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Marching Bands: A Whole New Ball Game These Days
Performance in Indianapolis
When I was in high school back in the late 60's, Marching band was popular in certain circles, but it was not very visible. We might have played for the parents, the football team and participated in a local parade or two, but that was the extent of it. But things have changed. . .BIG TIME!
If you've been a parent of someone who's in marching band in recent years, you know what I''m talking about, but if you haven't really had anything to do with a marching band for twenty or thirty years, you will be amazed! And, if you have a child that is thinking about getting into the school music program, or they're at the age to be playing their instrument in marching band, encourage them by all means!
A Proud Moment For Parents, When Their Band Takes The Field
Marching Band is a great place to build camaraderie!
Practice begins in the summer without instruments
Building Up Endurance!
Students learn discipline, a work ethic and gain friends with a common goal.
When your child joins a marching band, they become part of a fairly tight network of friends, and their activities with the band become fairly consuming in terms of time. They meet new students, make new friends and benefit immensely from learning discipline, because believe me, discipline is required. The large number of practices actually get started in the summer (just like football), before school starts, and they continue on and on, all aimed at perfection! Our band called the first week, "Hell Week". They practiced daily, and on some days, it was morning, noon, and night with breaks only for meals and a short rest. Even in the hot summer sun, practice went on unless the heat index rose above 100 degrees. I never heard any of these kids complain including my own son. They loved it and believe me, they wouldn't be there if they didn't love it! Football parents may not want to hear it, but these kids work harder and longer than any football team in high school.
Marching band commands a level of activity, importance, student camaraderie, commitment, and fun, on a level never seen before in high school. Today, there are basically two different types of marching bands in high school. There is the band that goes to every activity possible to march and play their hearts out. This may be more like the bands of the past, except today these bands will typically do some traveling to participate in various events around the country.
The other type of band may play at some football games and they may even participate in a parade, but that's where the similarity ends.
Parents preparing to feed the multitudes while at competition.
MARCHING BAND EVENTS
My son was in a band that competed in band competitions each week. Yes, I said compete! In these bands every ounce of their energy, effort, skill and money is committed to competing almost every weekend at a marching band competition. Generally one school plays host, and a dozen or two marching bands compete on the football field. They don't all play at the same time, but they each take the field in front of hundreds or thousands of parents and onlookers for the title in a variety of categories. There is also one overall prize as well. These competitions generally run all day and the nearby parking lots can be filled with buses, various size trailers and even tractor trailers. That's even before any of the audience shows up! (Moving a marching band around with hundreds of musicians is a lot more difficult than moving a football team around.)
The concessions at these competitions are in full gear, as not only do people want the usual fare of popcorn, soft drinks, pretzels, candy etc., the crowd also needs to eat lunch and dinner as well. Believe it or not, these events are much bigger than most football games. Now, I'm not dissing football, because marching band will never carry the attention, the prestige and the school pride of the varsity football team. But marching band has moved up the ladder on the importance scale, and requires the attention and the efforts of many more parents than anything else going on in high school. Why?
Parents serving lunch on a large scale
Moving hundreds of students, hundreds of miles, requires lots of planning.
When our marching band students were not competing in a local band competition somewhere in the metro area, they were on buses heading out-of-state to a band competition somewhere a couple hundred miles away, or so. These trips required dozens of parents, lots of planning and coordination, lots of practice, and lots of food. All bands, especially larger bands, also require a number of support staff and specialized committees that must raise funds, move equipment, drive trucks, repair instruments and uniforms, as well as create, move, and manage the props used in performances. And then of course, there are those who are in charge of providing water and drinks, food preparation and medical attention (Have you ever seen spaghetti and meatballs for 200?) Our band generally filled three or four tour buses, and then there was the trailer carrying the instruments. Beyond that, there is the whole entourage of parents traveling in their own vehicles. It's an amazing scene when these armies of hundreds of students and parents descend on a motel or a restaurant!
There's much more to a marching band than walking around a field!
In addition to the band director, there are arrangers, copyists (who reproduce parts of sheet music). There can be professional choreographers and drill designers as well. Software is used to help map out and coordinate the positions of each individual band member and where they must be on the field at the correct beat of the music. Each student must count out and learn their own individual coordinates on the field at any given point. The computer software identifies each person and the coordinates they must use throughout every measure of each performance. Each student must also learn a number of practiced movements such as the high step, the roll step, sliding, changing direction, marching backward, and foot positions. And. . . it must all be done on the beat, sometimes in the heat while wearing very heavy uniforms and hats!
Besides the committees of parents and the band director, these bands require leadership within the band itself. Since bands can range from a few dozen musicians up to hundreds of musicians, there is a breakdown of groups within the band to help lead and carry out orders. Each group (called a section) has a section leader. For the participants, these are sought after positions that recognize hard work, leadership and the experience of a student. Usually these sections are made up of the same instrument or instrument type.
Tulsa, Oklahoma Performance
This was an award winning performance. Notice the band laying on the ground.
Do you think that maybe this all requires a little money?
Our band years ago, was required to raise well over $100,000 each and every year, and this didn't even buy new uniforms. Uniforms were cleaned and maintained to get the maximum number of years of usage out of them. Our budget generally took care of hiring buses, truck fuel, food, props, music, cooking supplies, uniform maintenance and more.
In smaller towns and outlying areas, marching band becomes a more important activity available to residents and students, and so it is even a bigger deal than many of the larger cities. It's the same with football. Football in small town America is a much bigger deal than in the big cities, and that's saying a lot! They become the only home team or "the" hometown marching band.
Our band would compete once a year at the Edward Jones Dome (home of the St. Louis Rams) with bands from all over the country. Here, dozens and dozens of bands would compete over a few days. Some of the bands we competed with, were so into these competitions, they had $1,000,000 plus budgets. Is that getting serious?
My son during a perfromance.
IT'S A BIG BUSINESS
Most likely, every large professional football stadium in the country has hosted one of these competitions. If you think that this might be a big business these days you're correct! Just check out Bands of America, or take a look at a list of just some of the things that are sold as a result of the marching band business:
SUPPLIES, EQUIPMENT & SERVICES
- Band and Guard Uniforms
- Color Guard Equipment
- Band Instruments
- Educational Tools
- Band Accessories
- Flag Fabric
- Apparel and T-shirts
- Percussion equipment
- Marching Band Music
- Marching Band Shoes
- Color Guard Floors
- Band Trailers, Podiums
- Electronic Equipment
- Fundraising sources
- Show designers
- Arrangers & Composers
- Drill Design
- Color Guard Choreography
- Band Camps and Clinics
- Marching Band Judges
- Band Photography both video and stills
- Video Audio and web work
- Band Instrument Repair
- Band Job Openings for drill instructors, band leaders, color guard supervision
Huge Trophy's Hopefully Reward The Hard Work!
FINAL JUDGEMENT AT EACH PERFORMANCE
Bands end up being judged by professional judges that travel around the country and review the performance. They actually get out in the field in the middle of the performances to see if arms, legs, toes and line formations are in the right positions at the right time. Bands are judged on music performance, interpretation, visual and appearance issues, marching, creativity, auxillary (color guard) performances, percussion performance (pit crew performance) and overall combined performance. Bands compete with other bands of a similar size. When the scores and awards are handed out, there is a roar of excited cheers, from the winning bands and the audience. There's also some heartbreak and tears for the losers! While these awards are obviously the result of hundreds of hours and months of practice, any teen and parent who participates in this remarkable activity actually gets much more out of it than a trophy!