the Buick theme song. Revelli thought it was a clever idea. The next morning, at 2:00 am, Athletic Director, Fielding H. Yost called Revelli at his home. "Young man," Yost shouted, "never do that again!" Advertising, after all, was not allowed on the gridiron!
World War II and the Michigan Band
When the United States declared war in 1941, most University bands throughout the country ceased operations. Because the University of Michigan was declared a major officer training center, the government ordered the band program to continue. The themes of the half time shows were patriotic and supportive of the home front victory programs. By 1945, personnel substitution was constantly necessary as active members were called into service at literally a moment's notice. A band member might be present at a Friday afternoon drill but be called to duty by Saturday's game. Unlike other Universities -- the few which still maintained a band program during the war -- the Michigan Marching Band did not resort to admitting women -- a source of pride at the time.
After the war, the MMB severed its connections with the ROTC and Harold Ferguson was hired to prepare the formations and drilling of the band. The University of Michigan became the school of choice for many returning veterans from the war. Unlike other schools which during the post war years had to rebuild their programs from scratch, the Michigan Band was at full strength as it had never stopped operating. In 1947, out of 230 applicants, 131 were selected -- including several graduate students. Many were former service men -- such as George Cavender -- who before the war were instrumental music teachers in the public schools. The returning veterans were older than the students with whom Revelli had previously taught. Having seen the world and having survived the horrors of war, these older students were more mature and were eager to resume "normal" lives. Revelli later remarked that working with these men changed his perspective forever as he realized that he could expect and attain even higher standards than before.
Innovation and Change: Harold Ferguson and Jack Lee
Harold Ferguson began to introduce significant changes to the marching style of the band such as faster tempos and the abandonment of the old military style step. On September 27, 1947, the band made its first appearance on television at the Michigan-Michigan State game. At the end of that same season, the Marching Band made its first appearance at a Rose Bowl on January 1, 1948 before a crowd of 93,000. Influenced by the new high step marching style witnessed at the Ohio State game in November, the MMB introduced this innovation at its Rose Bowl performance. The fast paced performance was praised for its musicianship and precision. With a nationwide audience, the MMB received unparalleled attention that brought it recognition everywhere.
In the fall of 1948, Jack Lee was appointed as the new Assistant Director of the University of Michigan Band. A graduate of Ohio State University, Lee was a fountain of ideas concerning marching bands. He refined many of the changes that Harold Ferguson had introduced during the previous year. It was Lee who conceived the idea of the band's pre-game tunnel entry at a cadence of 200 steps per minute. Lee began experimenting with instrument placement on the field. Under the old military arrangement, instruments were placed in a haphazard manner. Lee believed that placing instruments in strategic formation increased the sound projection. Also, in 1948, the Lambda Chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, the National Honorary Band Sorority, was established.
In 1949, Revelli and Lee organized the University of Michigan Band Day held in Michigan Stadium. Twenty-nine high school bands from the state of Michigan -- numbering 1,850 members -- marched into the stadium, and along with the Michigan Band formed two formations: "Sousa" and "USA". As the popularity of Band Day grew, the logistics of creating formations became impossible. By the mid 1960s, George Cavender was faced with the task of squeezing 14,000 high school band students onto the football field!
Another Jack Lee innovation was the introduction of the dance steps to the half time shows of the MMB. Beginning with a dance routine to the tune Alexander's Rag Time Band which proved to be a big hit with the crowd, others soon followed -- Five Foot Two -- Eyes of Blue, Me and My Shadow, and The Saint Louis Blues. At the end of the 1951 school year, Jack Lee left Ann Arbor to become Director of Bands at the University of Arizona.
The Michigan Band finds a new home
In 1946, the band moved to a "new" home, Harris Hall, which during the War had been used as the University USO center. Revelli quipped that the band was making "progress" as it moved from a building built in 1854 -- Morris Hall -- to one built in 1888! A majestic example of Ann Arbor's Romanesque architecture, Harris Hall provided the band with the storage and rehearsal space that it needed. The large upstairs room with its plaster walls and wooden floor provided the perfect acoustical setting for a band rehearsal. Revelli later would claim that the "Michigan Band sound" was in part due to the perfect acoustics of Harris Hall and Hill Auditorium. The lower floors of Harris Hall were used as teaching studios by the members of the Wind Instrument faculty. The sounds of the various instruments wafted gently through the thin walls -- it was a glorious sound. Harris Hall was a beloved home for the Michigan Band and created a real sense of pride.
The Blast from the Past
During the Homecoming Weekend of November 1950, sixty-five former Michigan bandsmen attended a reunion which resulted in the formation of the University of Michigan Band Alumni Association. In 1953, the Alumni Band began to join the regular band playing and marching at the Homecoming pre-game and half-time shows. This Blast from the Past -- a phrase coined by Band Alumnus, Roger Jacobi, and used ever since -- has become an annual event of Michigan's Homecoming weekend.