Monday, October 28, 2013

Marching Into Debt

A few years ago, as we were trying to organize the alumni of my high school's band, I came face-to-face with the absolutely jaw-dropping debt into which some of the smaller bands have gone to mount one of these whizzbang Spectacular-Spectacular shows replete with special effects, props, on-field costume changes and a gazillion dollars' worth of guard equipment. I think the most grotesque expenditure I witnessed on-field that year was the use of single-cylinder chimes in a bell-themed show put on by one of the bigger bands. Their guard had a hundred girls in it- so that's a hundred chimes and a hundred stands...I'm a percussionist and I'm telling you, those chimes are NOT cheap. They were out several thousand dollars for that conceit.

There are a couple of reasons I'm not digging this "Theatre of the Football Field" thing: one is that a lot of these bands cannot actually march. They 'jazz run' or drift sort of aimlessly across the field from figure to figure- maybe this is me being stodgy and old-fashioned, but there's a reason it's called marching band. It annoys me so much that I can hardly stand it! The standard gait measurement is eight steps to five yards, commonly called "eight-to-five"; it can be used in asymmetrical drill, I promise, because back in Ye Olden Days of Yore, we were doing it. The other is that the "flash-and-trash" seems to outweigh both drill and musical execution- it's so much mindless eye-candy. I heard one of this year's eventual class-winners at semifinals and they were splattering notes like so many bugs on a windshield- yet their very flashy show put them over- and of the few bands I saw in that class, almost none of them could fix a straight line in a drill.

Here's a hint, directors: they're called "fundamentals". If you have to get up off your butt and mark your rehearsal grid with one-, two-, and four-step intervals to teach them how to relate to each other in the drill, DO IT. Your show is in trouble if you fix the figure in the drill long enough for people to notice that your kids don't know where they're supposed to be standing- if they cannot get where they're supposed to be, you need to re-think your drill-writing or fire the person to whom you jobbed it out.

I know you have to do what's necessary to compete- I remember making fun of bands who still had *gasp* majorettes when I was in high school- but you can't let the core (playing and marching) fall apart just to make something pretty. Also, if you're only going to use this stuff for one season, jeez. Think carefully about how much you can afford. How pretty is it if you're up to your eyeballs in debt for a show that doesn't get you anywhere judging-wise because your core is weak? Style over substance isn't how it's done- you have to have both, and have them consistently, to have a solid program.

My greatest wish is that KMEA would convince its membership that the music comes first, marching second, and the razzle-dazzle showmanship a distant third. I'm tired of seeing recycled shows about Skynet going live, or weather-related themes, or topical stuff- the shows are so expensive that the most popular ones are sold on as a package to other bands once the original bands are through with them...three years later within two performances, I saw two, yes, TWO recycled shows. It's no mistake that a couple of the bands in Kentucky are purchasing DCI shows and uniforms, either. I think that should tell us how far that's gotten out of hand. I bleed band, but it's insane to go into staggering debt for this.

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