It’s integral to the music-making process. Musicians practice together, rehearse together, and perform together. Music is a creative collaboration.
But why do we avoid it when we design a marching band show?
In many case I feel that the drill designer is the last one to be contacted, and the last one to be told about design choices. That the marching show design paradigm goes like this:
1. Band director gets an idea.
2. Idea goes to wind arranger.
3. Wind arrangements goes to percussion arranger.
4. Mp3 goes to guard designer.
5. Drill designer gets everyone’s request.
With a run-of-the-mill halftime show, this can work perfectly fine. Competitively speaking, with judges looking to a more integrated product, this is a recipe for disaster.
When you remove the collaborative nature that is needed from the marching show design team, you lose the following:
– Creativity: A group of creative minds can feed off of each other, and come up with new ways to do familiar things. Those “cool” effect you see in shows, those where planned, and likely stemmed off a group conversation. Speaking personally, I’ve put together over 100 shows; I’ve seen ideas that work and don’t work, and can help a director avoid non-effective design choices.
–Integration: If the design process is segmented, the final product will likely be too. Winds, Percussion, Auxiliary, and Drill must work with each other; not separated from each other. A segmented design is not an effective design.
–Achievability: You set-up students for failure. This holds especially true with the guard. If work is designed to in-depth before drill, you risk a year full of rewrites and changes. Work needs to complement the drill, and micromanaging the drill designer to meet guard demands will limit the creativity of the drill designer, and the guard designer too. Ideally, I like to work hand-n-hand with the guard designer. Sending them updates as the design goes.
So how do we bring the design team together?
I recommend early emails (or using social media groups) to bounce around ideas. Afterwards, I recommend a conference call to discuss the pros and cons of each. Have all designers on the call as each person will bring up unique ideas and points-of –view. Keep the ideas as macro as possible. Remember, you are thinking big picture, not small details. If everyone checks their egos at the door, you will have a productive call.
Once the show ideas are down to a couple choices, have another call where you can go more micro into the design. Now you can talk about props, costumes, etc… You can also consider budget-related decisions now. How much are those uniforms going to cost? Come to a consensus, and start the music design process.
At this point I recommend having the wind arranger/battery arranger work with the drill designer on phrasing of the music. Something as simple as a three-count percussion fill can lead to a right-foot step-off. Also remember that this is a show, and there needs to be transition time. Once the music is put together, make sure the drill designer creates a production sheet.
Did you decide to go with canned show? Great! Send the music to the drill person first!!! The drill designer should then create a production sheer.
A flow chart should combine the macro with the micro in a spreadsheet format. Drill pages, counts, equipment changes, demands (musically and visually), narration, and general ideas should be written out on a spreadsheet. I recommend using Google Docs as it can be shared and edited by the entire design team. Be sure to look for potential issues:
– Do you really want to move during that section? Music too hard?
– Is it really wise to change equipment for only three pages of drill?
– How about we do body work during measures 14-28?
– Do we have enough time to move the props?
– Jazz running for 32 counts might not work on a reduced-sized field.
Make changes that are needed to the marching show design. If you went custom music, make rehearsal numbers match drill page numbers. Rehearsal marker 24 is drill page 24!!!
All these simple, collaborative steps might take a little more time prior to your marching band camp, but the rewards will allow you to have more time doing what you do the best: teach. These steps will allow you and your student to have the best fall possible.
All the best,