How did they do it? University of Michigan marching band explains the extravagance of the 9/11 light show
ANN ARBOR, MI – About 15 seconds after the University of Michigan Marching Band began halftime on September 11, more than 108,000 people in attendance let out a collective expression of fear.
The usual appreciation for the group’s precision turned to a flickering admiration when the group’s all-white uniforms began to light up. At first, the more than 400 members of the group lined up in colors of corn and blue to spell out “heroes” in memory of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As the group moved on to “Mambo” from “West Side Story”, the colors began to oscillate between red, white and blue. Each transition to a new song and a new color let out the same collective dread or hoarse cheers.
The vivid light effects begged the question: how did they do it? The answer: It took more practice and coordination than any other show the band has put on, its director John Pasquale said.
Pasquale and Richard Frey, the group’s assistant director, began collaborating with Timothy Durant and his Los Angeles-based company Pix Mob in March. As Frey created the lineups and he and Pasquale perfected the group’s movements, Durant’s job was to provide the LED lights and other tech logistics to make the show pop.
Before that, the trio needed a concept. Once the announcement came that the game would fall on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Pasquale and Frey sought to create a show that struck a balance between reverence and celebration.
Finding that tone was one of the biggest challenges, Frey said.
“I think a heavy, dark halftime show would have paid homage, but wouldn’t have elicited the same type of emotional response,” he said.
The show, titled “We Remember,” expressed themes of unity through immense tragedy, Pasquale said, echoing the unity felt by the nation after Sept. 11, 2001. The show was to be “patriotic to large scale, “said Durant, but also” human and intimate. “
To push the boundaries towards this larger scale, Frey reached out to Durant, whose work includes the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics in 2018 and a halftime performance of UM in 2014. Durant’s work consisted of taking the position data of each member of the group at every moment and synchronizing the lights accordingly.
“We were able to take these random numbers – one for each musician, then extras for the flags and hats. We ended up with something like 650, 660 individual lights, ”Durant said. “And then based on Richard’s to-do list of all these people, we then assigned them individually one by one to everyone in the group. We were able to control each one individually.
The subsequent announcement of the night game and the complexity of the technology took days up to 6 p.m. the week leading up to the final performance, Durant said.
After months and months of Zoom meetings, as well as the delivery of the band’s uniforms and materials affixed with the lights, Durant made the band a part of the week of the show. The trio established “a bit of a command post” at Revelli Hall, the group’s rehearsal building, he said.
The final week consisted of completing the marching band’s exercise routine, installing flood lighting, coordinating the airship, and figuring out how to remove so much ambient light to maximize the lighting effects.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the show preparation, however, is that there was only one full rehearsal with lighting effects before the game.
That’s right. A.
“That night we’re trying to figure out how to coordinate specific floods of lights and all kinds of directions and time changes and all kinds of things,” Pasquale said. “But the first real test we did with everything was live on Saturday.”
Despite the technological and time challenges, the show exceeded the expectations of Pasquale, Frey and Durant. The potential for future halftime shows with a similar flair is definitely desired, Pasquale said.
“We would like to continue to push the boundaries as often as humanly possible,” he said.
Read more from The Ann Arbor News:
1 fan arrested, 3 kicked out of University of Michigan football game against Washington
Michigan Medicine Nurses Not Required Vaccinations Due To Union Contract
‘Bad news’ for displaced University of Michigan students: move in delayed until November