Marching Band: Three words we dread hearing

Three simple words. A short phrase we hear all the time in marching band. We hate it, especially when it is the one last time.

October is done. The marching band season is drawing to an end for many participants across the nation. Sure, there are still some contests and games left, but for all intents and purposes, the season is coming to a close.

For me, marching in high school and college were some of the best memories I have. The trips to and from other schools, spending time with my friends. These people were family to me, and I them. It has been 21 years since I marched my last time in high school. Seventeen years since my last game in college.

The memories. The “OId School” saxophone section from Racer Band. Riding through Washington D.C. on Inauguration night seeing all the parties that were going on. Even after the bus broke down a few time on the way. Singing “Hello, may name is Joe” to keep warm before the 1993 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Criss-cross block during the Fiery Latin Cooker right before booking it to the track.

But, it was the people – getting to know people, work together, and complete a performance – that mattered.

The worse part of marching band? One phrase: One more time.

How many times did we hear our directors say it in a rehearsal? And, after they would say it, we would perform the task only to hear the phrase again. “One more time” became the annoying statement lacking truth. I can still hear and feel the frustration rise up simply typing the words.

There was never just one more time.
Until it is the last time.

As you march your final steps this year or ever, smile. You are doing something amazing. Together with your band – your friends, directors, parents, boosters, community – you are performing something that will never be done again. That moment, with those people, will never be replicated.

You may remember the trophies, or even the scores. But you will never forget the people. Your mind will recall the music and the routine. It does for me and my wife. Nothing draws the memories like the song “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago for her. As for me, my mind thinks about marching band all the time, but then it has been my life’s passion. But the people are what will matter.

So, as you take the field for the last time, whether it is this weekend or after a bowl game, smile. Look around at the people on the field and smile. Give them a high-five. The next 10 minutes, you get the honor to perform with them….

… more time.

Music Education: Are we doing enough to encourage women educators?

The stats do not lie: men dominate music education roles in the secondary and collegiate levels. I, for one, do not like that.

It is an interesting situation. In a world in which we discuss equality, we still miss the mark is music education. Over the years, studies and research from across the United States show that men outnumber women in roles of teaching music in secondary and post-secondary education.

MTD Research, a school performing arts data organization, posted an interactive application breaking down male and female music educators for primary and secondary levels. Those viewing the post can toggle between General Music, Band, Choir, and Orchestra as well as public/private schools, and income based. It is included here for your preference, through use of their code sharing link. Note that for grades 9-12, males make up 79.45% of all band directors.

The reasons for the discrepancy are numerous:

Family responsibilities – stereotypes suggest women are the care-taker of the family, at least a majority of times.

Historical precedent – “men have always held these positions.”

Lack of female role models – the lack of women in these roles to encourage others to follow.

Gender discrimination – women experience negative responses and/or interactions with their male counterparts.

My questions is simply this: why? If you have not noticed, things are changing in this world. Maybe not as quickly as we wish, but things are moving forward in most cases. Women are working more and men are taking on more household responsibilities. And, there are quality female role models in director positions. Women hold positions of Director of Bands or Associate Director of Bands at universities across the nation. Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Texas Tech, Colorado State, Georgia, Southern Miss, Missouri, Eastern Illinois and  Eastern Michigan are just a few of the post-secondary institutions with females in these roles.

Additionally, there are many amazing woman that are leading music programs in the secondary level.

So, that leaves gender discrimination. In 2015, Kristin Coen-Mishlan published a study entitled, “Gender Discrimiation in the Band World: A Case Study of Three Female Band Directors.” The study included a teacher with seven years of experience, another with 28 years working as a high school band director, and a retired teacher with 36 years of work.

After interviews with the individuals and in a focus group, along with a questionnaire, one pattern emerged. Each participant experienced both personal and professional situations as a band director. One stated that her male principal often dismissed her concerns. Another told a story of when her group was awarded a plaque at a festival, and the presenter gave the award to the top trumpet player and not the female director. All male directors were given their awards.

We can do better. We, as music educators, are better. There is no need for this type of experience now. The quality of music demands that we, as music educators, continue to encourage all people – regardless of gender, race, or any other identifier you choose to pick – to participate in the creation of our chosen art. We need women in prominent positions in conducting. We need men as well.

Encourage each other. Share ideas, speak constructively, and praise accordingly. Men, it is time we treat women music educators with respect and equality. Repeating our old ways just because its the way it has always been done is no longer a valid reason.

Yes, we have come a long way. But, there is still a long way to go. We can do more to encourage women in music education.

Repertoire: Five current composers whose music you should be playing

The repertoire within the world of wind bands is ever-growing. With this new literature, comes new composers and new conducting opportunities.

We all know the standards. Holst Suite in E-flat, Vaughan Williams English Folksong Suite. Vincent Persichetti’s wonderful library of works. Or that of Frank Ticheli. The depth of works within the wind band repertoire is vast.

Thankfully, there are resources and text that help guide band directors to  find and select works that may be of interest to them or their ensemble. The series Teaching Music Through Performance is one of the best resources out there. With the amount of works and composers the series presents, conductors have access to a wealth of knowledge on current repertoire.

Still, there are several composers out there you may have never heard of. Likely, you have some idea of their work. Their music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and honor band festivals across the nation. But, in case you have not, here some composer whose work I enjoy.

Five Composers you should know:

  1. Michael Markowski: I met Michael at Midwest many years ago, through a friend who introduced me. His works were foreign to me at the time, but after buying a score and listening for a bit, I found a unique voice full of emotional sophistication and energy.
  2. Alex Shapiro: The works of Alex Shapiro are relatively new to me. Her compositions incorporate audio tracks and other items like paper or rocks to generate sounds.
  3. Steve Danyew: Some of my favorite music is that of Steve Danyew. His work Goodnight, Goodnight is rich with beauty and captivating colors. Additionally, This World Alive is an amazing collaboration of music and film.
  4. Joni Greene: Another composer introduced to me through a friend while attending Midwest in 2011, Joni Greene’s works stood out to me for their depth of voice.  It is part of the reason why I participated in a consortium for one of her works.
  5. James M. David: If you are looking for something a bit different, than James M. David is worth a look. Currently an Associate Professor of Composition at Colorado State University, James has several works for winds. Big Four on the River is one I enjoy, as it is filled with jazz influence, including Dixieland.


Of course, there are so many more, but these five are great composers to start with.

Conducting: Top Ten compositions for Concert Winds

A conversation between of friend of mine and I circled around pieces we enjoyed conducting. We soon discussed out top ten works for winds.

Of course, this becomes a controversial subject to many conductors. Arguments rage over what pieces are worth the time and effort, and only doing certain works really matter. We all have a few we enjoy conducting over others.

While I agree that some works are of more “serious artistic merit,” as title through Acton Ostling’s survey from 1978, each conductor has their own palette. Just like food, we just enjoy some things better than others. I will take a nice, juicy burger with cheddar and monterey jack cheese any day, but I am not a fan of sushi. That does not make my choices superior to another. It is my palette.

The same is said with music. We all have our tastes. Snarky Puppy is amazing to me, but my wife can find some of their stuff too busy.

So, as my conversation with my friend continued, we discussed our top ten works for winds. I thought I would share mine.

  1. Octet for Winds – Igor Stravinsky
  2. Lincolnshire Posey – Percy Grainger
  3. Serenade for Winds, Op. 44 – Antonin Dvorak
  4. Symphony in B-flat – Paul Hindemith
  5. Suite in E-Flat – Gustav Holst
  6. Music for Prague 1968 – Karel Husa
  7. …and the mountains rising nowhere… – Joseph Schwantner
  8. Suite Francaise – Darius Milhaud
  9. Ecstatic Waters – Steven Bryant
  10. Symphony No. 1: My Hands are a City – Jonathan Newman

There are some many pieces that could be including in lists like this, but these are my ten. To me, I can listen to them daily and find something new that I had not noticed before.  Conducting these is something I am thankful for, whether in rehearsal or concert. The only one I have yet to conduct is the Schwanter. Still, I have the score and look through it from time to time just to learn.


How does your top ten pieces line up? Do you include any chamber works? I hope so. But, that is something we will discuss separately, and soon.

Marching Band: Visual Effect a concern? Think musically!

Visual effect can be a challenging area for many marching band directors. However, instead of thinking in visual terms, think musical.

It is marching band contest season. Each weekend, bands from across the United States will travel to events in which they will be adjudicated on several different areas. Music performance, music effect, visual performance, and visual effect are the most common, though many contests feature judges for color guard and percussion.

Of those areas, several are straight forward. How is your ensemble’s sound production? Are they generating a quality sound and articulating in a stylistic manner? Is the drill performed clean, or are there some concerns? Does the ensemble create emotion through dynamic changes, energy through articulation?

However, visual effect is rather confusing at times. The adjudicator is watching for how the drill flows and how the ensemble performs each task. With terms like phrasing, continuity, and emotion included on the rubric, it is better to think musically when considering visual impact.

Think Musically

This weekend, I was able to serve as the visual effect adjudicator for a festival in Kentucky. It was a great day and each ensemble performed really well. Especially since it is still rather early in the season. As I went through the day, I found that many groups experience similar issues in this caption. Of course, many music educators are not visual designers. But, they can think musically about visual aspects.

When discussing music being performed, directors will often mention phrasing. We ask performers to connect one section of music to another, avoid breathing at a bar-line, and add musical inflection. The same can be stated about visual.

With visual phrasing, we are asking performers to connect one move to the next. Make a 16-count move and another 16-count move flow together. This can be rather challenging, especially because we more one move at a time so often. But, in order to connect the moves organically, performers must move in unison, with similar foot speed and step size. Those things we discuss. Often. What if we talked about them in musical terms?

Rushing feet before a visual transition is the same as getting to a downbeat too early.

Getting to a hold too soon is like releasing a note before the music calls for it. Or, moving after a hold is the same as a late release.

A form that is not controlled from one set to the next is similar to players being out of tune.

Color guard should perform with great extension, just like you ask wind players to use air support, or you get poor tone quality.

related read: Overwriting for color guard

Take the time to think musically about your visual package. The visual must match the music. When there are moments of tension or crescendo in the music, the visual should also generate tension. When you match the two areas together, your performances will reach new levels.