Skip to main content

Many University of Michigan students in the Michigan Marching Band were not born when the tragedy occurred on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Their experience of this horrible day is virtual. It comes from images and stories in history, pop culture and personal testimonies. But there will be nothing virtual about the group’s light show and performance at Michigan Stadium on the night of September 11, 2021.

“We Remember,” produced with Los Angeles-based Durant Design, will be the most elaborate, extravagant and spectacular live program that college football fans will see that day, said John Pasquale, director of the Michigan Marching Band.

Backed by a giveaway from marching band fans Bill and Janelle Sykes, Pasquale promises Michigan’s version of a Super Bowl halftime performance when the Wolverines face the University of Washington Huskies at home at 8 p.m. ET.

“The content lends itself very well to being fully lit in the early evening,” Pasquale said. “We have the largest football stadium in the world and as a performance venue it allows us to honor and remember the anniversary in a unique, grand and respectful way.”

An illuminated extravaganza

Pasquale co-designed the program with Richard Frey, associate director of the Michigan Marching Band, and Timothy Durant of Durant Design, whose credits include live events such as the NFL Experience, the 2014 Winter Olympics and the tour. 2013 by Paul McCartney. Durant Design has done the Grammys, Emmys, and Country Music Awards, among many other live shows to stream. He also worked with the Michigan Marching Band during the 2014 season, three years after the first night game at Michigan Stadium.

The Michigan Marching Band worked with Durant Design’s Timothy Durant to create a similar light show for their halftime performance on October 11, 2014, when the Wolverines played at Penn State. (Photo by Robert Brown)

For the 2021 performance, each of the 400 marching band members will be carrying some kind of light, including high-powered flashlights, glowing orbs, glowing umbrellas and more. Of these, 275 marchers will also spin flags, spin batons and play instruments. Lasers, ultraviolet light and other effects will also be factored into the mix. Some 80 volunteers will be on hand, including other alumni of the marching band and students of the School of Music, Theater & Dance and the Pioneer High School Marching Band in Ann Arbor.

“We tell the story of America’s strength and resilience – we are a lot more alike than we are different,” said Pasquale, who taught at the college in September 2001 and had family and friends. close friends who were the first responders in New York that day.

“As Americans, we are a strong people. And we are stronger when we are united.

The same could be said for the Michigan Marching Band.

Group, take the field

The 9/11 soccer game will only mark the second live half-time performance of the 2021-22 set, which has spent the last 18 months in Zoom Purgatory. First-year and returning second-year performers have no experience walking as a full band, let alone in the dark, for 100,000 fans.

“We just saw our students for the first time a few weeks ago,” Frey said.

Photo of the Michigan Marching Band during their halftime show on September 7, 2019.
One of the many patriotic tributes the Michigan Marching Band has paid over the years was its halftime show on September 7, 2019, in the game against the Army. It featured the unfurling of a huge American flag and a full range of patriotic music. (Photo by Mark Haddelsey)

It took over six months to plan and design the program. The biggest challenge, he said, was to take such a devastating act and commemorate it in an uplifting way that showcases unity and strength.

“With all the technicalities, this is a tightrope that we walked on,” said Frey, who noted that the students understand the sacredness of this day. “They know that ‘never forget’ means something important, even if they weren’t directly part of it.”

Joy and sadness

In September 2001, Kimberly Baumgartner was working for the US Merchant Marine Academy in New York. Today, the alto saxophonist is the senior associate director of development and alumni relations with the band. The birthday triggers painful memories for her. But managing a community that thrives on excellence, generosity and gratitude gives her hope.

“They are phenomenal people who work so hard, and on match day one of the best things is seeing the stadium reaction when the students finish their show,” she said. “This show will provide a moment to reflect on what’s important and remind us to be nicer these days, which is extremely relevant right now.”

Baumgartner has worked closely with donors Bill and Janelle Sykes to provide both a special experience for seniors in the band and a poignant experience for fans. The Sykes family wanted to repay the group for three decades of entertainment at Michigan Stadium. Their son joined the trumpet section in 2018.

“We are honored to help bring the group’s vision to life on the ground, in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of September 11,” said the Sykes. “We admire the dedication of all members of the marching band and thank you for making our time at Michigan football games so special.”

The music will take the fans on an emotional journey. The program includes:

  • “Summon the Heroes,” John Williams.
  • “Mambo” (from “West Side Story”), Leonard Bernstein.
  • New York Medley: “New York State of Mind,” Billy Joel; and “Empire State of Mind,” Angela Hunte, Alicia Keys, Alexander Shuckburgh, Bert Keyes, Janet Sewell-Ulepic, Shawn Carter and Sylvia Robinson.
  • “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story” (from “Hamilton”), Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • “This land is your land / Stars and Stripes forever”, Woody Guthrie, John Philip Sousa.

The musical arrangements are by Scott Boerma, Jay Bocook and Chuck Ricotta, and the choreography is by Joan Noble-Pruett. The drills and trainings, which were written and designed by Frey, are kept secret until match day.

20 years and over

Choreographer and flag director Noble-Pruett worked for the Michigan Marching Band on that fateful Tuesday in 2001. It was a dark and frightening time of unknowns, much like COVID-19 for students today, has she declared. Athletics canceled games and events in the wake of the tragedy as Americans grapple with a new reality.

On September 22, 2001, the group performed “A Michigan Tribute” with the Western Michigan Marching Band. The program included “God Bless America”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful”.

Nobel-Pruett directs the Flag and Winter Ensemble. The patriotic flag silks that members used in the show 20 years ago are the same ones used today for the patriotic shows.

Returning to the field is an important step towards recovery after a traumatic and tumultuous 2020-21 year, Nobel-Pruett said.

“It’s exciting and terrifying for students, and it’s not like anything a college has ever done,” she said.

Baumgartner said she hopes the audience and those personally affected by 9/11 appreciate the tremendous amount of thought and compassion that was expressed in the show.

“I know there are a ton of bands doing 9/11 commemorative shows to honor those who were lost and survived in our country,” she said. “But our show is going to be the best. Unequivocal. No other group could do that.

Key words: