TBJ117: Michael Nickens


Listen via


TBJ117: Mike Nickens, Director of "The Green Machine" pep band at George Mason University, on being unapologetic about who he is and leading by example (while carrying a scepter). He has built a gig for himself which allows him to be fully him while enabling his students to do the same.

From his bio:

Serving as Director of Campus Life Ensembles and Collaborative Arts, and as an Associate Professor of Music, Dr. Michael W. Nickens (a.k.a. Doc Nix) is most recognized as the leader of the “Green Machine”, which in 2015 was named the #1 pep band in college basketball by the NCAA and commended by the Senate and House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In addition, Dr. Nickens launched Mason’s fife and drum corps and WGI world-champion drumline, and oversees Mason’s winterguard. This collection of performing units, known as the “Green Machine Ensembles”, are internationally known for their thrilling, high-energy performances at Mason ceremonies and basketball games, professional sports games and events (Capitals, Nationals, Wizards, and Redskins), community events (Celebrate Fairfax, and the Nike Womens’ Half Marathon), and marching competitions, as well as their popular internet videos that have over 100 million views collectively.

Dr. Nickens was named the 2016 Faculty Member of the Year by the George Mason University Alumni Association. He served as a Faculty Representative to the Board of Visitors, Chair of the Faculty of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Chair of the CVPA  Diversity Committee, and as a member of the School of Music’s Graduate Committee. Having joined the faculty of Mason’s School of Music in fall 2006, he has taught courses in sight-singing/ear training, popular music in America, improvisatory music, brass methods, applied tuba, composition, chamber music, and jazz improvisation, as well as collaborations with Mason’s School of Dance. In addition, he was a co-founder and co-conductor of the Colonial Athletic Association’s “Breakfast with the Bands” intercollegiate pep band showcase.

During summers, he has taught tuba and euphonium, conducting, jazz performance, composition, improvisation, chamber music, large ensemble performance, and theory at the Performing Arts Institute at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pennsylvania, the Music, Art, and Theatre (MAT) Camp in Evanston, Wyoming, and the Northern Arizona University Music Camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, and at Mason’s Potomac Arts Academy. He has also coached a professional marching ensemble, “Mix It Up”, at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Dr. Nickens was born in Washington DC and grew up in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Alexandria, Virginia. He completed his academic degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University, and the University of Michigan.

In this fun and lively discussion, we cover:

  • Strain the pool

  • Mouthpieces

  • Intentionally unhelpful

  • Fun standard euphonium literature

  • Doc Nix

  • Lance's newsletter

  • Went to some schools

  • Hard choices, mid-stream

  • George Mason University Men's Basketball team in 2006

  • Starting The Green Machine at George Mason

  • Encourage musicians to find their way to their best self

  • Building things from the ground up

  • Turning his gig into a tenure-track position

  • Picking tunes for the band, based on the world around him

  • From Bon Jovi to Snoop Dog

  • Creation of the arrangements

  • How to teach students to arrange

  • Broadening the instrumentation of the group beyond "traditional" pep bands

  • Using what you have

  • Empowering himself

  • Timing the tunes within a game

  • The budget (from the Dean of Admissions)

  • Additional funds coming through University Life and tuition dollars through the School of Music

  • Doing fundraising directly through their website

  • Wearing a pimp suit

  • 18-19 suits overall

  • Carrying a scepter, wearing shades

  • Blockbusting

  • The Green Machine as a manifestation of who he is

  • Conductor/Drum Major/Mascot

  • Being unapologetic about who he is and leading by example

  • Mr. Miyagi

  • Making love and joy happen

  • Andrew is a hater hater

  • Playing a gig at Duquesne University

  • The current makeup of The Green Machine

  • The nine groups which exist under The Green Machine umbrella

  • Celebrating Aretha Franklin

  • Playing with the National Symphony Orchestra to backup Nas (one of his heroes)

  • 8-bit comedy rap videos

  • The odor was fine


Want to help the show? Here are some ways:

  • Help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes.

  • Show us some love on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

  • Help us pay the bills (and get regular bonus episodes!) by becoming a Patreon patron.

  • Show some love to our sponsors: The brass program at The Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University and Parker Mouthpieces (including the Andrew Hitz and Lance LaDuke models.)

  • Tell your friends!

Expertly produced by Will Houchin with love, care, and enthusiasm.