By Jose A. Lopez
Like many of you, I am eagerly awaiting the early days of August to arrive so that I can welcome our band students to our pre-school band camp and another year of excitement, musical growth and performance achievement. Band camp is such an exhilarating time of year, as the personality, musical potential, work ethic and goals for our program are formulated, defined and procedures established to achieve these goals.
The marching band offers a wonderful opportunity to begin this process in a positive, enthusiastic and successful manner. We are all aware of the important position that the Marching Band holds today, in the visible representation of our band program in our school and community. By the very nature of athletic and outdoor events, the size and variety of our audiences gives us a chance to present our program in a musical, positive, and exciting light. The multiple performance opportunities with this component of our program, allows us invaluable chances to showcase the growth, development and quality of our program to large and varied members of our community. During band camp, our returning and new band students have the opportunity to come together, before the beginning of the new school year and develop a sense of family and Esprit de Corps within the program that fulfills in our students the sense of comradery that comes with being a member of a diverse, yet like-minded group. This “band family” becomes their musical, academic, social and emotional support system during these formative and often times trying years.
Today, one of our profession’s most intense points of discussion revolves around the competitive marching band within the high school band curriculum. The excitement, energy, enthusiasm, visible, and materialistic rewards that accompany this activity have led members of our profession, in the opinion of some, to overemphasize in importance the time and financial support this component of our programs receives in order to achieve public adulation and recognition. This opinion is leading a growing number of our young Directors, and Directors who have past Drum Corps and competitive experience, to develop a sense of alienation and isolation and division within our profession. We, as Music Educators, are confronted with creating a balanced program that has as its foundation the Concert Band. No matter our focus, the school calendar dictates that each year starts the focus on marching band. Understanding this, I believe that it is vital that at the beginning of each school year band directors emphasize strong fundamental musical concepts, beginning with the marching band so that these concepts are incorporated in all facets of our program.
We only need to look at the leading band programs nationally and in our own state, to identify a common denominator within all of these programs. They are outstanding in ALL components of their program. The overwhelming majority of these programs include competitive marching bands. The musical standards within these organizations is of the highest quality. These standards are developed and refined during the fall competitive season and continue to be developed and refined as the year progresses.
Many of us will agree that a primary key to a successful musical ensemble performance is characteristic tone quality. Outstanding and consistent tonal concepts and instruction, allow individual students and ensembles the opportunity to excel at this most basic performance concept. When music is the primary point of emphasis within our marching band program, creating, developing, rehearsing, refining, and performing a singular marching presentation for multiple performances, affords students and directors an outstanding opportunity for positive musical growth and development. The decision to have or not have a competitive marching program should not change the instructional focus of the marching band season. All marching band instruction should emphasize the musical qualities and capabilities of the ensemble. Marching band gives us the opportunity to dedicate additional time and energy toward this goal by having limited, constructive, well-structured rehearsal time outside of the school day. It is important that during marching band, directors establish a systematic and sequential music rehearsal process, a process that can be used in all aspects of students individual and ensemble experience throughout the school year. Time can be delegated to discuss, demonstrate, and execute correct posture, horn placement, breath support, tone production, consistency of pitch, balance, blend, articulations, attack and releases. With the Band Director’s musical direction, students can continue to develop and refine tonal concepts that will serve them and their ensembles throughout the year. The marching band allows us to focus valuable time on creating concepts, that once reinforced and refined, will effectively be transferred to all other performance styles. Extensive time and attention to tonal and musical concepts, as we prepare our marching bands, will enhance our students with their development during the early part of the year. Many, if not ALL of these tonal and ensemble concepts should be easily transferable to our concert ensemble rehearsals as the school year progresses. With the foundation of our programs being the Concert band, it becomes important that music be the focal center of our competitive program. Again, all we need to do is look at the outstanding programs within our state and nation to see how this is a true and constant denominator.
Regardless of the level of competition in your program, the “single show” concept of marching band gives each program and director valuable time that can be assigned to fundamental musical concepts and development. We also have the opportunity to instill in our students the invaluable concept of improving and refining our musical presentation based on positive and constructive feedback in an adjudicated environment. Attending adjudicated events in the fall may help us to motivate our students to participate in Solo and Ensemble Assessments, with adjudicator comments and feedback being an important component of these Assessments, later in the year. As Directors, we look forward to preparing our ensembles to perform for adjudication as an important vehicle to assist in the development and musical growth of all of our groups. The opportunity to receive positive feedback and constructive criticism can only help prepare our students for future performances, adjudications, and personal musical growth throughout the remainder of the year. Through these experiences they will gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the importance of the musical fundamentals in their individual and ensemble’s success. Regardless of the level of competition you feel is appropriate for your students and program, with music preparation, development and performance as the basis for marching band foundation the marching band can help establish a positive beginning for an inspiring and successful year of music making!