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Strike up the band

By Deborah Holdship
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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.”

Hear more “Listen In, Michigan” podcasts. Subscribe at iTunesTunein, and Stitcher.

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.

COMMENTS

  • Suzanne MacLennan - 1985

    It’sgreattobeamichiganwolverine! Go MMB!

    Reply

  • Bob Houts - 1970

    Enjoyed the Podcast and it brought back many memories. However, unless my mind is gone, that was not M Fanfare which I love, that was the introduction to the Victors you kept playing.

    Reply

    • Deborah Holdship

      Ha! Not YOUR mind, Bob. The proper link is up now with all the requisite Fanfare at the end.

      Reply

      • Bruce Galbraith - 1962 & 1963

        Thank you Deborah. Jerry Bilik is a legend among those of us that played in the Michigan bands. He wrote and arranged all of the Big 10 fight songs, which the 1961 Russian tour band recorded the morning after their jubilant return home concert in Carnegie Hall.
        Bruce
        Need more Bilik anecdotes? He’s clever, funny and one of the most creative people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. He helped create a program for “Sounds of 76″, a bicentennial program that we toured all over the state of Michigan – way back when.

        Reply

        • Ann Klotz

          Bruce–how lucky I am to have discovered your connection to Jerry, my formidable father-in-law, some years ago. Two exceptional music men.

          Reply

  • Henry Yee - 63 and 65

    It was in 1960 arriving on campus about a week before classes that a bunch of us wanted to get out and enjoy the beautiful day. Several bookstores were playing a new record called “Touchdown USA.” Being in the school spirit, we each bought a copy. We were listening to it when a couple of students came in to listen. We found out they were listening to themselves; they were members of the Michigan Marching Band who were part of the concert band that made that recording under the direction of Dr. Rivelli. One of them, Dick Perkins, later became Music Director at Royal Oak – Dondero High School.

    Some trivia we learned from those two guys: the recordings were made indoors, not at The Big House (that should have been obvious if we had just thought about it); and most or all the arrangements were by Jerry Bilik, who had become an institution in his time there.

    At first, we didn’t notice any particular characteristics of the arrangements, but after listening as long as we did, we could say Jerry Bilik was there, in the intros and transitions, but especially in the endings.

    On football Saturdays we would blast that music out our windows; three music set-ups coupled by phono cables down the hall. It would have been easier and safer if we had Bluetooth back then.

    Reply

  • Roger Hilbert - Undergrad 1953-56. Medical School graduate 1960

    What a thrill to hear & read about Jerry Bilik. I played snare drum in the marching band under Dr. Revelli from 1953 through 1956 (took drum lessons from Dr. Cavender while in HS). Jerry was much admired by me & fellow band members for his lively & innovative arrangements. We practiced every week day from 4-6pm & again Saturday morning before the game. It was very intense, but great fun to be part of such a well trained group. Dr. Revelli was a tough taskmaster, but it paid off. Our lead drummer Ron Fremlin counted the cadence of the other bands so we could come out faster!

    Reply

  • Henry Lowendorf - 1964

    I appreciate Jerry Bilik’s note about his under-the-wire success in the trombone auditions. In marching band tryouts in fall of 1960 I was 12 out of 12 sousaphones. Bilik’s orchestrations of Big Ten victory songs were loved by the band except for UM’s The Victors. I remember Jerry giving a public talk on how to make money in composition – write commercials. In my junior year as a science major, although I had no prerequisites except the music floating around in my head, I took a course in composition with Ross Lee Finney. Four decades later as a retirement gift to myself I began again to study music composition. Thanks, Jerry, for the inspiration.

    Reply

  • Henry Yee - 63 and 65

    To be 12th out of 12 for the Michigan Marching Band is like barely making the cut for the Olympics; it’s nothing to be ashamed about. One of the other band members who played Sousaphone was a guy we called “Tiny” who weighted something short of 300 lbs. Tiny was very proud of the fact that when they said, “Band, take the field” he could high-step as high as anyone on the band.

    I think it was Tiny who told me one of Dr. Revelli’s edicts: “When you play the visiting team’s fight song, it is mandatory that you play it with such enthusiasm and precision that their band will say ‘Gee, why can’t we play our fight song as well as they can?’”

    Reply

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