Let’s Get Started
I try to stay an entire semester ahead in the form of planning. I don’t really have time to do this, but I certainly do not have time to have my planning go awry. I have found that when making plans months out, if I see the need to make changes, it is a bit easier on the staff, and ultimately the performers. Remember, your students cannot be successful if you don’t put them in a quality situation. Skimp on sleep or chocolate, not on your planning for a successful marching season.
On our campus, we begin looking (listening) for that special music in January. The most important aspect for us is to find a quality piece of literature that matches our strengths and allows our weaknesses to be cultured. It is easy just to find that great piece for that killer trumpeter or trombonist you might have, but remember you will still have to deal with your weaknesses after these “great” players are gone. The immediate need is to have a successful marching season, but the long-term plan is to teach each of your students to a higher level of performance. Always remember: you are building a program, not just a single season. Listen closely to the textures and technical necessities of your selection and be sure that you not only have the horses to run the race, but also that they will be challenged throughout the long season ahead.
Next, carefully evaluate the design-features of the music you are gravitating toward. How it is layered, how it is constructed, and how it travels through its eight-minute life. Don’t be overly focused on those high-notes and that cool lick, but more so on the total work, its relevance to itself and to the visual package you will later design around it. Your real goal is to be thinking visually when you are listening for a good book, and thinking musically when you are designing an exciting visual format. To be successful, one is NOT more important than the other. Each half should complement the other, making a unified concept that is seamless and collaborative to not only make sense, but be entertaining.
Lastly on musical selection, ensure that every element of your ensemble is going to be heard and hopefully featured. In today’s competitive events, marching bands must show the ability to not only have power through percussion and brass, but also exhibit quality woodwinds doing much of the same performance skills we demonstrate in our concert ensembles. Remember the terms TENSION and RELEASE. Your show must constantly grab your audience with excitement and then relax them for the next big impact. Too much of either will find you wondering why your effect scores are not what you want them to be. If you are a bit fuzzy on how this all fits together, consult a nearby respected director, a judging association or just hit up YouTube for video of some programs you know are “getting it done.” Planning you do now will pay HUGE dividends while in contest mode.
We at the Munford High School Band suggest listening to your choice of music and reading the score until you can literally sing (by memory) every part. Include your visual team (again, probably just yourself) and let your mind just go free. Though the title assigned by the composer/distributor may be workable, you just might hear something that they didn’t. Again, listen to your new book hundreds of times and let it speak to you and your team. Sometimes the craziest themes come to fruition and lead you to great success through creativity and team-planning. If permitted by the composer, feel free to change your show’s title. Make it special by putting your right-brained efforts into it. Just a hint, but listen to that alto line of your book. Some beauty is always found there, and your show’s theme may well lie within.
THINGS I LEARNED IN THE PAST
In my 31 years, I would love to tell you that most of my decisions have been successful ones, but the facts remain to the contrary. But, I am light-years better at this now than I was years ago, and here’s why: recap your season, identify your strengths and weaknesses in both construction and implementation (teaching). That’s how you learn from your mistakes. If there is one thing that separates the “big guns” from the “up and comers,” it is the ability to utilize past experiences for future benefit. For those of you new to the game, stay close to respected educators and use their insights to your betterment, and those that are gaining experience, TAKE NOTES and use your artifacts to make your program stronger in the following years.
Not every show is a total gem – even the ones that take you to championships. Be critical of your work and your decisions, at least privately, so that you improve each year and mature as both designers and educators. Personally, I don’t see any difference in the two. Both are critical to success, both require great insight and scope and only the best planners/organizers can handle the tasks at hand. Final challenge: LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES.