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January 14, 2004

UH marching band to perform halftime show at Super Bowl

By Mike Emery
Staff writer

It’s the performance of a lifetime.

Backing a pop superstar like Janet Jackson is a dream for any musician, but imagine the thought of doing that at one of the most anticipated sports and media events of the year … the Super Bowl.

For the members of the University of Houston Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band and Texas Southern University’s Ocean of Soul Marching Band, the dream has become reality. Both bands are preparing to bring their distinctive styles to the Super Bowl’s halftime show Feb. 1 at Reliant Stadium.

“I had been approached by a few people about participating in the Super Bowl,” said David Bertman, director of the UH marching band.

“The first two offers were about the band selling programs and serving as stage hands to make extra money. I wasn’t really interested, but then I received a call from MTV in November. That caught my attention.”

According to Bertman, MTV, the music and entertainment network that is producing the game’s halftime segment, had researched university band programs in Texas. UH and Texas Southern University (TSU) were at the top of the network’s list as potential bands to perform.

Originally, it was going to be either TSU or UH that was to be selected as the principal marching band to be included in the show. Two auditions were arranged and according to Bertman, the UH audition inside the Yeoman Fieldhouse was nothing less than spectacular.

He had been informed confidentially that Janet Jackson was the frontrunner to headline the halftime show, so he crafted a performance that featured her 1989 hit, “Rhythm Nation,” as well as several contemporary hip-hop numbers.

“When they saw our band, dancers and cheerleaders, they were blown away,” Bertman said. “It was spontaneous combustion. It was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen.”

Impressed, the visiting MTV producers informed Bertman that they were indeed interested in using the UH band for the halftime show. Bertman, however, suggested that both UH and TSU be included to incorporate both bands’ unique performance styles.

Bertman has since been tasked with coordinating both ensembles for the big show. He has been working on prospective arrangements and developing show ideas for Jackson’s executive producers to review. Assisting him is Eric Priest, a UH alumnus and the marching band’s primary musical arranger.

“We sent them a plan of how we think the bands will fit into the piece,” he said. “The producers at MTV know that we understand the mechanics of a marching band, so they gave us the green light to come up with ideas.”

Presently, he is awaiting final word on any alterations that need to be made to the proposed show. He anticipates rehearsals to begin Jan. 17.

“It’s exciting to have been given creative license, but it’s a challenge to wait for feedback because we can’t start practicing until we have a final concept to work with,” he said.

Bertman admits to being on pins and needles until he receives a clear idea of how to prepare both the UH and TSU bands, but he knows that this is the event of a lifetime for everyone involved.

“It will be a great moment,” he said. “This is something that doesn’t happen for many bands very often, if ever. We’re a little overwhelmed, but we’ll be prepared because we want to represent the city and the university to the best of our abilities.”