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Strike up the band

By Deborah Holdship

Music man

Composer/arranger/conductor Jerry Bilik, BMus ’55/MMus ’61, never expected to be part of Michigan Marching Band (MMB) history. Even today, he seems bemused by such a notion.

But when he was just a sophomore in the early 1950s, Bilik (who barely passed the audition as 17th of 18 trombones) discovered a talent for writing and arranging that caught the ear of the legendary — and formidable — band director William D. Revelli. And any football fan who’s attended a game in the Big House since then has heard Bilik’s music. He is the artist behind “M Fanfare,” “Temptation,” “The Hawaiian War Chant,” and “The Block M March,” among many others.

While his fellow bandmates often quaked under Revelli’s notoriously fierce tutelage, Bilik thrived under the director’s mentorship. His talent took a quantum leap during college as he formed a father/son bond with Revelli, and grew to be close friends with his second-in-command, George Cavender.

Drummers Together this musical trio ushered in a golden era for the Michigan Marching Band, combining Revelli’s uncompromising insistence on perfect sound production, Bilik’s imaginative arrangements, and Cavender’s sophisticated and witty shows. As a result, the MMB became the most copied and admired marching band in the country. It remains that way to this day. (Per The Cavender Years.)

Bilik went on to a successful career as a composer/arranger/conductor for television, radio, film, and stage. Throughout his career, he has studied with Tibor Serly, Ross Lee Finney, and Leslie Bassett.

As summer gives way to fall each year, the Michigan campus literally vibrates with the sound of band rehearsal. The current director is John Pasquale, whose ethos is “exactly the same” as Revelli’s, Bilik says.

“He’s very demanding,” Bilik says. “And he’s like Revelli in that it’s not enough to be good. It has to be beautiful.”

It’s been decades since Bilik donned a band uniform and marched into the Big House with his trombone. But he’s in that stadium for every home game whether you see him or not. Just listen.

Tracks in the podcast: “The Victors,” “M Fanfare,” “Hawaiian War Chant,” “Temptation.”

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Deborah Holdship

Deborah Holdship

DEBORAH HOLDSHIP is the editor of Michigan Today. She joined the University in 2007 as editorial manager in the marketing communications department at the Ross School of Business, where she was editor of Dividend magazine for five years. Prior to working at Michigan, Deborah was associate director of publications at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. From 1988-2001, Deborah worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where she was a reporter and editor at Billboard magazine and an associate editor and video producer at LAUNCH media. Follow her on Twitter: @michigantoday.