U of M band alumni happy about their 'homecoming'

 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
It’s billed as a “Blast from the Past,” an annual Maize and Blue filled opportunity for area attorneys Bill Richards and Howard Gourwitz to relive their days as bandsmen at the University of Michigan.

The two musicians, both 1969 graduates of U of M, were back on hallowed ground recently, joining their University of Michigan Alumni Band cohorts for homecoming festivities at The Big House, site of the Little Brown Jug battle between the Wolverines and Golden Gophers from the University of Minnesota. While the game lacked drama, the chance for Gourwitz and Richards to test their musical mettle before 111,000 fans did not.

“There is something incredibly special about marching out of the tunnel and onto the field at Michigan Stadium,” said Gourwitz, a tax attorney in Bloomfield Hills. “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 46th District Court judge in Southfield since 2007, the annual chance to step into the homecoming spotlight is 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. “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.”

A Detroit native, Richards graduated from Birmingham Groves High School, earning 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, a product of Southfield High School, 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. “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 has 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 39-year-old 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.”