They play instruments like the euphonium, the sousaphone and the cello. They dance. They stomp. They cheer.They study science, business and the humanities. They’re future criminologists, kinesiologists, engineers and educators.
They are the Green Machine.
“There’s a place for everyone to bring their unique interests and their unique skills,” says George Mason University Band Director Michael “Doc Nix” Nickens. “We bring it all together to make the band.”
Performing in Perfect Harmony
Coming from all over Virginia and all over the country, each member of the George Mason University pep band adds something different.
Beyond the typical brass section, rhythm section and woodwinds that you’ll find in most pep bands, the Green Machine also features a string section, electric harp, melodica, mallet cap, steel pan, vocalists, rappers and more.
“At one point, we even had a bagpipe player come and join the Green Machine,” recalled drum set player Kendell Haywood. “No matter what you play, you’re welcome in the Green Machine.”
“It’s definitely a melting pot of personalities, cultures and backgrounds,” adds composer and vocalist Andrew Velez. “We embrace diversity, and I think that’s one of the key components that makes the Green Machine so great.”
In many ways, Doc Nix and his eclectic collection of band members embody the values that the university hopes to instill in all of its students.
“The band is this diverse group of students,” explains Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Lauren Wagner. “But when they perform, they’re performing in harmony.”
Taking the Show on the Road
Since the Green Machine has gained some notoriety in recent years, the opportunities to perform for new audiences have also increased.
From the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn to the Charleston Classic in South Carolina to countless community events, every road trip is a chance to showcase what the band is all about to somebody who’s never seen it before. But it’s also an opportunity for something bigger. It’s a time for members of the band to bond.
“Traveling on the road really builds the community of the band,” says trombonist Ryan Carter. “It really strengthens the core of what we are.”
“One of the things that happens when you spend that much time with people is that you have a lot of meaningful conversations,” reflects Haywood. “You really get to see who they are. Not only as the saxophone player but also as the engineering major who might help me with my physics homework a year down the road.”
For Doc Nix, taking the Green Machine on the road for tournaments, band trips and recruiting trips is one of his favorite things to do. “When I see what happens with the relationships and the friendships… getting on the road is essential for pushing this band forward to the next level.”
It’s A Family Tradition
No one really debates why this exceedingly diverse group of students is so tight knit. Like most families, it all starts at the top.
Band member Sherwin Zahirieh explains: “What Doc has allowed us to do is bring our own personalities and contributions to the band and bring them all together to create this one big cohesive unit.”
“Doc Nix is the reason that it feels like family,” asserts Velez. “He has provided incredible mentorship for me and for everyone in the Green Machine.”
All this familial talk is more than just lip service. Many Green Machine alumni stay connected to the band and return for events on campus, often jumping back in to perform a song or two. Some band members have even gone on to marry each other and start their own family.
So how has Doc Nix turned a pep band into a band of brothers and sisters?
“He knows how to take any ensemble he’s given, no matter what the instrumentation is, no matter who the people are, and help us understand that what we’re doing is for the betterment of our community,” proclaims Haywood. “And it’s for the betterment of ourselves. And for the betterment of this family. And for the betterment of the people that we’re picking up.”
Reflecting on the current state of the Green Machine, Doc Nix believes that each member of the band has helped to build this legacy.
“They all are very proud of what the band has become,” observes Nix. “And they can still see things that they put in place that the other students have picked up and continue to do.”
To the delight of crowds everywhere, this machine shows no signs of slowing down.