Menand & the MMB

The Michigan Flags & Twirlers at the first home game of the 2014 season. (Personal photo)

Among all of the fine institutions at the University of Michigan, the Michigan Marching band is one of the most prestigious and rich in heritage.  For over a century, from the traditional songs “Temptation” and “War Chant” to the exquisitely glowing PixMob show of last week, (by the way if you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here!) the thousands of students that have walked through the program have contributed to the prestigious reputation of the MMB.  Being a member of the flag line of the Michigan Marching Band, I can say that this reputation didn’t come easily; it was established with much hard work and dedication.  A complex and sometimes ruthless sorting system, much related to Menand’s first theory of education, is the way in which the MMB selects it’s halftime performers for each week.

Each week, all members of the MMB partake in a marching challenge, which consists of marching a small portion of the pre-game show, while being judged by a GSI of the class.  10 members go at once, all marching the same style, playing the same music, and judged on the same scale.  Flags, in addition to this challenge, participate in a spinning challenge as well.  This is where 10 of us at a time are judged by GSI’s while we spin a song that we all learned from the previous week.  From there, our marching scores and spinning scores are combined, and the top 24 competitors make the halftime performance block.  This process is highly competitive; there are 40 flag girls, 24 spots, and 23 returning members.

While the returning veterans do have a slight advantage over the freshman, through this rigorous process, the most qualified girls are sorted from the pack, regardless of age.  The directors of the MMB are applying Menand’s first theory of education in this situation; they are making the most of their human resources by selecting and sorting their best members.  This process, like Menand’s first theory, is one that is focused on selectivity and not concerned with inclusion.  This type of filtering, like Menand describes, is the best possible way to make the most of the talent that the MMB has.  However, the members that do not qualify for performance block are assigned to the “reserve block,” where they can continue to work on their fundamentals, so at the end of the week when the sorting process occurs all over again.

While I am among the many freshman flag members who have yet to make a halftime performance block, my spirits are still high and I have kept my attitude optimistic!  I am trusting the MMB staff and have faith that their usage of Menand’s first theory will produce the finest performances.  I support my flag girls on both performance and reserve fields; GO BLUE!



3 thoughts on “Menand & the MMB

  1. This is a very interesting article, as I have gained some insight into the MMB selective process. I do agree that this is the best method to choose which marching band members should perform at halftime. The staff of the MMB is looking to put on the best possible show for the fans. They must select the top members to perform on gameday. What I think the MMB staff can do is better prepare those students who haven’t made the cut yet. All the students who made the marching band clearly have enough skill to perform on the field. Making the marching band is highly selective and difficult, so none of these students are lacking talent. They just may be lacking in the proper technique or just need a little bit of guidance. I believe that every member should have the opportunity to be on that field at halftime at least once in their marching band career.


  2. Loved reading this. I’m surprised at how competitive the process is, I had no idea it was this intense. I’m normally not one for meritocracy, but I’m pretty convinced by this blog post because flagging/MMB is an extracurricular activity; so the consequences of meritocracy in this particular instance are minimal. Not getting to be in the show not only encourages you to do better next week, but doesn’t stop you from being on the team or doing well in life in any way (ideally). Because the purpose of flagging/MMB is for the entertainment of fans and is part of an important ritual at U of M, “the [leaders and] best” should be chosen to give the best possible show to its audience. I don’t think the show would be as great had it not operated on Menand’s first theory and had it not constantly encouraged those who didn’t get into the show to keep training. Good for you for being optimistic and holding your head up. Go blue!


  3. As a former Marching Band and flag-line member, I found the competitive process you described very interesting, because all members of my high school’s marching band were allowed to perform. While I do completely agree that Menand’s first theory of sorting, a meritocratic process, does occur predominantly, I would argue that his second theory is also present. Menand’s second theory claims that college, and cumulatively then its clubs, teach students valuable lessons that they would not learn otherwise. Evident in your optimism and continued effort, there is an ideology of hard work paying off and hope in constant competition within the MMB’s selection process. This ability to endure and continue working amidst others with more experience is vital in the job marketplace, which is an allusion even to Menand’s final theory. Therefore, while Theory 1 is undoubtedly the driving force of the MMB, valuable facets of the other two theories are present as well. Keep up the amazing work, the fans are appreciative of you!


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