U-M band alums hit the high notes

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Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

The sounds of silence at The Big House are probably a blessing this season for University of Michigan football fans, a long-suffering bunch who’ve grown accustomed to being whipsawed for their seemingly undying allegiance to the Wolverines.

The resurgent pandemic, of course, has tied the hands of would-be fans in the stands at Michigan Stadium, which normally caters to crowds of 110,000 members of the Maize and Blue faithful.

The 2020 season, which started on a promising note against the University of Minnesota in late October, went into a downward spiral after a series of disappointing losses, leaving many U-M followers to wonder about the future of the program.

I was reminded of a happier time in the fall of 2013 when it was Homecoming weekend in Ann Arbor and I journeyed back to my hometown to cover a “Blast from the Past,” an annual ritual that area attorneys Bill Richards and Howard Gourwitz traditionally enjoyed.

Richards and Gourwitz, both 1969 graduates of U-M, were members of the Michigan Marching Band during their collegiate days. Over the years, they have regularly joined the University of Michigan Alumni Band when it plays during halftime of the homecoming game.

“There is something incredibly special about marching out of the tunnel and onto the field at Michigan Stadium,” said Gourwitz, a noted tax and estate attorney who joined Lipson Neilson as Of Counsel last spring. “If you don’t get a thrill out of that and experience some butterflies, then something is missing in your make-up.”

For Richards, a former 46th District Court judge who has served as a visiting judge in retirement, the annual chance to step into the homecoming spotlight has been an inviting trip back in time.

“It can stir the emotions to be back on the field, knowing that so much of my Michigan experience in college revolved around being a member of the band,” Richards said in the 2013 interview.
“There were lifelong friendships that were forged and lifelong lessons that were learned.”

Richards, a former deputy attorney general under then Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, played trumpet in the U-M Marching Band for four years under the guidance of legendary director William D. Revelli. It was Revelli, director of the U-M Marching Band from 1935-71, who imparted some lifelong wisdom on the mind of the future jurist.

“His attention to detail was amazing,” Richards said of his musical mentor from the U-M. “He was Lombardi-esque in his pursuit of perfection,” he added, referring to Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi, whose thirst for winning helped lead the Green Bay Packers to two straight Super Bowl titles in the ‘60s.

“I can remember one rehearsal under Revelli in which we spent a half-hour on just one note. He made us play it over and over and over again until we finally got it right. About five minutes into it, we thought he was nuts to spend so much time on one note. By the end of the rehearsal, we began to understand the overall message that he was trying to drive home – that every note is important, that every step is important on the road to success. That message stuck with us.”

Richards earned his bachelor and law degrees from U-M. He gravitated to the world of music in junior high school after a somewhat abbreviated football career.

“I was a 107-pound running back in junior high and I can still remember taking a handoff and breaking through the line of scrimmage only to be hit by what must have been a truck,” he said, wincing at the thought. “That really was the beginning of the end of my days as a football player. I realized that I should try other sports more in line with my physical abilities.”

Gourwitz played tenor saxophone in the U-M Marching Band, completing his bachelor’s degree in three years.

“I was so intent on performing in the Michigan Marching Band that if I hadn’t made it, I doubt seriously if I would have continued in college there,” said Gourwitz, who holds law degrees from Wayne State University and New York University. “It was a dream of mine to be a part of that band.”

Turns out, it would be a dream he enjoyed twice at U-M in a real-life story with a fairy tale ending.

In 1998, at the age of 50, Gourwitz decided it was time to make one more musical memory, trying out for the band yet again since he still had a year of eligibility remaining. It was not a mere fanciful thought or a “mid-life crisis,” Gourwitz admitted. He meant business, which was something that then Associate Director of Bands Kevin Sedatole insisted upon before approving the tryout.

“He wasn’t going to cut me any slack because of my age or because of my full time law practice,” Gourwitz related in the 2013 feature story. “He made it clear that if I made the band – and that was a big if, I would be expected to rehearse every day and to perform at the games as scheduled.”

In the months leading up to band tryouts, Gourwitz became one with his saxophone again, tirelessly rehearsing to get back up to Maize and Blue speed. He also took a crash course in marching, practicing the steps that add fanfare to the musical package.

“It was intense, but I wanted the challenge of making the band and giving it my best shot,” he said.

His desire to re-enlist coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Marching Band and the centennial celebration of “Hail to the Victors,” which Gourwitz proudly said is “the greatest fight song ever written.” It also came on the heels of his service as president of the U-M Alumni Band Association.

When Gourwitz received word that he had “made the cut,” he felt a sense of joy “that was hard to put into words,” even for an attorney well versed in the craft of using them.

“Let’s just say that I was overjoyed,” he said. “It was a special moment.”

Gourwitz – who represented such NHL stars as Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars and Tomas Holmstrom of the Red Wings – has found a variety of ways to express his gratitude to U-M for his experience with the Marching Band. He has endowed four scholarships for band members, naming the Drum Major Scholarship in honor of his daughter, Rebecca, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy.

“She is a daily inspiration to me,” Gourwitz said of Rebecca, one of his three children. “No one tries as hard as her.”




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