Balance is a hard concept to achieve in many activities in which we participate, yet is one of the most important. A car that has unbalanced tires will shake while traveling down the interstate. If untreated, this will lead to greater tire wear and reduced fuel economy, costing more time and money. If there is a lack of balance in your band program, you will notice a lowering of morale and reduced performance.
What causes balance issues in a band program?
First off, let me make it clear that we are not talking about the “pyramid of sound” as prescribed by Francis McBeth. Instead, this is about the actual band program. An unbalanced program can take many shapes but the end result will be same. A few issues that cause the lack of balance in a program could be as follows:
- Too focused on marching band: Sure this activity is fun for many involved, and adds a level of competitiveness for the students, but marching band is not a year round activity. Result: poor performance in concert band, lack of interest in other musical activities, “trophy or bust” mentality.
- Band competitiveness: This can actually go year round. Signs of this issue are students that will show negative attitudes towards other programs because of what they do or do not perform or because of the ratings they do or do not receive at festivals. Also known as the “my band is better than your band” syndrome, band competitiveness will produce a rivalry between groups inside and outside of a program, and it not limited to just students.
- One size fits all: This is a little more difficult to diagnose. This issue is when a program does the same thing day in and day out. The musical selections are always the same. The program has not grown or expanded to venture into other areas.
What is a balanced program?
A balanced program is one that does a variety of things at a high level, but the main goal is the end of May. What does that mean? Simply this: from day one to day 180 of the school year, and all the extra days and practices before, during, and after that time, the goal is to improve the students in musical performance and in character. When this is achieved, success will be measured in the energy felt during an artful performance and the smiles after no matter the rating given.
How do we achieve balance?
This is hard to answers because every program is different. However, I do believe a simple structure is important. One way to see this is through, what Wayne Markworth (author of The Dynamic Marching Band) calls, the “total band circle.” This concept depicts a circle with a center and several evenly spaced sections around the center.
- The center represents the concert band/wind ensemble program. This takes up most of the year, but also is where the students experience the greatest amount of art and teamwork for the season. The concert band can perform a wide variety of genres, feature several individuals or sections, and provides a chance to show a great set of skills than other activities alone.
- The outer sections represent the other activities: marching band, jazz band, winter guard and percussion, music theory/appreciation, solo and ensemble, etc. Many of these areas also take a great deal of time and energy. If too much focus is given to any of these areas, all others will suffer. For example, if a program spends too much time on marching band, jazz band could be pushed back and concert band will not start with a fundamental sound concept.
So, how do you achieve balance? Everything must be done with a goal of improving concert band. The warm-ups you utilize in marching band should encourage an open and resonant sound that would be performed in concert band. Jazz band should encourage knowledge of style and better articulation. Solo and ensemble helps the individuals learn to blend sound, match pitch, and communicate musically with others in the full ensemble. Time should be managed so that all areas receive the focus they need to be successful, but also not over extend the students or directors.
Achieving balance in a band program is like taking yoga: hard at first but beneficial when worked on over time. Through focusing on your core – abs in yoga, concert band in your program – increase in morale and performance will be obtained, and balance achieved.