George Mason University Marches to the Peppy Musical Mix of ‘Doc Nix’

The men’s basketball team at George Mason University is back for its third time in five years in the NCAA National Tournament, which means Dr. Michael Nickens, known  as “Doc Nix”, and his “Green Machine” will energize the team on the road in Cleveland, Ohio today.

Faithful Patriot fans back in Fairfax, Va., know well what kind of excitement the band brings to home games, but now the entire country will get a taste of this dynamic new sound. 

For Dr. Michael Nickens representing a variety of new and head-nodding music is a priority in selecting what they play also. ” I am Black, yes,  but I’m also multi-racial. And I think the make-up of our tunes reflect that. George Mason has one of the most diverse campuses in the nation. We try to represent that with our music.”

In addition to directing the pep band Dr. Michael Nickens is a full-time professor on tenure track in the music department. 

Since coming to Mason in 2006, Nickens has been putting his unique style which blends Hip-Hop, Rock, R&B and Jazz on display to pump up the fans of the basketball team which has had some very successful seasons over the last five years.

The team finished 26-6 including the CAA Tournament this season, which is one win short of their best ever record from the 2005–2006 season.

“This (basketball) program is very exciting and they have been doing very well. And all that success helps and excites the band because we get to travel with them and represent the university as well. We as a band have gotten to know them.  Sometimes the  players will come by before games and ask for certain music selections and we are happy to play it for them ” says Nickens.

When he talks about how he came to GMU, he recounts a love of music that started in grade school.  Then he stops and says “actually, I was reminded by a 97-year-old aunt that told me, ‘you started playing music as soon as you were big enough to get up on the piano bench.  You could pick out melodies that you had heard and play them by ear.’  And when she would say that, then I would say,’ oh, I do remember that.’ “

Nickens said during his youth his parents and family were supportive of his musical talents he says by providing resources for purchasing instruments, lessons, camps and taking him to auditions he says. When Nickens got to middle school he says, “my band director recognized some leadership qualities in me so he made me his junior director.”

By 10th grade he did his first composition of a score and by his senior year started thinking about the songs he wished the band would play while sitting in the bleachers at football games.

“I came from a family that valued higher education and three of my grandparents had taught at Howard University and I had a great or great-great grandfather went to Divinity School at Yale.”  So after high school I attended the Manhattan School of Music in NYC where I earned a bachelor’s of music.” 

“When it was time to go to college, it wasn’t about whether I was going or not, but where was I going,” he said.

After college, Nickens went on to get a M.M. from Yale and a D.M.A from the University of Michigan where he received a fellowship. He was lured to the University of Michigan by a former teacher and mentor Dave Porter, who had played in the U.S. Air Force band for 24 years, says Nickens.” He was my tuba teacher from grade school all the way through high school and he knew that they had a great tuba program there.”

Doc Nix calls himself George Mason’s drum major, a reference to the fact that he was a drum major in high school and this early influence is still seen in that he enjoys wearing a suit in one of Mason’s green or gold and white colors at every game.  

In the fall of 2006 while browsing through the College Music Society website he came across an ad that said George Mason was looking for a pep band director. For Nickens who grew up in Northern Virginia it was almost the perfect scenario. Mason had just been to the 2006 Final Four as the biggest “Cinderella” in college basketball history and his mother was still living in nearby Alexandria, Va.  where he had grown up.

“I’m as D.C. as D.C. gets.” So he applied for the position and the rest is history.