Tag Archives: band

A Few Tips on Selecting Your Halftime Show Music

 

story

By Michael Story
Composer, Arranger, & Editor

Times sure have changed since I was in high school band. We used to perform a different halftime show for each home game. Nowadays, most bands perform just one show a year, which makes it even more important to select a show that truly fits your band. Although marching band students are not exposed to as much music as we were, the advantage to doing just one show a year allows for a much higher level of achievement in performance quality. Here are few tips to help you in your halftime music selection:

  • Type of Music: Although many bands have had success with original compositions for their show, there are many good reasons to consider a show based on pop music. Sure, there is good and bad pop music (just as there are good and bad original compositions), but many popular songs offer great teaching opportunities. The added benefit is that you will generally have a better opportunity to connect with your audience.
  • Difficulty Level: You want to choose music that is neither too easy nor too hard. Students will become bored with music that is too easy, and discouraged with music that is too difficult. Choosing music that is right at your band’s ability level (or slightly easier) allows you to focus on increased musicality and polishing the drill.
  • Quality: Are ALL the parts (not just the melody) interesting, musical, idiomatic, and written in a comfortable range for your students? Has the composer or arranger chosen an appropriate instrument or section to play the melody? Do the interior parts, countermelodies, and bass lines make musical sense?
  • Form: Does the show achieve a balance of REPETITION and CONTRAST? Examples of repetition include recurring themes or ideas, or an ending reprise of the opening melody to tie the show together. Contrast is achieved not only from varying the musical content, but also through textural and instrumental changes, including solos or ensembles within the show, musical highs and lows, and percussion or other section features.

Good halftime show music can come in all shapes and sizes–there can be great educational opportunities in all genres. Whatever music you choose, have fun with it, and have a great year!

Classics from One Generation to Another

By Douglas E. Wagner

Douglas WagnerIf there ever was a blast to the past in my life, it happened this past spring when I began to write concert band and string orchestra arrangements of The Who classic single, “My Generation.” That day, it was 1965 and I was 13 again.

While not fitting the mold as the stereotypical angst-ridden, anti-establishment teen of the time, the words didn’t hit me as strongly as they did some of my friends. For me it was all about the beat — that driving, pulsating forward motion and unrelenting call-and-response pattern. I remember hearing it for the first time, being jolted to a new awareness of the world around me, of life, of the freedom that only music can bring. And so it has been I’m sure for millions through the decades whose lives have been forever affected by this quintessential British Rock standard.

My five-year-old granddaughter happened to be in the house when I was listening to the playback. She exuberantly came running up the stairs exclaiming: “Papaw, Papaw, what is that?” “My Generation, Alex … and now it’s yours.”

Hope you and your students like the charts!

Playing Melodically: A Different Approach to Teaching Phrasing

By Todd Stalter

During my first semester in college, my studio teacher gave me what seemed like an insurmountable amount of technical studies to prepare for every lesson which, frankly, I enjoyed in a perverse sort of way—being able to play rings around everybody else was certainly on my mind as an ambitious freshman trumpet player (as if that was all there was to it).  During second semester, however, he tacked on some simple melodies in the back of the Arban Method for each lesson as well, saying, “I think it’s about time you learned how to play a melody.”  Of course, I thought I already did…boy, was I in for an education.  Thanks to him, I was initiated into my first truly detailed study of music.

One of the most important concepts we try to teach our ensembles is to play with good phrasing, but we often become frustrated when we don’t hear our groups playing phrases consistently.  I believe that part of the reason for this can be traced to our students’ first experiences with full ensemble music. They may be unconsciously making a distinction between that music and the material in their lesson books, which is naturally almost 100% melodic in focus.  You can’t really blame them; it’s hard to convince a young trombone player playing whole and half notes all day long, or alto sax and French horn players with an awkward middle voice part that sounds weird, that they actually have a melody of any kind.  And, to be honest, if we’re not careful, we directors can relegate phrasing pretty far down our priority list when rehearsing (guilty as charged).  After a few years of playing Grades 1 to 2.5 ensemble music with little or no attention to melodic playing, it becomes even harder to get good musical phrases out of them when they are in an ensemble capable of playing Grade 3 music and above.

We all know that for an ensemble player of any age, playing a good phrase requires knowing what the melody actually is, who plays it, and how their part relates to it.  I think too many directors get caught in the “melody vs. non-melody” trap while teaching phrasing, and are in fact unwittingly telling their students that when their part is not the melody, they should play “non-melodically,” which is exactly the opposite of what creates good phrasing in the first place.  I believe part of the answer to effectively teaching phrasing lies in convincing EVERYONE that their parts are melodic. Realizing that sometimes they may have the “primary” melody, a “secondary” melody, or even a “background” melody of some sort helps them find their place in the musical texture.  Using this approach, every member of the ensemble is focused on melodic playing, and is instinctively trying to phrase it musically, which gives the director something audible to work with, as in “Hey trombones, did you hear how the euphoniums played the part you share?  That’s how I want you to phrase it.”

Not only does this approach foster better individual and ensemble musicianship, but it teaches students to be more creative musicians and “think it” before they play it, which is a far more gratifying artistic result for both the director and their students.

Be an Active Listener

By Jeff Coffin and Caleb Chapman,
The Articulate Jazz Musician
Authors

calebchapman_jeffcoffinIn our new book series, The Articulate Jazz Musician, one of the first skills we discuss is the ability to listen. Listening is fundamental! We believe it is the most basic fundamental in music and ultimately essential to success. To participate, we like to think of the listening process as “the act of listening” or, better yet, “active listening.” To get the most from a practice activity, you need to be focused and involved. We would like to share some of our ideas on becoming better listeners, as well as some important recordings to listen to and share.

1. Listen with the Whole Body

Have you ever had goose bumps while listening to music? Where do they come from and why do they happen? Goose bumps come from a WHOLE BODY listening experience. Hearing and feeling music through your body can be a profound experience. Learn to appreciate the sensations of music on your arms, legs, feet, chest, hands, and face—they’re all vibrations and we can “hear” those vibrations with our bodies.

2. Listen to Your Surroundings

Learn to listen around you. Close your eyes, be silent, and pay attention to what you hear. It may take a few moments to perceive your surroundings but there is a lot there! The better your perception is, the better your listening skills will become. There is a big hint in the fact that the words “listen” and “silent” contain exactly the same letters.

3. Listen to an Expanded Range of Styles

It’s important to listen to and enjoy different styles and types of music. A wise person once said: “All listeners are equal in their opinions.” Just because you like something doesn’t mean someone else will feel the same way. The opposite holds true, as well—just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And similarly, just because something is new or is in a style that is unfamiliar, don’t dismiss it! Give it a listen, not just once but a few times. You might be surprised at how your appreciation for the music changes as you spend more time with it.

4. Listen More than You Practice

A good rule is to listen twice as much as you practice. Music is a language and we need to hear it in order to assimilate its sounds, articulations, rhythms, and emotions. It’s not realistic to expect children (or anyone) to learn a language without first hearing it and imitating it. Music is no exception. It takes time, effort, imitation, and listening.

5. Listen with Others

What is some of the most unusual music you have heard? Have you shared it with your students? Have you asked them to share theirs with you? Listening with others will give you a fresh perspective on what you are hearing. People enjoy talking about what they have heard. It’s important to ask the question, “What did you hear?”

Start a dialogue about music and about listening. Be sure to listen to your students’ comments. This is important even if you don’t agree with them or if their assessment seems a little strange to you. Experience is a beautiful teacher and we can all learn something from communicating and listening to one another.

Chances are that you, your friends, and your student musicians have some favorite current jazz artists that you are listening to. However, sometimes the vast catalogs of earlier recordings can be intimidating—often students will inquire about what to listen to. Below are a few recommendations from us of some great music to hone those listening skills on!

Small Group Recommendations from Jeff Coffin

Louis Armstrong & the Hot Five – anything!

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

John Coltrane – Ballads

Sonny Rollins – Live at the Village Vanguard

Keith Jarrett – Standards Vol. 1

Cannonball Adderley – Something Else

Alan Lomax’s field recordings (These are online for FREE).

www.folkstreams.net (Great folkloric documentaries for FREE!)

Ali Fakar Toure – anything (He’s a guitarist from Mali, Africa.)

Aretha Franklin – Aretha Sings the Blues

Large Ensemble Recommendations from Caleb

Toshiko Akiyoshi – Long Yellow Road

Count Basie – April In Paris

Duke Ellington – Jazz Party

Gil Evans and Miles Davis – Miles Ahead

Maynard Ferguson – Birdland Dreamband

Dizzy Gillespie – Birk’s Works: Verve Big Band Sessions

Benny Goodman – Live at Carnegie Hall 1938

Fletcher Henderson – 1924-1925

Joe Henderson – Big Band

Woody Herman – Keeper of the Flame: Complete Capitol Recordings

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis – Live at the Village Vanguard

Stan Kenton – Cuban Fire

Charles Mingus – Let My Children Hear Music

Buddy Rich – Roar of ’74 

Bang Zoom!!

Start your program off with a bang and watch kids get excited about music.

By Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi
There is so much to do in preparation for September and beyond, but just as important as all the organizing and ordering are the ways that we generate enthusiasm and excitement.  So how do we do it? How do we get kids buzzed about band and maintain that excitement all throughout the year? Here are just a few ideas. I’m sure you’ve got many more.

As you browse these eight great ideas, you can use the Mind Map below as a visual reference:
vincemindmap

1. BAND NIGHT OUT. Attend a concert as a band within the first few weeks of school. It’s a great way to kick off the year. There are always exciting performances to attend and good live music will aid in the development of a student’s concept of tone and style. Parents are always willing to help with transportation and other considerations. Plus, they will soon realize just how cool your program is.

2. SNEAK PREVIEWS. Consider inviting other classes, teachers, or parents into the band room for a quick snippet of your next concert. This doesn’t have to be onerous. Just one piece is sufficient or even a section that you are working on. Better yet, simply nab the next person walking past your room. Ask them to come in for a minute and listen. Kids love to perform and sometimes the best progress is made in front of a live audience.

3. OFF SPEED PITCH. As students are entering your room, why not have music playing? The twist is that it can be music that they listen to and not necessarily your musical preference. “Hey Miss, you like this stuff?” is a question you’ll no doubt hear. That’s okay. They’ll think that they have the coolest teacher in the school.

4. VIDEO TESTS (CONTESTS). Have students record their own playing tests. They are much easier to grade. What if they make a mistake and re-record? Great! The more they do that, the more they practice. Isn’t that the point? “But sir, I get nervous when I have to play a test.” My reply is, “Don’t think of it as a test but rather as a contest.” The word contest can imply a game or challenge to achieve a personal best. Athletes do it all the time.

5. BAND CAMP. It would take some preparation during the previous school year so you may want to save this one for next September, but how cool would it be (while the rest of the school is in class, of course) to have the senior band or the entire music department away at camp for a few days? Run sectionals and full rehearsals. It’s a great way to introduce repertoire for the year. Invite guest instructors for master classes and/or to perform with the band. Remember you want to turn kids on so it has to be fun.

6. BEGINNER CAMP. Have just the beginning music students at a mini-camp for one day. Specialists will ensure that concepts get ingrained correctly from the start. Order pizza (band budget) and invite parents to attend a very brief mini-concert (one very easy three-note piece). Briefly outline what your goals are and why home support is so crucial. What a sense of accomplishment your students will feel and what a fantastic sneak preview of the fun they’ll have in your music program!

7. VIDEO CONFERENCE. Set up a videoconference with a composer whose music you’ll be performing this year. It can just be a question and answer session. Forward student generated questions to your guest composer ahead of time. There isn’t a lot of tech setup (laptop, screen, Skype). Schedule a second session later in the year when the band has had time to work on the music. What an invaluable experience and what a great preparation for the actual concert. Plan ahead and this one will reap great benefits.

8. BANDFEST. How about a virtual and/or real band exchange? Two bands from different parts of the country or the world (or even just down the street) could meet via webcam and perform one piece for each other in preparation for an actual trip to each respective city. It’s up to you just how big you want to go.

OTHER IDEAS: 9. Youtube concert report (students critique other bands performing similar repertoire), 10. Senior students mentor juniors, 11. Start an ensemble or two, 12. “Hear and Tell” (students play short recordings for the other students of their favorite band piece/composer and talk about why they like it), 13. Students create a band website or a band blog, 14. Movie day (composers, famous musicians).

All of these activities generate excitement and energy and, most importantly, engender the belief that music is important and fun! Remember to make your classes and rehearsals engaging as well. Your excitement and energy will rub off, so be creative. Tap into your own passion for the music and share it. Start the year off with a bang and it won’t be long before your program will be zooming along!

Instrumental Music as Physical Education

TomWestMost public school music ensembles spend 95 percent of their classroom time preparing for public concerts. It takes many hours of repetition of the music in order to program the body to perform the music accurately. Band and orchestra directors basically run rehearsals for a living and become very good at  providing the repetitions necessary to program the physical movements required to perform the music accurately.

When I begin writing articles for my website, I focused on sharing music practice tips. The majority of these were strategies designed to help maximize practice routine efficiency, garnering more successful repetitions of the music. What I have only recently realized, however, is that the majority of time and effort spent practicing a musical instrument has more to do with  programming the mind to physically control the instrument accurately and reliably. There is more “physical education” involved in instrumental music making than actual “music education”.

In most traditional high school bands and orchestras, the vast majority of rehearsal time is spent drilling the music in order for ensemble members to develop some level of physical proficiency in performance. Teaching basic musicianship concepts like reading notation, audiating pitch, and so on is left to the elementary music teachers to handle. High school ensembles focus primarily on ensemble techniques such as pulse control, section and group intonation, balance and blend, and so on. Those concepts are touched upon and then drilled, drilled, drilled until the ensemble can perform them accurately.

The Marriage Between Physical And Aural

One of the amazing things about studying music performance is that it elides the physical skill of operating a musical instrument with the mental skill of perceiving and instantly processing and reacting to sound. Singers do this as well, but the need to physically train the body is quite different. Instrumentalists spend a great deal of time simply becoming proficient at manipulating the contraption that makes the musical sounds happen.

Students of music have to not only become proficient at the physical movements, they also have to use their aural skills to assess their own physical performance. The actual musical part of instrumental performace is all mental, and it requires training and skill building just like the physical training of operating the instrument.

Over-Programming The Physical Part Of Performance

Because it takes so much time and repetition to program the body, musicianship and listening skills often take a secondary role in many school performing ensemble classes. This is compounded by the fact that many high school band and orchestra directors choose repertoire that demands a high level of technical proficiency on the part of the performers. Technical wizardry (those fast sixteeth note runs, screaming high notes, rapid tonguing or bowing passages, and so on) are engaging and exciting to listen to, and many directors want their students to have the experience of performing exciting works with a lot of technical fireworks.

The trade-off, however, is that technically demanding repertoire often consumes the majority of available class time simply to get the ensemble performing proficiently. Even then, traditional band and orchestra programs lean on the students with the higher music aptitude and skill development to carry the weight while their peers hang on for dear life or fake their way through the difficult passages. Add to that fact the more important consequence – the students rarely have time to improve their musical skills in favor of improving their physical skills.

Audio Gym Teacher?

If ensemble directors, for whatever reason, continue to program technically demanding works that constantly stretch the boundaries of what the students are capable of, they are providing their students with more of an “audio physical education” than a “music education”. Technical ability is only part of what makes up an effective musical performance. It is far better, in my opinion, to choose repertoire with easier technical demand that can be mastered in a shorter amount of time, leaving room towards the end of the preparation period to work on ensemble playing techniques, expressive phrasing, and communicating the intent of the music to the audience.

Quite simply, if by concert time students are not able to look away from the sheet music for more than a brief glance at the baton in order to be able to perform the piece, the technical demand is probably too high.

There certainly is a need for repertoire that “pushes the envelope” and gets students to reach for a new level of technical ability, but I have seen too many band and orchestra programs that try to stretch the ensemble with every single piece they perform. Slaving away on demanding parts is enjoyable for only a minority of students – most are turned off by such hard work, especially if that level of demand is constantly upon them.

Physical training in the band and orchestra is a major component of instrumental performing music and is constantly being addressed. There needs to be a balance, however, between the physical aspects of instrumental performance and the mental aspects of listening, audiating, and understanding music as an art form.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.
thomasjwestmusic.com

Mark Williams Tribute

Mark Williams

Mark Williams was one of the premier composers for school bands and orchestras. Co-author of the Accent on Achievement band method, he had over 200 published works to his credit. As a clinician and guest conductor, he traveled to 34 states, 5 Canadian provinces, and Australia.

Mark was a warm, kind, generous, and brilliant human being and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him or experienced his great music.

Personally, I only met Mark Williams once at the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic in 2007. With that short time, I saw a hard-working man with a great sense of humor. He even helped tear down our booth Friday evening and joined us for our tradition of deep dish pizza that night. He opted to walk back to the hotel afterwards, which surprised me because it was freezing cold and we weren’t what I would consider walking distance from the hotel. I had no idea that had been my only chance to get to know Mark, as he passed away on January 3, 2008.

As we are preparing for Midwest 2012, I couldn’t help but think back on that night, so I asked a couple of folks who knew him to write a few words about him…

Victoria Meador
Marketing Project Manager
Product Line Specialist: Concert Band, Marching Band, & Sound Innovations
Alfred Music Publishing


Mark Williams was more than a uniquely talented composer and teacher. After all, each of us aspire to be unique in our approach to teaching and composing. Rather, Mark created and thrived in his own league as a composer and teacher. His compositions helped every elementary and middle school level teacher to take their bands or orchestras to a higher level of performance and enjoyment. Every one of his clinics—and I attend ended many of them—inspired every band and orchestra director to discover the fun and educational value of letting their students play the music that they enjoyed playing, while learning important techniques that helped them to replicate the fun that they had playing his compositions and arrangements.

Mark rejoiced in the art of discovery! He had fun in discovering new ways to bring classical treasures to life. He truly enjoyed motivating experienced teachers to discover unique ways to energize their approach to teaching, and to truly enjoy that special feeling of discovery when their students really felt that they owned a new way of expressing their musicality.

I miss having the opportunity to experience Mark’s creative spirit on a regular basis. I rejoice in the many opportunities that I had to be a small part of his tremendous talents.

Danny Rocks
The Company Rocks
www.thecompanyrocks.com


One of my proudest achievements during my 35 years as Alfred’s Editor-in-Chief was the discovery of Mark Williams. Mark’s first publication was “Greenwillow Portrait” which was an unsolicited manuscript just like the hundreds of others I received during those years. It was such a special piece, and I immediately picked up the phone to tell him we would publish it the following year. That was my first conversation with Mark and his enthusiasm and excitement about band music was immediately apparent.

From that day forward I always called Mark as soon as I received what was to become an amazing string of hits that made a major impact on the success of the Alfred Concert Band catalog. I was honored to have Mark as my co-author of Accent on Achievement. Some of my fondest memories are related to having Mark stay at my house for extended periods as we planned and ultimately wrote what we both felt was the most practical and creative band method ever written.

John O’Reilly
Co-Author of
Accent on Achievement


I was lucky to work with Mark Williams at Alfred for nearly 20 years. We attended many shows and enjoyed many laughs together. Mark was the closest thing to Mozart for school music that I could think of. He was such a genius at really understanding all the intricacies of each instrument and the challenges that beginners face. That’s why his music was so popular—he wrote it in a way that made every student successful when they performed with their band or orchestra. Luckily, we still have his body of music to share with the world for generations and generations. Mark was a kind, loving and generous human being and he will be deeply missed by all of us in the Alfred family.

Andrew Surmani
Senior Vice President
Managing Director, School & Church Publishing
Alfred Music Publishing


What Should Graduating Seniors In a Performing Arts Program Be Able to Do?

Thomas J. West
By the time a student who is actively involved in a band, chorus, or orchestra program graduates high school, what skills should they have? How are music education programs designed for these self-motivated, team player individuals? What should their “exit interview” sound like?

For me as a music educator finishing his 13th year in the profession, the answers to these questions have changed several times. Honestly, my goal when I started teaching was to build the highest quality concert and marching band performance program I could, focusing on bringing the ensemble members a broad and deep exposure to great musical literature in search of that ever elusive “summit” moment when an ensemble plays something so excellent, so moving, that everyone witnessing it is affected by it.

While these are admirable sentiments, and certainly do leave long-lasting impressions on the students who have those kind of experiences, I realized that those “summit” moments really weren’t for the students – they were for me. “How great of a music teacher am I that I can open their eyes to such an aesthetic experience?” I got into music teaching because I wanted to keep having those “summit” experiences, and being a teacher allowed me to share those experiences with young people so that they too could have their lives shaped by music performance.

Do I still want them to have those summit moments? Of course, but it’s no longer the solitary focus of my performing ensemble programs. The pursuit of performance excellence has been redefined and altered in proportion to make room for the pursuit of musical creativity. The “buzz” of a great performance is only one way to experience what music has to offer the individual.

Giving Students The Tools to Be Life-Long Musicians

My goals as a music educator are much broader and long-term than just giving them a great high school experience. By the time seniors leave my program, they will:

Be able to play their primary instrument proficiently. This includes playing all twelve major scales and arpeggios, natural minor scales and arpeggios, and be able to sight-read music of a grade 3 level. They will understand the music theory behind all of those goals and will be able to handle transpositions for their instrument (if applicable). For vocalists, it means having full control of their instrument in all ranges, singing with pure vowel sounds, proper support and phrasing, and singing a wide variety of styles.

Be able to improvise melodies over simple chord changes on their primary instrument. This is not limited to jazz music. This includes the music theory behind common tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, tonic chord progressions, and the construction of melody lines.

Be able to write a quartet in four-part harmony for their primary instrument. This obviously includes skills obtained from all of the above skills, plus the music theory necessary to write effective voice leading. Along the way, the study of musical form is incorporated into performing repertoire, sight-reading, and improvisation, leading to the student making their own creative decisions about writing an original work with a logical form.

Be able to record, edit, mix, and master their own music. This is a new goal for me, and one that has not become a reality yet. My vision is to give every one of my students the ability to write their own music, record it, give it a basic editing and mixing job, and be able to upload it to SoundCloud or YouTube. By the time my current middle school students reach twelfth grade, this goal will be a reality.

A Culture of Creativity

One of the greatest things about America as a culture is that we allow innovation and individualized thinking to exist. It’s okay in our culture to speak your mind, chart your own course, create your own destiny. American culture and government makes it possible for creative ideas to grow and the originators of those ideas to be monetarily compensated. I could easily diverge at this point on how copyright law no longer benefits the artist directly, but that is another article. For the purposes of this writing, it is the pioneering spirit of America combined with today’s modern communication tools that make it more possible than ever for artists of all kinds to find an audience.

It is no longer enough, in my opinion, for high school graduates to simply play an instrument or sing in a large ensemble. With as much personal growth as they receive from being a member of a band, chorus, or orchestra, the average American high school ensemble member does one of three things after high school: perform in similar groups in college, then quit, find community groups to continue their hobby, or become a professional musician in some fashion. Of these three, the vast majority quit performing music after high school or after college. Why? Work and family, of course.

I believe that more graduating seniors would continue music making into adulthood if they were better equipped to make their own music. If all they can do upon graduation is play their part in a concert band piece, or sing an alto part with the help of a section leader feeding them their pitches, their chances of continuing to make music are slim. Imagine how much more art, music, dance, and theatre would be out there if high school graduates were better equipped with the skills to exercise their own creativity.

If music improvisation and composition is nurtured in primary and early secondary grades, students are less likely to develop inhibitions to creativity, becoming more expressive and communicative. More original intellectual property can do nothing but good for the individual, our economy, and our culture.

The future of our internet-powered society is in more individuals trading their talents and ideas, collaborating to produce amazing results such as Wikipedia, Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, and many more. Our music education programs in public schools, I believe, need to continue the strong traditions of our performing ensembles, but need to make room in their school year for the parts of the study of music that make student more capable of being individually creative.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.
thomasjwestmusic.com

Keeping Your Eyes (and Ears) On the “Prize”

Danny Ursetti
Around this time of year most high school programs are in the thick of their competitive marching season. Rehearsals during the week are intensifying and weekends only exist for Saturday rehearsals and competitions.You’ve spent months preparing for your band’s 12-minute time slot to perform your show for an audience and the judges. The band performs its best show of the year but does not earn the score that you think they deserve. What now?


This happens all too often in this sport called marching band. That’s right, I said it, marching band is a sport. Hours and hours of rehearsal time are spent practicing and perfecting a drill set or a musical run, all for everyone to end up disappointed at the competition. We have to remember why we do marching band or music at all for that matter. It’s not for the thrill of winning a trophy, or taking the top score. Music is fun. It’s fun to listen, dance, sing, and play. And not to mention march to!


Art is subjective
Unlike other sports, where you have more control over whether or not you earn enough points to win, marching band is a judged competition. You can tune every chord, align every form, nail every transition and still not get the score you were hoping for. Music is an art form. Art is not created to be judged and/or critiqued.That being said, I do believe unbiased feedback is essential in getting the best out of your students and staff to help them improve throughout the season. It’s ok not to win. Competition is a great way to motivate students to do their best and to encourage them to learn how to deal with the end results, no matter what the results may be. But the most important thing is: If you perform your best, you win!


Take pride in your work
In a high school setting, playing music for fun isn’t quite enough. We have to help the students take pride in the work they are putting in. Yes, music is fun, but you know what’s even better? Sounding and looking your very best. The hours and hours of rehearsal time should not be geared at winning the competition or beating the cross-town rival. The goal should be to perform the best show of the season every time the band steps on the field. One thing or another will most likely go wrong at a show, but if the band takes everything the staff has given them and plays and marches their very best, that is a successful show and season.


Most students will not remember what score they received, place they took, or what trophy they won (which will most likely be covered in dust on a shelf in the band room), but what they will remember are the times they spent learning, practicing, and performing music with their friends to the best of their ability. That is something to be proud of. So as you are starting to go to competitions this season, and with championships on the not so distant horizon, try to remember why we learn (and teach) music: It’s fun!


Do you have any “fun” ways to motivate your students? In what ways do you motivate younger musicians to do their best? Please share your thoughts and insights below!
Good luck and have a great season!

Danny Ursetti
Music Caption Head, Royal High School
composer/conductor/educator

Seating Placement – Does it Really Matter?

Robert Sheldon

By Robert Sheldon

Is it at all important how you arrange the seating and placement of your ensemble?  Why does it matter?  What is there to be gained?  I believe there are many reasons to have this discussion.  Although every director may have their own opinion about what works for them, it is important to at least HAVE an opinion, and to have thought through the reasons why we have made these decisions.  We have all seen those design shows on television where the owner gets a room makeover, and in doing so is amazed and thrilled that by changing up the placement of the furniture in their room that suddenly the space is so much better, revitalized and more appealing.  Until the moment when the “reveal” takes place, they hadn’t changed the room in years because it had not occurred to them that it could or should be done differently. It is easy to fall into keeping things the way they are just because that is the way we have always done it.

Seating placement is all about the performers being able to hear each other, and the audience being able to hear the best possible representation of the performance.  When thinking about the geographical placement of the performers, it is helpful to consider the physical rehearsal space in which you will be working each day. But you must also consider the performance site as well.  What are the acoustical properties of these spaces?  Are risers built in to the rehearsal space, but not used in the performing area?  Or are risers used on stage, but the ensemble rehearses on a flat surface?  Balance will change dramatically when back rows are raised.  Likewise, balance can change given the direction of certain players’ instruments.  Not only will the location of brass players and the direction their bells are facing affect balance, but the posture they are using and the height and direction of their bells while they play will have a major impact.  Players who raise their bells up will be heard much more than the players who point their bells to the floor in front of them.  Consequently a consistent and uniform bell height in the section will promote better balance.

We need to be aware of the needs of the individual players in the ensemble as well.  The music selection is also something to consider.  Can the soloists be heard?  Can the sections that have musical conversations with other sections hear each other clearly?  Can all instrumentalists that play similar parts during the piece see and hear the other players who are involved?  If a duet occurs, can the players see and hear each other?  It might be a good idea to change the seating arrangement for a specific piece of music to address these concerns.

Principal players are such an important part of our ensembles for many reasons.  Not only are they often the strongest players in the group, but they are also the leaders, and therefore are the students with whom we may have the most eye contact, and the ones we cue most frequently when their entire section enters.  Therefore, we want to not only have them placed in the ensemble where we can see and hear them most clearly, but they need to be seen and heard by the principal players in the other sections as well.  It is worth considering placing the 1st trumpet player next to the 1st trombone player, especially when those sections play pieces where they have similar entrances.  The same idea can be used with horn and alto sax, clarinet and flute, and possibly others, depending on the piece being performed.  When the principal players play with more precision the rest of the section has a better chance of success.

We should also consider sections of the ensemble.  If all of the low brass and low woodwinds play similar parts in a given piece, it makes sense to have them all in the same region of the band.  Not only can they all interpret the conductor’s cues more easily, but they can also tune to each other as they play.  Obviously this applies to other sections as well.

Horns can present a unique challenge due to the direction of their bells.  I have found it best to seat the section so that the principal player’s bell is facing the rest of the section.  In other words, the principal horn has the rest of the section to their right.  Since you may not want the last chair horn’s bell facing the audience at the front of the stage, it may require seating the horns within the ensemble rather than at the outer edge.  Here is where it is important to examine performance and rehearsal space.  If there is a hard surface behind the horns, their sound will certainly be more evident than if they are just playing into other players who are sitting in back of them.  If the performance site is different than the rehearsal site in this regard, problems can certainly occur.  One way to control this is by using horn walls; I have made these from 3X4’ clear sheets of Plexiglas. These can be hung from the music stands of the players who sit behind the horns.  The effect is a much more prominent horn sound that seems to work in all environments, and the balance remains more consistent.

The location of the percussion section is also critical.  A hard surface behind the snare or bass drum can allow those instruments to sound much louder in the audience.  If the mallet players are playing passages with the upper woodwinds, it is helpful to place them close to those sections.  Likewise, if the timpani is located near the tuba section it is easier to tune and play with better confidence.  A stage that is narrow could result in some players standing behind wing curtains, and that could make it nearly impossible for them to be heard.

Given that the seating of the ensemble can have an enormous impact on balance, intonation and precision, a careful examination of the seating chart we use can lead to immediate improvements in these areas.  So I encourage directors to give it a try, change it up and see what happens!

Do you have any preferred seating arrangements for your ensemble? Has anything worked better or not worked at all in the past? We want to hear your thoughts!