The Art of the March

Elaborate half-time show puts Spartan Marching Band on world stage, celebrates MSU’s China connections. 

The show depicted sights and sounds from Tan Dan’s score “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and traditional Chinese tunes “Dance of the Golden Sanke” and “The Jasmine Flower.” Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
1,500 spectators in the stands displayed various ‘card stunts’ throughout the show. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
Artist-faculty from the College of Music, Suren Bagratuni; cello, and Richard Sherman; flute, performed during opening portions of the show. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
Spartan Marching Band Director, John Madden conducts while a variety of digital images and video is displayed on the stadium jumbotrons. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
Special drums emphasizing Chinese percussion were utilized at various times during performances. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
More than 200 choristers from the College of Music joined select portions of the show. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
Adding visual flair, a variety of multi-colored smoke canisters and ribbon flags were used throughout performances. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
Artist director, Jennifer Wen Ma, far right, observes the halftime show from the sideline. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz
A near capacity crowd at Spartan Stadium remained in their seats during halftime to observe the show, culminating with a long, standing ovation. Photo courtesy MSU, Kurt Stepnitz

The College of Music was at the center of an uncanny union of high art, athletics and mass entertainment as the Spartan Marching Band performed its most complex, largest half-time show ever at Spartan Stadium in mid-November.

For 12 minutes, Spartan Stadium became an amazing display of colors, lights and sounds under the direction of Jennifer Wen Ma—the New York- and Beijing-based artist who led the creative team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. See video below.

Ma’s multimedia half-time show, “The Art of the March: Cues from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’” featured the 300-member Spartan Marching Band, 300 additional performers, and the ‘artwork’ of 1,500 audience members whose ‘card stunts’ formed paintings that displayed on the stadium’s Jumbotron.

While the show engaged the entire MSU community, the show particularly resonated with international students, including Luyi Han—the first student from China to be part of MSU’s Marching Band. A fifth-year student studying supply chain management, the trombonist from Shanghai says it’s special to be the first Chinese band member, but that being in the band is by far, the greater honor.

“This event was a big touch for me culturally, both because I’m a Chinese international student and it’s the last big show I did with the band,” says Han. “MSU is becoming so globally recognized and doing such a great job with international students. The half-time show was a terrific platform to celebrate and fuse all the different cultures we have here.”

Director of the Spartan Marching Band John Madden remarked that Jennifer Wen Ma worked extensively with band members and visual staff to create an exciting, complex event that engaged audience in an entirely new way.

“The show truly fueled a spirit of cross-campus collaboration,” Madden says. “But even more, it showcased the intercultural world we live in and how MSU reflects that.”

Sponsored by MSU’s Cultural Engagement Council, the half-time spectacular was part of the 18-months of programming launched by MSU President Lou Anna Simon last year to foster understanding of Chinese culture.

“As a signature event of the MSU China Experience thematic year, the program was a remarkable collaborative effort of more than 14 colleges and units across campus that supported the creation of a new work of art that blended creativity, heritage, science and technology,” says Kurt Dewhurst, chair of the MSU Cultural Engagement Council and director of MSU Arts and Cultural Initiatives.

Dewhurst describes how the MSU Cultural Engagement Council has helped celebrate the 10th anniversary of President Simon’s MSU/China Initiative in dramatic fashion. The initiative has engaged Chinese students and faculty and staff, Chinese academic programs, participants of MSU China Study Abroad Programs, and now broadened awareness with international students, our MSU student body, alumni, and the 74,000 in attendance in Spartan Stadium. “The creative collaboration of visiting artist, Jennifer Wen Ma, MSU Band Director John Madden and his creative team and the College of Music developed an outstanding multimedia artistic work that is getting attention beyond our campus across the US and in China. It demonstrates MSU’s deep global commitment in a creative ground-breaking way.”

College of Music Dean James Forger remarked that the electrifying alliance of a range of partners created an event that united high art and mass entertainment and emphasized MSU’s commitment to the global community.

“By using our university’s largest stage—Spartan Stadium—we were able to reach beyond campus and demonstrate to countless people one example of how we are globally engaged as one of the world’s leading international universities,” says Forger.

Partners in bringing the event to the gridiron were the MSU Alumni Association, Asian Studies Center, MSU Athletics, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, College of Arts and Letters, College of Communication Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Music, College of Natural Science, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Eli Broad College of Business, Office for International Students and Scholars, Residential and Hospitality Services, and Division of Student Affairs and Services.

Spectacular details

  • What: Artist Jennifer Wen Ma led the Spartan Marching Band in a stunning display of color, light and sound to celebrate MSU’s 18-month focus on Chinese Culture
  • When and where: Half-time at the MSU vs. Maryland Game, Saturday, Nov. 14, Spartan Stadium
  • What Else: Wen Ma was an artist-in-residence on the MSU campus in the week leading up to the half-time spectacular. Her residency included a discussion about the making of the half-time show.
  • What Jen Wen Ma said: “Projects like this at MSU bring the awareness of the privilege and pleasure of being an artist embraced by a community of artists of another discipline. My main collaborators John Madden, Peter Eichler, and Jon Weber have been open, inclusive, trusting, and gave their highest professional excellence from the start. But it was the student’s enthusiasm and hard work that took the project to the level that it reached. I was so very proud of them! They only had three weeks to learn and rehearse this complex piece, with all brand new music material, new drill, new choreography and new props. Just goes to show how focused vision, hardworking perseverance can achieve.”

The Art of the March: Cues from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War

Video courtesy Spartan Marching Band

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