With marching season upon us there are so many things to do and plan for. The music is being arranged, drill is being written and visual concepts are being finalized. The planning process is extremely important in order to set your student musicians up for optimal success as we begin camps, but
Is there one step that you may be overlooking?
Many directors put a plan in process, choose music and have the music arranged for their ensembles by professionals that are excellent at what they do. This is certainly the first step to having a great product, but what many miss in the process is looking at the score and asking themselves, is this product exactly right for what will be successful on the field for my ensemble. Am I taking care of everything on the planning end so the final product will not cost the students in the end? Sometimes we blame the students for problems they cannot control.
The score editing process is one many overlook in the many stages of planning. An arrangement that is written for your ensemble most likely has many issues that cause your students to have inherent problems on and off the field. This will also cause problems in the judges scoring because of what the kids can actually acheive. It is very important to have someone really comb through the score measure by measure so that a clean product can be presented to students at the start of the season. The beginning product needs to be free of issues that always cause directors to “pull their hair out” throughout the season.
Here are some problems that need to be addressed in order to present a product that can and will be successful from the very beginning of the season, without spending countless hours trying to rewrite and redo things throughout the season.
1. Pacing issues
When judges are looking at a show for the first time, they want to feel the show’s emotion and musicality without having their interest interrupted by segments of the show that are like run on sentences. Judges are much like spectators. They want to be entertained. They want the show to move along and take them through a storyline. Much like a “slow” movie, if things do not move quickly, and present new ideas, we become bored and begin looking for things that are wrong. In order to score well, the judge cannot be bored. Also, how will the musical pacing work with the visual design? Am I giving the drill writer enough time to get his/her point across in a very innovative way?
2. Construction issues
Much the same as pacing, constuction is looking at how each section is incorporated in the show and how they fit in with each other. If 3/4 of the opener is woodwind contribution because your band has a strong woodwind section, the communication of the musical intent is not helping because of the one timbre that runs too long. Along these lines there might be too long of a percussion feature without giving the ear another tidbit of music to spark an interest. What about the way the opener feeds into the ballad and how we want to build a strong foundation to be ready for a nice slow down. Are the introduction, plot, climax and resolutions in the right spots to feel secure in our story telling?
3. Rhythmic issues
There are just some rhythms that do not work on the field even if you have the best marching band in the country. The time is simply not there to rehearse things to death that most likely will not improve very much. Our time is so precious in the high school marching activity. It is imperative that rhyhthmic issues are looked at before passing your product out to your student musicians. Syncopation is an example of a rhythm that generally presents problems. I am certainly not saying you cannot use it, but how does it fit in with the other instruments, how much time do we have to rehearse and what tempo are they expected to master it? It almost certainly drags when being attempted at quick exciting tempi. Certain 16th note passages just for the sake of being flashy, or triplets that could be written as eighth notes. Think about what is going to give your student a 100% chance to be 100% successful 100% of the time.
Where do your kids breathe? Breathing in the sport of the arts is the number one priority. Students cannot be successful without proper breathing and time to take the proper breath. The score must be looked at from the standpoint of giving the musician the best opportunity for success, especially when we want to have very emotionally stirring big sections of the show. We have all heard directors yell “louder”, “dont give up”, etc. Most of the time it is not because the students are not trying, they simply have not been given the opportunity to be successful. They have nowhere to breathe. I have also heard directors say “stagger your breathing.” While this is needed sometimes, unless very thorough attention in rehearsals has been done to show students where to “stagger,” just saying it will never happen. Places for group breaths, and building breaths into each section strategically is a very large priority.
This is probably one of the most important things that is overlooked. Many arrangers write very surface dynamics in the music like f, mf or ff, but what about the in between where the music can be found. As stated above, students need to be able to breathe, and adding dynamic interest is one way to add hidden breaths without really knowing they are there. For an example, the bottom of a sfzp crescendo can allow a student to sneak a breath before coming back up to the large dynamic. Also, in order to score well in the music effect category we have to be very strategic at looking at what is the most important voice that needs to be heard, and add dynamics that will help this to sound like it should on a first or second reading. We want the score to be very transparent and basically spoon our intent to the judges. Not only these things, but having a clean score with very specific dynamics so the percussion writing can be written as a reflection of this. Many bands have percussion sections that sound like they are doing one show, and the winds are doing another. Most likely, the percussion writer received a score with little to no dynamic editing. The percussion writer needs to write very musically and know if he/she is writing with the woodwinds, or with the brass and how the battery and front ensemble fit into the overall product. This cannot be overlooked.
The one phrase that should be over every one of these categories is, “What can my students achieve and what allows them to be 100% successful 100% of the time. How many times have we said “I hope this section of the show goes well”. There should be no hope but confidence in the product given to the students that WILL allow success. No matter if you have a “young” band or a very mature ensemble, there are certain things that you can do before the season to make each sound and look mature and professional.
Choose a professional musician, possibly one who has done some marching arts adjudication, to look over your score and work with you on what will allow your students to be successful. Plan ahead so you do not waste time later. Be proactive in your students success so you do not have to blame them for problems they cannot control later. Ask for help!
Do you use a score editor? If not I would be happy to help you look into this for your ensemble. Please contact me with any questions you may have regarding this process.