The marching arts are hugely popular and can teach so many beneficial things to musicians involved. There are varying degrees of learning that takes place when involving oneself in marching arts activities and they certainly have their place within music education. This post is in no way meant to take anything away from the marching arts but simply an attempt to offer some thoughts on a new program called WGI Winds.
Yes it is true that until now, wind players have not had an outlet in WGI winter programs, and I believe that there is a reason that it has not happened. With all that happens in a year of school for young musicians, is there really room to add another marching activity in an already busy schedule of pep band, concert bands, jazz bands, chamber music, private lessons, etc.? Do we need to add more marching activities to an already “marching heavy” curriculum? Those of us that are involved in competitive marching band realize that from the months of July until November, marching band is a way of life, and if not careful, can take over a band program causing things to be over balanced in a facet of music education that can ONLY exist because of the winter/spring training.
What is the most important part of a wind players musical training in the school system?
I believe it is broken into 3 main parts: Chamber Music participation, Private Lessons and Band Activities with multiple performances in each of these parts of the education process. Each of these adds value to the educational process and helps to form the total musician that is the best version of him or herself. Most of these activities take place from January-May, with some band programs spending time on concert band music during marching band season. Because of the time and competition in marching season, private lessons, chamber ensembles and sometimes concert band reading can take a backseat as we prepare for “important” contests.
So, where does WGI Winds fit into this curriculum. Please, do not hear me saying it cannot fit, but my biggest questions is WHERE and if so, why is this needed? Hear are some arguments against another marching program for winds during the winter and spring.
- Rote teaching – we continually teach the same pieces of music for months at a time which does not present a “real-world” experience for these young musicians. As a professional, we rehearse once for multiple concerts, not months for a few concerts.
- Sight-Reading – If we are practicing for competitions and performances, we are in a sense preparing for the test. When do we get to focus on sight-reading when students are playing the same music for months at a time.
- Time – When do the students get to practice and be able to take individual responsibility to improve their playing outside of competitive activities? If we are constantly preparing a “show” when do the students practice music other than the show music?
- Money – many programs are spending thousands of dollars on fall marching programs, when their students cannot play their instruments, or have not trained knowledgable musicians. How many masterclasses, lessons, chamber ensembles, trips to the symphony could we purchase instead of a winterguard mat, new marching costumes, transportation, etc.
- The love for marching takes over – it is already difficult enough in some programs to instill a love of the “concert season” in parents and students because they love the competition so much. Adding another competitive wind activity can create even more animosity to an already slippery slope. Some parents call the concert season the “off season”. I would not want to create another organization for parents to attempt to be only involved in instead of the concert program.
- Priorities – Shouldn’t our priorities be trying to create a love for music and creating the best musical versions of our students? If we compare and mirror our music programs after the professional music world, which is what we should be doing, isn’t it important to train students to be able to perform, practice and fit into the professional world? In order to create impeccable young musicians with an ability to sight-read and perform many different genres, just about all the time we have in our schedule is what is already in the curriculum for a wind player. Masterclasses with high level professional musicians, chamber music programs with multiple performance opportunities (with a book full of music to choose from), improvisation and jazz opportunities, private lessons and lastly trips to hear professsionals perform.
- Educational process – The problem with the system that is in place is just about every part of the school day the students are given multiple opportunities to get things wrong. Even in our band classes, students play 3 on a part, and practice the same music for months at a time, and subconsciously know that they can mess up because they will always have tomorrow. I believe we need to create more opportunites to get things right quicker without presenting another opportunity to have multiple rehearsals. I am sure with WGI Winds preparations, there would be multiple rehearsals per week.
Is there any time when WGI Winds could be beneficial? I believe there are certain instances where it could add nicely to the curriculum of certain music programs:
- Very small band – it could work nicely if there is a very small band program that feels the football field is too large of a venue for them to sound resonant and full. The Gym would be a nice space for them to connect with the audience on a more intimate level.
- No fall marching band – If ensembles choose to train their musicians in the fall with concert band activities, the winter could be a nice time for the program to get their marching experience.
While WGI Winds does present a chamber music avenue for young musicians, it does not allow students to work on reading and generally consists of instrumentation that is not normal to the professional chamber music idiom. Maybe having a rehearsal limit, and having to perform multiple different shows would help the educational benefit, but there are still many issues that cause it to present problems in today’s music education system.
I am a large supporter of the marching arts, and think there are huge benefits to students participating in the marching arts. I am a consultant, brass instructor and active adjudicator as well as a professional musician and value the time spent on the preparation of the WGI Winds program. I am in no way criticizing the people involved and am just expressing my thoughts on a brand new outlet in the marching arts.
What are your thoughts on WGI Winds?