It can be a challenge in the fall to maintain balance between the demands of a marching band season, and your primary goal to teach good musical skills. Do you have to sacrifice your concert band program in order to have a successful marching band? “No!” is the resounding answer to that question when we asked three respected high school directors from across the country.
We asked Ramiro Barrera, James Logan H.S., CA; Greg Bimm, Marian Catholic H.S., IL; and Richard Saucedo, Carmel H.S., IN how they use marching band to teach basic principals and sound concepts to their students that carry throughout their band program. Each of these directors maintain band programs that produce award winning marching bands, as well as concert bands recognized nationally as among the finest in America. All three have had their ensembles invited to perform at the Bands of America National Concert Band Festival. And among them, their marching bands hold many BOA Grand National Champion titles, Regional Champion titles, and numerous state, regional and local awards.
Are there ways in which you use your marching band to specifically strengthen your students’ musical skills and artistic understanding to benefit your concert ensembles?
I treat the marching program as an extension of our concert program. The Concert Program is the core and all other ensembles including the Marching Band come from that. The fact that the marching band is in the beginning of the year just means that this is where we establish solid musical concepts that are the starting point for the year.This reinforces that musical growth is a process that is ongoing. So in this respect the marching program is a crucial time during our year where it is critical to make sure that the kids are getting a solid music education on their instrument. To understand that high level playing is required at all times and that a strong work ethic is part of all artistic endeavors is not a bad thing.
We never compromise on musical quality. We concern ourselves with pitch, tone quality, phrasing from the very beginning. In addition, since the drill is absolutely coordinated with the shape and style of phrases, etc., the students experience many of the musical elements on a physical and very objective level. A case could be made to tie this aspect to Dalcroze Eurhythmics.
We review and cover basics of physical performance with an eye toward bringing our very diverse freshmen up to speed. In this process we cover embouchure, air support and supply, articulation, hand position, etc. In addition, we concern ourselves with the instrument set up of all the students. We look at instrument, mouthpiece, reeds.
During this time our freshmen are introduced not only to each area of concern, but they see first hand how much a priority it is for our upperclassmen giving the first hand message – “These are essential if you want to be a superior player like the older kids.” Because the upperclassmen are involved in this process from a diagnose, prescribe, and follow up level, it is a great review and reaffirmation for them.
From a visual stand point, of course there is the matter of observable self discipline where every student is required to meet a level of posture, attention, etc. Students learn that to be successful, you must willing to follow specific rules and requirements of your own will. Beyond this, one of the most significant effects of the visual program is the concern for timing of easily observable physical movements. By learning to stay in step, take specific sized and direction of steps, perform timed upper body movements in coordination with very specifically timed attacks and releases, the students’ control of rhythm can make great strides.
We spend 50% of our time working on the fundamentals (or basics) of good individual and ensemble playing during our marching band music rehearsals. This really pays big dividends with the concert bands. Our marching band is volunteer and our concert bands meet no matter what time of year (or season) it is. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be much difference between marching band playing and concert playing.
What positive effects do you feel the marching band has on your overall wind and percussion program?
There really are so many that sitting here responding to this question makes me realize how much our kids do get out of it. The question, however, was not about the individual but about the overall music program. Work ethic comes to mind right away. “Nothing comes easy” is a very important lesson to learn. This might be the greatest lesson that kids learn from marching band. Working together for a common goal…another biggie! But there’s more…all the amount of time spent on the physicality of the activity and the amount of time spent on the playing is invaluable… especially when they are learning so much about playing their instruments in such a short period of time. The biggest lesson (musically) that comes out of marching band is tempo control, rhythmic integrity… this is big. The kids really get to learn how to use a metronome correctly and how they can apply this to their individual practice time with a “met”… really big! I’m sure that the issue of the social part of band can be included but I’m not saying much because it’s so obvious how important that is when you’re growing up… to belong… and to do something positive with your friends!
All of our players benefit as performers from their participation in our marching program. (See question one.) On a very basic level, our freshmen are put on the right path by working in close relationship with our older students.
The freshmen not only learn about performance techniques, but learn about practice habits, high performance expectations, rehearsal etiquette, section rehearsal techniques, and simply about caring for the level of all we do. The upperclassmen learn especially because of the strong role they play as leaders.
It develops a tremendous work ethic in the kids who participate. It also improves all playing skills as well as playing stamina. Our kids are always better concert players after a season of marching band… percussion included.
Are there negative effects and what do you do to minimize those?
Well, “negative” might be too harsh… but the subtleties of music sometimes can be lost on the field… a sense of artistry is important to maintain with the kids. They need to know that we are attempting to achieve the highest sense of “art” that we can achieve on a field. So maintaining integrity to sound musical concepts is the way to always minimize any negative effects that might occur (mostly created by brass and percussion kids that are out of control!)
Not really. It is possible to have negative effects in any area. An overzealous approach to any area of endeavor can cause problems. Some pitfalls to watch for are: an over emphasis on competition (win at all costs, the other bands are our enemies, etc.), having a year round marching program, spending an inordinate amount of time and effort on the marching program, allowing the marching band to be the high point for the year. A note–I have found that there will always be some students who like marching band best. I still work on instilling the idea that concert band is the pinnacle, but I realize that just as some students prefer jazz band, or small ensemble playing, it is right to assume that some students will find the physical nature of marching band more appealing. It is important to note that though a student may find one area more appealing, that student is still expect to succeed in (and therefore benefit from) other areas.
There are not many negative effects. Some directors overdo the marching thing, which of course, causes burnout in kids and in the teachers themselves. We avoid many potential negatives by making our group purely volunteer.
Do you feel that a successful marching band and an outstanding music concert ensemble program must be mutually exclusive?
No, successful marching bands and successful concert programs do not have to be mutually exclusive. That is the philosophy by which I have led my 26 years of teaching high school bands.They can be exclusive, I guess, but I don’t buy into that.
I’ve already mentioned some of the positives that having a well rounded program can give you.
Absolutely not! I believe that their relationship is or can be symbiotic. I know that my program would not be as successful in either area if I somehow compromised the other.
An outstanding music program sets high standards of excellence every time the kids rehearse or perform. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s concert band, marching band, jazz band, etc.
When does your marching band rehearse during the fall?
We rehearse as a full band about one hour 15 minutes during the school day, each Wednesday evening for 2 1/2 hours and on Saturdays that we don’t have performances. Each section also rehearses twice a week for an hour and a half on their own.
We rehearse marching band before and after school. We only rehearse concert band literature during the school day.
Ramiro Barrera, James Logan H.S. Union City, CA
Ramiro Barrera is entering his seventh year as Director of Bands at James Logan High School. He is a graduate of San Jose State University. Prior to Logan, Mr.Barrera taught for eight years in San Jose Unified and 13 years in Clovis Unified School Districts where his bands gained national recognition as outstanding marching, concert and jazz programs.
He is the Program Coordinator for The Concord Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps where he has created programs since 1992.
- School enrollment (10-12): 4300
- Students in marching band: Fall 2002–300 total performers, 230 musicians + 70 Guard.
- Student total in the concert (and percussion) ensembles: 230
- Concert ensembles: Wind Symphony, Symphonic Band, Concert Band 1, Concert Band 2
- Four full time band directors
Greg Bimm, Marian Catholic H.S., Chicago Heights, IL
Greg Bimm has been director of bands at Marian Catholic High School since 1977. Under his direction, the Marian Band has grown from 70 to over 230 members and has earned over 450 awards and honors. Mr. Bimm has received two National Band Association Citations of Excellence and one NBA Certificate of Merit, was named the 1983 national winner of the ASBDA Stanbury award for young band directors, and in 1991 received the Sudler Order of Merit from the John Philip Sousa Foundation. Mr.Bimm holds degrees from Illinois State and Western Illinois Universities.
- School enrollment (10-12): 1280
- Students in marching band: Approximately 275 (numbers are still not final) This includes our alternates system as well.
- Student total in the concert (and percussion) ensembles: 280 (we have some beginners)
- Concert ensembles: Symphonic Band, Concert Band, Cadet (freshman) Band, Percussion ensemble, two Jazz ensembles, numerous small ensembles
- Full time band teachers at the high school: 2 1/2 (“Our percussion specialist, Mike Coers, is assigned multiple duties in other areas of the school. Bobby Lambert is the Assistant Director”).
Richard L. Saucedo, Carmel H.S., Carmel, IN
Richard L. Saucedo is Director of Bands and Performing Arts Department Chairman at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana. The Carmel H.S.Wind Symphony was invited to the Bands of America National Concert Band Festival in 1992 and 1999 and was named the Indiana State Champion concert band in 1999. The Carmel Marching Greyhounds have finished in the top ten at the Bands of America Grand National Championship for the past five years, including National Class Champion in 2001. Mr. Saucedo is a freelance arranger and composer, having released numerous marching band arrangements, concert band works and choral compositions. He also composed the music for the 2002 DCI World Champions The Cavaliers. He did his undergraduate work at Indiana University in Bloomington and finished his masters degree at Butler University in Indianapolis.
- School enrollment (10-12): 2547
- Students in marching band: 180
- Students total in the concert (and percussion) ensembles: 350
- Concert ensembles: Wind Symphony I, Wind Symphony II, Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Chamber Winds
- Full time band teachers at the high school: 4 directors and a full time percussion instructor