So last week I launched another screed against piped-in music and included a line at the end suggesting that the best solution was to amplify the band. A commenter shot this down…
I wrote the band director last season and complained that I couldn't hear the band in Section 21. He wrote me back and was very nice but said that NCAA rules prohibit any kind of amplification of the band. I think that the completion of the new boxes will help reflect the band back to those of us sitting in the old folks sections.
…and I thought "awww" to myself. I spent a season or two in the band deadzone and feel for the people stuck there. Then I got an email from someone on the listserv of the College Band Directors National Association forwarding along a mighty interesting email from one of the marching band's assistant directors:
Recently, we were posed with a question from our Athletic Department regarding the possibility of amplifying the Michigan Marching Band and projecting it through house speakers during the game to maximize the in-game atmosphere.
Naturally, we have logistical concerns regarding amplification quality, delay, operation of the microphone, etc. Do any of you have experience with amplifying your marching band?
There followed a series of questions designed to get a handle on amplification, quality, delay, and whatnot; the point is that the Athletic Department is on the same wavelength, man. And unless the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, this is a legit possibility. Upon reflection, an NCAA prohibition on amplifying the band doesn't make sense when you can blast music from the loudspeakers at any volume you choose.
So then it's just a technical issue. HOWEVA, it appears to be a significant one. Another email:
Regarding your comment about putting mics on the band to make sure the whole stadium can hear it: it's a bad idea. No, strike that. It's a good idea that is nearly impossible to do with good results. I've been a sound engineer in various situations and capacities for 10 years or so, and micing an area as large as the Michigan Marching Band, outdoors, combined with a public address system would be a nightmare. (Plus, I know the guys at UM who would be asked about this, and I'm sure they would agree with me). It's bad enough indoors in theaters, which are relatively controlled environments. I guarantee it would sound like hell coming out of the speakers. Much worse than RAWK MUSIC. And that's coming from someone who is in complete agreement with you on that topic.
Just thought you'd like to know.
I followed up with this guy asking if a dedicated set of speakers covering just a portion of the stadium—the deadzone—would be more feasible. The response:
That would make it better, with less bleed from the speakers, therefore less feedback. The big problem comes from the mics themselves: to cover the band, one either needs a few mics far away, or lots of mics close up. The problems with either are fairly obvious. Fewer mics = more noise, more mics = more obtrusive. If you gave me a nice big budget and free reign to hang speakers, I might be able to do something tolerable, but that never happens, right?
No, it usually doesn't. Though if there's a money issue I'd be surprised. More likely are structural/technical ones.
In summary: it appears you can amp your band, or at least the athletic department thinks you can. They are looking into it. But they're going to find a host of technical issues that may make it infeasible.
The other option, as suggested to me by various band folk, is just to eschew musicianship and strive to blast people's hats off. Apparently the MMB has gotten quieter over the years as it's gotten more technical, and this is due to the people running the thing. They're not likely to change in the near future.*
Denizens of the deadzone are probably going to have to suck it up and deal with it. They will get some relief this year, when the sonic impact of the luxury boxes is complete, and in 2010, when they remove the pressbox and open up more space via which sound can flow to them.
Side note: judging from the volume (ha!) of email I've received on the subject and the comment count of the above-mentioned screed (currently pushing 200), this is a subject that arouses great passion around these parts. If Rodriguez wants to fire up the stadium he should threaten to pipe in a ton of music the week after Michigan loses.
*(I don't know anything about music other than "hit the strum bar when the note arrives" but I'm pretty sure I blame director of bands Michael Haithcock, who killed Yost's dancing band director tradition because he thought it was lewd or undignified or something and has overseen the MMB's dip in volume. Anyone remember that episode of Coach where Craig T. Nelson is at war with a priggish band director who doesn't see the importance of all this football surrounding his halftime show? No? Just me? Well it was just like that anyway.
It seems relevant that Haithcock's last job was a 23-year stint at Baylor. I think he caught the Baptist.)