Michigan Marching Band’s illuminated 9/11 halftime tribute wows fans at Michigan Stadium

Michigan Marching Band’s illuminated 9/11 halftime tribute wows fans at Michigan Stadium

Marching Band paid tribute to those lost in 9/11 during a nighttime Sept. 11 halftime show at Michigan Stadium. Photo by Eric Bronson/Michigan Photography.

ANN ARBOR—In a dazzling presentation from start to finish, the Michigan Marching Band’s Sept. 11 halftime show on Saturday commemorated the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. 

Michigan stadium erupted in applause as the marching band’s members spelled out the word “heroes” to start the show while launching into John Williams’ “Summon The Heroes.” 

Throughout the emotional performance, which included lasers, glowing orbs, high-powered flashlights and more, members of the band created memorable formations of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, an outline of the United States, and an American Flag.

“We the people will tell our story of those lost in New York, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93; and the first responder heroes who ran into harm’s way,” said Carl Grapentine, the MMB’s longtime announcer during the show. “We the people tell our story of the incredible bravery of service members who defend our freedom.”

It was only the second time that fans had gathered at Michigan Stadium for the Wolverine’s game against the Washington Huskies (31–10) since the 2019 football season, as last year’s games were closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It was also only the second time that MMB members marched during a football game since then.

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

“Nothing like this has ever been done before by a college marching band. Ever,” he said. 

Pasquale co-designed the program with Richard Frey, associate director of the marching band, and Durant Design’s Timothy Durant, whose credits include such live events as the NFL Experience, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and Paul McCartney’s 2013 tour. Durant Design has done the Grammys, Emmys and Country Music Awards, among many other live shows for broadcast. They also worked with the Michigan Marching Band during the 2014 season, shortly after night games were approved at Michigan Stadium. 

Some 80 volunteers were on hand, including other marching band alumni and students from U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance and from Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School Marching Band.

The show was supported by a gift from march band fans Bill and Janelle Sykes, who wanted to deliver a special experience to the seniors and a poignant experience for the fans. The Sykes family wanted to repay the band for three decades of entertainment in Michigan Stadium. Their son joined the trumpet section in 2018. 

“We were honored to help bring the band’s vision to life on the field, in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” the Sykes said. “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 Sept. 11, 2021 program included:

  • “Summon The Heroes,” John Williams
  • “Mambo” (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,” Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “This Land is Your Land/Stars and Stripes Forever,” Woody Guthrie, John Philip Sousa

Musical arrangements were by Scott Boerma, Jay Bocook and Chuck Ricotta, and choreography was by Joan Noble-Pruett. 

In addition to the spectacular halftime show, fans were also moved by a pregame tribute that included a moment of silence to remember those lost, a bagpipe performance of “Amazing Grace” by Air Force Master Sergeant retired David Vittetoe set to photos of U-M and University of Washington alumni who died in the tragic events of 9/11, and a performance of “God Bless America” by the Detroit Youth Choir as 150 first responders opened a massive American Flag spanning the field of the stadium. 

Photos are by Michigan Photography’s team, including Roger Hart, Daryl Marshke, and Eric Bronson.