William Revelli

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William Revelli, Director of Michigan Marching Band, 1935-1971

William D. Revelli (February 12, 1902 – July 16, 1994) was an American music educator and conductor best known for his association with the University of Michigan, where he directed the university's bands including the Michigan Marching Band 1935 to 1971. During his 36 years as director, the Michigan Marching Band won international acclaim for its musical precision. Revelli is also credited with innovations that moved college marching bands across the country away from rigid military formations. Among other things, Revelli’s Michigan Marching Band was the first to synchronize music and movement and the first to use an announcer.[1]

Early years[edit]

Born in Spring Gulch, Colorado, Revelli studied violin as a child,[2] graduated from the Beethoven Conservatory of Music in St. Louis, and received degrees from the Chicago Musical College, Columbia School of Music and Vandercook School of Music.[3] He also played in various pit orchestras in Chicago before accepting a high-school conducting job at Hobart High School in Hobart, Indiana in 1925.[2][4][5] Revelli transformed the Hobart High School Band into one of the best small high school bands in the country. He was music director at Hobart from 1925 to 1935, where his bands won either five or six national championships.[2][4][5][6] In 1934, Revelli's Hobart band was invited to play at the World's Fair,[7] and one newspaper reported: "William Revelli has developed his Hobart, Ind., class B band to a point where it is ranked by many with the best class A organizations from larger schools."[8] In 1931, Revelli was paid a salary of $5,000 a year, a large sum at that time.[9]

University of Michigan[edit]

Overview of career at Michigan[edit]

William Revelli, 1944

In 1935 Revelli was hired by the University of Michigan as director of bands.[1] Revelli almost decided against applying for the Michigan job because the pay was significantly lower than what he was earning in Hobart, but he did apply for and later accept the job,[2] a position he held for 36 years. Revelli retired in 1972 and was director emeritus until his death in 1994,[1] Under his direction, the Michigan Marching Band was acclaimed for its musical precision, intricate formations and high-stepping style. The Marching Band under Revelli was “the first to score original music to band shows, to synchronize music and movement, to use an announcer, to do a post-game show, and the first to host a high school Band Day.”[10]

Reputation as taskmaster[edit]

Known on Michigan’s campus as “The Chief,” Revelli was known as a tough taskmaster.[2] Revelli had a fierce dedication to excellence and drilled the desire for perfection into his band students. One former band member recalled that the “sequence of our attitudes toward him often went from fear to anger to respect to awe to reverence.’” [4] Another recalled: “He was a tyrant who was feared by many, and an educator revered by all.”[2] One of his students from the 1940s recalled the same emotions but noted: “I learned more about music-making in that little class ... than I had learned in my prior 12 years of private lessons.”[11] It has been said that, if asked, “nearly every student who played under Revelli could vividly recount some memory of him; he left a lasting impression on everyone with whom he crossed paths.”[12]

Interviewed in 1970, Revelli said: "I've been called the Vince Lombardi of Ann Arbor because I just won't compromise. I'm intolerable when it comes to perfection. Sometimes I'm even downright mean about it."[13] Revelli added that his pursuit of perfection was about more than the music: "This striving for perfection will carry over into other areas of their lives."[14] In December 1964, Revelli described the guiding principles that he sought to instill into his students for 36 years. In a speech delivered to the Marching Band prior to its appearance at the 1964 Rose Bowl game (and published in its entirety in the October 1994 issue of Michigan’s alumni magazine Michigan Today), Revelli said:

"Demand of yourself! How much do you demand of yourself of what I'm talking about? Not even 10 percent, some of you. ... I want to know how you can dedicate yourself to your forthcoming positions in the musical world, when you can't dedicate yourself right now to what you're doing in a simple little march. ... The world is full of people who do things just about right. Just about. And a few on the top do them just right—most of the time. Nobody's perfect! When are you going to start to demand of yourself what I demand of myself? When are you going to be as uncompromising with what you do as I am uncompromising in what I hear and what I insist on? When? Are you waiting for some miracle? The miracle will be when you demand of yourself everything you've got of yourself. That'll be the day. And I don't only mean 5 minutes of 10; I mean 10 minutes out of 10; I mean 60 minutes out of an hour, 24 hours a day, at least all of your waking hours. ... I don't want it just about right! To me, just about right is terrible! ... Now, nobody's killed when you play a half-note as a dotted quarter. But you might, from learning to play a half-note a full half-note, make the difference in the lives of 50,000 little kids. ... You don't piddle with music—it's a good-time-Charlie business, and for me, the wonderful good times come out of hearing somebody play beautifully. I don't care if it's ‘Stars and Stripes,’ ‘The Victors’ or what it is. I mean, there's a pride. And this guy knows he's good! And nobody can take that away from him. When they play sloppy and don't care or don't know—a great many of them don't even know, they don't know how bad it is—they can be forgiven, but more they should be pitied.”[4]

Revelli also viewed school bands as a bulwark against juvenile delinquency. He noted: "We keep our musicians too interested and busy to get into mischief."[15] On another occasion, he noted, "Young music students have better things to do than get in trouble."[14]

Development of the Michigan Bands[edit]

Wiliam Revelli, 1956

Revelli recruited talented musicians to Michigan like a football coach recruited top athletes. Revelli required all male wind instrument majors to participate in the Marching Band. This requirement swelled the number of students in the Marching Band.[12] Revelli was also known for his use of new music in his performances, often commissioning new pieces.[2] Another innovation during Revelli’s years as band director was the introduction of dance steps. The tradition began with a dance routine to the tune Alexander's Ragtime Band which proved to be a big hit with the crowd.[12]

In the 1930s, General Motors divisions, Buick and Chevrolet, paid for the band to travel to away games. In a show of appreciation, Revelli had the band line up in a “Buck – I” formation at the 1938 Ohio State game. Then, while playing Buick’s theme song, the letter "I" moved between the "u" and the "c" in "Buck" spelling out "Buick". The next morning, athletic director Fielding H. Yost reportedly called Revelli at his home at 2:00 a.m. and said: "Young man, never do that again!” Yost did not approve of the injection of commercial advertising onto the college football field.[12]

Revelli was also dedicated to furthering musical education in high schools. He regularly toured the Midwest offering band clinics in small towns and big cities. In 1949, Revelli held the first Band Day at Michigan Stadium. Twenty-nine high school bands marched into the stadium and played with the Michigan Marching Band under the direction of Revelli. By the 1960s, the number of Band Day participants had grown to more than 14,000.[2][12] Revelli was also the Chairman of the Instrumental Winds Department at the University of Michigan.[2] He was an advocate within the School of Music for wind music. Aside from directing the large ensembles, Revelli promoted chamber music as well as the importance of private instruction on each student’s wind instrument at the University. Starting in 1942, Revelli offered the “Small Wood-wind ensemble,” as a way to encourage wind chamber music. The vision of professor Revelli helped bring in teachers for every wind instrument and paved the way for the University of Michigan to become one of the premiere music institutions in the United States.[16]

In 1946, the band moved to Harris Hall. Revelli joked that the band was making "progress" as it moved from a building built in 1854—Morris Hall—to one built in 1888. The large upstairs room with its plaster walls and wooden floor provided the perfect acoustical setting for a band rehearsal. Revelli later said the "Michigan Band sound" was in part due to the perfect acoustics of Harris Hall and Hill Auditorium.

In 1961, Revelli and the U-M Symphony Band, under sponsorship of the U.S. State Department, toured the Soviet Union, Romania, Egypt, Greece, and five other Near East countries for 15 weeks.[17][18] One of the attendees at the USSR concert in Minsk, USSR - according to the Warren Commission report - was none other than Lee Harvey Oswald - the reported assassin of John F. Kennedy. On other tours, the Symphony Band under Revelli appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York, the Philadelphia Academy of Music, Boston Symphony Hall, and the Shrine Auditorium in Detroit.[17]

Revelli teaches “The Victors” to the football team[edit]

Revelli on Michigan Stadium game program, October 1970

When Bo Schembechler was hired as Michigan’s football coach in 1969, Revelli was the first person to visit him when he arrived at his new office: “I’m in my office, and the first visitor that I get, the absolute first visitor is William D. Revelli.”[19] Revelli sat down and said, “I want you to know that I coach my band exactly the same way you coach your football team. We’ll have discipline, and we’ll do it the way it’s supposed to be done!”[19] Revelli added, "Anything you need from me or the band, all you need to do is ask."[20]

When the freshmen arrived in the fall of 1969, Schembechler asked Revelli to teach them how to sing "The Victors". Schembechler said, “He didn't just teach them ‘The Victors.’ He taught them Michigan tradition!”[20] Schembechler gathered the freshmen at Yost Field House, and Revelli entered in full uniform – described by Schembechler as “a lean, short, distinguished-looking older gentleman—a band director right out of central casting.”[20] Revelli rose to the podium, tapped his baton, looked right into their eyes and said, "John Philip Sousa called this the greatest fight song ever written. And you will sing it with respect!"[20] Revelli brought out a pitch pipe and began the instructions. “You sing from down in here, in your diaphragm. You bring it up from down here with feeling.” Then he blew the starting note on his pitch pipe. The players started, "Hail to the Victors, valiant –" Revelli interrupted, “No, No, No! That’s terrible! There’s no enthusiasm You didn’t sing with enthusiasm!”[19] They started again, and Revelli interrupted again. “No, no, no! We’re gonna get this right if I’m here all night!”[19]

Schembechler thought so much of Revelli’s performance that he invited him back every year to teach the freshmen what Michigan tradition was about.[20] Schembechler recalled, “He was absolutely great, and the freshmen absolutely loved it. And let me tell you, every one of those freshmen came out of that session with Revelli knowing ‘The Victors.’ They knew the words, they knew how to sing it, and they knew how to emphasize the right spots. They flat out knew how to do it. And it was only because he came over there with the idea that those guys were going to come out of that meeting room knowing how to sing this fight song the right way or else! And they did. That was Bill Revelli.”[19]

The admiration between Revelli and Schembechler was mutual. In a 1970 interview, Revelli compared himself and his training methods to those of Schembechler. "Bo and I speak the same language. Psychologically, our practices are the same. Both the team and the band have to perfect their fundamentals before they can do anything else. And both need proper warmups to stay in shape in the off-season. Sometimes we'll spend 45 minutes on calisthenics of the embouchure (perfecting the position of the lips on the mouthpiece of an instrument). I had one boy come back who hadn't practiced all summer. His lips were about six months behind everyone else's."[13]

College Band Directors National Association[edit]

Revelli was the founder of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) in 1941. The CBDNA began as a committee of the Music Educators National Conference (MENC). In the fall of 1938 that committee, under the leadership of Revelli, met independently in Chicago. The group met again in December 1941 and formed the University and College Band Conductors Conference. The name of the organization was changed to the College Band Directors National Association in 1947.[21] Revelli also served as a President of the National Band Association and the American Bandmasters Association, and was named Honorary Life President of the CBDNA.[2]

Awards and honors[edit]

Revelli Hall

Revelli received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to marching band music, music education, and the University of Michigan. These honors include:

  • In 1947, the Chicago Musical College conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Music on Revelli.[6]
  • In 1949, at the Twelfth Biennal Convention of Kappa Kappa Psi, National Honorary Fraternity for College Bandsmen, Revelli was honored by being elected to the position of Grand Honorary President, "an honor seldom given and one of the highest honors that could be bestowed upon any conductor or member of the fraternity."[22]
  • In 1961, the University of Michigan presented Revelli with the faculty award for distinguished achievement.[17]
  • In 1964, Revelli was honored as one of the first ten recipients of Kappa Kappa Psi's Distinguished Service to Music Medal.
  • In the 1970s, the Michigan Marching Band moved into a new building constructed specifically to house the band. The building, located at 350 East Hoover, was named William Revelli Hall.
  • In 1981, Revelli was among the first living inductees to the National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors.[1]
  • In 1989, the Louis Sudler Foundation and the John Philip Sousa Foundation presented Revelli with their highest award, the Order of Merit.[1]
  • In 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Charles E. Lutton Man of Music Award by Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity for men of music at its national convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The award was accepted on his behalf by his grandson. He had been initiated by the Fraternity's Alpha Lambda chapter at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1935.

Death and family[edit]

Revelli died of heart failure at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor at age 92.[1] He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, and his daughter, Rosemary Margaret Revelli Strong. He is survived by his grandson John William Revelli Strong and Kimberly (Strong) Snyder, and his great grandchildren Sara and William Snyder.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f AP wire service report (1994-07-19). "Deaths: William Revelli". The Daily Globe (Ironwood, Mich.). 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The University of Michigan Bands: The Man Behind the Legacies". Archived from the original on 2013-01-17. 
  3. ^ "Howerton Is Choral Head For Festival". Waterloo Daily Courier. 1944-04-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d Zucker, Michael (October 1994 By Michael Zucker). "The Legacy of 'The Chief'". Michigan Today.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ a b Alder, Richard (December 1994). "Letters to Michigan Today". Michigan Today. Archived from the original on 1999-10-07. 
  6. ^ a b "U-M Alumni Club Sponsors Gogebic Range Band Festival". Ironwood Daily Globe. 1956-01-14. 
  7. ^ "Hobart H.S. Band To Play At Fair". Hammond Times. 1934-07-20. 
  8. ^ "Prescott, Once School Leader, Returns Sunday". Mason City Globe-Gazette. 1934-11-03. 
  9. ^ "Plan Petitions To Keep Bucci In Valparaiso". The Vidette-Messenger (Ind.). 1937-07-29. 
  10. ^ "The Making of University of Michigan History: Revelli lays down baton..." Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  11. ^ Hove, Jean Morgan (December 1994). "Letters to Michigan Today". Michigan Today. Archived from the original on 1999-10-07. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "The Michigan Marching Band: The William Revelli Years 1935-1971". Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. 
  13. ^ a b "Even U-M Bandsmen Aiming At Ohio State". The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor). 1970-10-21. 
  14. ^ a b "Young WSC Musicians Perform Well". Ogden Standard-Examiner. 1966-08-13. 
  15. ^ "High School Girls Participate In All-Star Ensemble". News-Palladium (Benton Harbor). 1955-07-25. 
  16. ^ "School of Music Wind Instruments". Archived from the original on 2007-10-21. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  17. ^ a b c "5 Area Schools Participating In Music Clinic, Concert Here". The Lima News. 1962-01-14. 
  18. ^ "University of Michigan Band Tours Bucharest". Holland Evening Sentinel. 1961-05-17. 
  19. ^ a b c d e Brandstatter, James (2002). Tales from Michigan Stadium, pp. 11-15. Sports Publishing LLC. ISBN 1-58261-353-2. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Bo Schembechler and John U. Bacon (September 2007). "Bo's lasting lesson #5: Respect your history". Michigan Today. Archived from the original on 2012-01-05. 
  21. ^ "College Band Directors National Association Archives". 
  22. ^ Jameson, Joe (1971). Kappa Kappa Psi, National Honorary Fraternity for College Bandsmen: Its History, Growth, and Development from 1919 to 1971 (Master's Thesis). Kansas State College of Pittsburg. p. 40. OCLC 29924625. 

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