How I Play in the George Mason University Green Machine Band

During my time at George Mason University, I was part of the GMU Green Machine pep band, where I contributed by playing the bass clarinet at numerous home basketball games and several other campus events. In the Green Machine, I forged enduring friendships with many people, including Mckenzie Love, who, like me, suffers from low vision. Together, we appeared in an interview for an NBC 4 segment which was uncovered by  report. This experience is a testament to how I engaged with the Green Machine pep band at George Mason University, despite having low vision and a sensitivity or aversion to light, as a celebration of Music in our Schools Month.

What Is George Mason University green machine PEP Band?

At George Mason University, the ensemble known as the Green Machine comprises a diverse group of musicians who play a wide range of instruments. This includes not only the typical instruments you would expect in a pep or marching band, but also strings, guitars, singers, keyboard players, percussionists, and even dancers. They’re famous for their performances during home basketball games, showcasing an eclectic mix of genres such as pop, rock, rap, and even original pieces composed by students. Below you’ll find a link to one of their viral performances featuring a song by Rage Against The Machine. The Green Machine holds the distinction of being the top pep band in the NCAA, acclaimed both nationally and internationally for being one of the most captivating bands of its kind. Participating in the band is an exhilarating experience! To have a better experience with your hobbies is your academic companion in it.

In certain educational institutions, the pep band might be seen as an extension of the marching band or as its own standalone entity. At George Mason, however, there isn’t a marching band. Instead, the Green Machine falls under the purview of the athletic bands division.

How And Why I Joined Green Machine Band

During my interviews with various employees at George Mason University, I frequently brought up that I was a clarinet player. They all insisted that I should definitely become part of the Green Machine ensemble. My enthusiasm for joining was further fueled when I happened to find a video of them playing a song I adore, “Livin’ on a Prayer”. This prompted me to affix a Green Machine poster, which I had found in a magazine for alumni, onto my notice board.

Joining Green Machine is as straightforward as enrolling in MUSI 280; however, I needed to carefully consider my involvement due to my low vision and neurological condition, which necessitate certain adjustments for me to fully engage in band activities. Consequently, I compiled a detailed plan for my participation. Moreover, I made the choice to play the bass clarinet, even though it wasn’t an instrument available in Green Machine at that point.

Attending a conference with the employees of Green Machine.

I possess a file for Disability Services at my college, yet many of the listed accommodations for disabilities aren’t tailored for band or musical activities. Prior to my initial practice session, I had a casual discussion with the Green Machine personnel to strategize on enforcing my disability accommodations, including clarifying my duties versus their supportive role. We agreed upon the subsequent points:

  • Offering electronic versions of songs that have the capability to be magnified.
  • Discussing my sensitivity to light or photophobia – I’ve explored ways to limit my exposure to intense and flickering lights, as well as the lighting effects commonly employed during basketball games.
  • Gaining entry to the seating areas and the structure through lifts or entrances designed for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.
  • I was excused from participating in “Mason Madness,” an annual parade-like event that features flashing strobe lights, as it would not have been safe for me to join in because of my health issue.
  • Understanding how to respond to sensitivity to flashing lights and appropriate actions –Although it was not their direct duty, it was beneficial for the staff to recognize signs of confusion and to be aware of calm places in the vicinity in case they observed that I was becoming disoriented.
  • Obtaining music copies ahead of time to enlarge them for the classroom.
  • Determining the best position for myself as the sole bass clarinet player, I aimed to find a spot where I wouldn’t be at risk of being struck by an errant basketball.

Getting Accessible Music

Every member of the Green Machine ensemble maintains their collection of songs in a three-ring binder, which sits on their music stand and typically contains over 90 pieces. The first binder I used was a sizable 11 x 17 vertical one, which had large-format sheet music that would extend beyond the edges of the stand and was challenging for me to manage and turn the pages by myself. After it was damaged and became unserviceable, I rethought my approach to organizing my sheet music for the group. I switched to an 11 x 14 binder, which was more manageable for me to carry and use independently. I’ve detailed this new system in my blog post titled “My Large Print Music Binder,” the link to which can be found below. Furthermore, considering my music binder qualifies as a textbook in terms of accessibility, I had the alternative of contacting my university’s assistive technology department to request my music sheets in a large print or a different format that would be easier for me to use.

I opted for a physical binder instead of digital sheet music since I wear polarized sunglasses while performing to shield my eyes from intense lighting, making it hard to view digital displays.

Learn ADA-Compliant Venue Routes

As I stroll around the venue for a performance or practice, I usually carry my bass clarinet case in one hand and my white cane in the other, while my music book is tucked away in a backpack, leaving me with no hands to spare. A few strategies have been quite useful in improving my ability to move around the space effectively:

  • Locating the lift and additional entry points compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Having someone, such as a friend or fellow student, rendezvous with me at the entrance or at a different spot to assist in transporting things.
  • Consulting an ADA-compliant map of the campus to discover more accessible paths and entryways into buildings.
  • Leveraging transport and shuttle services designed for individuals with disabilities simplifies the process of reaching the sports venue.

When feasible, ask for visual indicators such as blinking lights.

At the start of George Mason basketball matches, the stadium is engulfed in darkness accompanied by a spectacle of vivid, multicolored, and blinking lights while the players are announced and videos are displayed on a big screen. I discovered that the light show would start right after the announcer declares “lights off” or “lights out.” I committed to memory the tunes that I had to perform during the introduction of the players – enough to do so without needing to see. I became aware that it was okay to look again when I heard the initial notes of “Seven Nation Army.”

Should there be an additional special event taking place during halftime, a colleague or a different student would inform me to close my eyes. I was to wait until the sound of the buzzer signaled it was clear for me to look once more.

In the past, strobe lights would go off to celebrate the team’s victory, which initially caught me off guard and made me feel confused. Once I shared my concerns with the sports coordinator (along with feedback from others), they stopped using the strobe lights. Instead, they introduced an animation that didn’t flash.

Adapting My Band Uniform

Members of the Green Machine band are motivated to infuse their band attire with individuality and style, and I aimed to merge practicality with visual appeal in my own uniform. I made several alterations to my band outfit to achieve this, such as:

  • I discovered an excellent hat in a Mason green color on the internet from the Charming Charlie brand, which features a broad brim designed to shield my eyes from light coming from above and behind me.
  • Eyewear designed to filter out excessively intense light.
  • Sportswear shirts made of breathable material designed for layering that are gentle and pleasant to wear.
  • Cozy sports footwear suited for strolling throughout the stadium and being on your feet in the spectator stands.
  • Trousers featuring compartments that allow me to carry my mobile device and utilize it as an impromptu enlarging tool when necessary.
  • Sporting a necklace made of silver, created by the band I love most – it’s not about its practical use, I simply appreciate its aesthetic when paired with my outfit (which isn’t shown).Holding a collapsible white cane that can be folded away and tucked into a seat situated at my back.
    Once my mother noticed me wearing my band outfit, she inquired whether I deliberately chose to imitate Zoot, the character from Electric Mayhem on The Muppets. Although that wasn’t my original intention, the similarity struck me as so remarkable that when I was getting a new jersey and had the chance to personalize it, I decided to have “Zoot” printed on the back.

How I Store My Instrument Case

Students typically need to keep their cases either beneath the bleachers or in another hidden spot. Because I find it difficult to walk when it’s dark, I would place my case near the bleachers’ edge, near the entrance designed for individuals with disabilities. I always managed to find a place for my case without trouble, and other students were willing to shift their cases if necessary when I requested it. One of my friends suggested turning on their phone’s flashlight to help find their case in the dark.

As the sole bass clarinetist, identifying my case was simple. However, when playing the soprano or Bb clarinet in groups with many similar instrument cases, I personalize my case with distinctive tags, stickers, and decorations to quickly distinguish it from the others.

Take The Time To Learn Choreography

Even though the Green Machine isn’t a traditional marching band, students engage in dancing and execute various dance moves in time with the music. A lot of students pick up the choreography simply through observation. However, because I found it difficult to observe the other players, I sought assistance from my peers, requesting that they demonstrate the movements and explain how others were performing them. I then modified the choreography as necessary to ensure it was safe to perform.

Some examples of choreography include:

  • At the start of “Don’t Stop The Music,” participants wave their arms, twirl around, and recite a chant. While I joined in with the arm motions and chanting, I refrained from spinning, an action that was performed by others as well.
  • Moving to the rhythm of the school’s spirited anthem while employing particular hand movements and signals.
    Belting out the chorus of “Misery Business” while everyone else is taking a break.
  • Indicating a particular orientation during the “Battle of Honor and Humanity.”
  • Applauding with a distinct tempo both before and after the track “Power.”
  • During the performance of “Rage,” I found that I was unable to headbang without compromising my safety, particularly while actively playing my instrument. To find an alternative, I reached out to fellow musicians who were also playing during that track to learn what they did in place of headbanging.
  • Continuing to sing and wave arms until the first point is scored in the green machine games, during the final moments of the song “Seven Nation Army.”

Using A Human Guide

In my initial term with the Green Machine, I didn’t manage to form any friendships and frequently relied on a friend from another section for assistance, although our help to each other was constrained by being in different places. At the beginning of the new semester, the director convened the first section meeting of the year to encourage students to interact. It was then that a couple of tenor saxophonists approached me and invited me to join their group. This led to my encounter with G, who quickly became one of my remarkable best friends. G showed me the ropes in the Green Machine, aiding me with learning dance moves, setting up my music stand, and was always ready to lend a hand or an extra set of eyes whenever I needed. Gradually, I coached others to assist me to move about the arena and manage my music, including my cherished friends J, C, and S, which meant I was no longer dependent solely on G’s help.

I prefer the phrase “human guide” instead of “sighted guide” since individuals with impaired vision can also act as guides. For instance, although Mckenzie has reduced vision, she can assist me in navigating down the bleachers’ stairs. Similarly, I can help her locate the elevator that’s tucked away in a concealed spot.

Veronica, dressed in her band outfit with a bass clarinet and a white cane for the blind in hand, poses after a basketball event. She’s alongside her band leader, Doc Nix, who’s decked out in a green and white ensemble, while Mckenzie stands adjacent to Doc Nix, attired in black leggings and a hoodie from George Mason University.

Want To Join Green Machine?

Since the original post went live, I’ve gotten some messages from visually impaired students seeking personalized advice regarding involvement in Green Machine and the procurement of specialized technology services or accommodations for disabilities. I strongly advise reaching out directly to Disability Services for inquiries about joining since they are knowledgeable about the pep band vs marching band program and can offer current details on how to obtain accessible sheet music or any other supportive technologies via the educational institution.