Jim LeBon
Southport Middle School

Choosing arrangements for your marching band season is a vital decision for the success of your program.  The marching band is the most visible part of your program and the music you pick will not only represent your program to the public, it will also be put you and your band on its chosen musical path for the school year.  Therefore, it is important for you to do your homework before purchasing your show. There is a large amount of music available from many sources and the shrewd director needs to think about what they want to portray on the field before they make this critical choice:

  • What kind of show are you interested in?
  • Do you want to go to competitions or are you more interested in entertaining the football crowd on Friday night?
  • What is the tradition of your band program?
  • What kind of time and resources do you want to devote to your show?
  • What is the experience level and instrumentation of your group?
  • Do you have individuals that will be soloists?
  • What are your percussion needs, abilities, and equipment?
  • Do you want to reinforce your group with electronics?

These questions need to be answered before you start listening to and looking at music for your group.

Shows fall into a several categories.  A rock and roll show of familiar but older tunes that parents and students can identify with can build support and excitement for your group.  A show using current pop music has great appeal for the kids but might not appeal to the parents. A pop show that has a recent remake in it that the parents will enjoy is the best of both worlds. A show of Latin style music is very exciting and very appealing to audiences. A show of jazz style music can be great but requires students that can play in the swing style while they march. A show of original music written for marching band can be more competitive depending on the festivals that you are interested in attending, but has to be sold to the parents and audience who may not identify with or understand original music at first.

Choosing the proper difficulty level for your band is important.  A simple rule is that the marching show should be one level easier than what the band successfully played at Concert MPA or at their spring concert the year before.  It is much harder to move and play than to just play in a concert setting and the smart director sets students up for success by playing at a level that doesn’t over stretch the band’s abilities and stamina.  The time from band camp to the first game seems to get compressed more and more every season so there is not the same time to prepare as there is for a festival or concert performance.  Even though it has become acceptable to unveil a show over the course of several games, it is desirable to be able to make a complete presentation of the show sooner rather than later.

There are many commercially available show packages. These packages include drill, music, and sometimes auxiliary routines. These shows can save time and money and can be very useful, but it is important to keep a few ideas in mind.  A show that is written by one arranger/composer is going to be more consistent than three tunes that fit a theme by three different writers.  Instrumentation and keys written by one person will be more consistent.  A show that is written as one entity has a planned flow from beginning to end. It is important to consider, however, that when companies put together shows, selections are not always being used as they are designed. A piece that is written as a show opening will be very different than one that is written as a finale or a production style piece. 

If you choose a show that is written by different writers you will probably need to edit instrumentation and voicings to be consistent across the show.  It is important to consider the key of each tune and their relationship to each other.  Cuts and repeats may need to be added to create impact points, or to augment the setting or flow of the show. You may also need to consider rewriting solo parts as small ensembles or for another instrument. Titles that fit the theme are only a starting place; the makeup and flow of the complete show is a vital key to the impact and success of your show. Try to consider every musical and performance element of every tune before making a purchase.

Listening to pieces on the internet is a good place to start.  Recordings that are just midis are problematic because everything sounds pretty good on a computer regardless of how well or poorly it is written.  Looking at the score while listening to a band playing the music is much more reliable. Purchasing scores before you purchase a show is a good way of knowing what you’re are really getting for your group.  When previewing a score consider instrumentation and your group; the ability of your players and the range of the music; rhythmic complexity; transitions and how they are prepared. Be sure to focus on the key of each selection, and how well the parts are written in regards to voice leading.  Finally, do the voicings of the low brass lend themselves to good balance and blend? 

These opening concepts are the first steps in purchasing your show for the fall season.  Time spent in purchasing a well-written show that fits musically and excites your group is time that will pay dividends for the entire marching season and consequently, the entire year.  The next article in this series will explain ideas on how to adapt and edit a show once you have made a purchase.