Change can be a good thing. The creativity used in designing indoor guard and percussion shows has made its way onto the marching field.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Thus states Albert Einstein. Our thinking changes through experience, reading, and observation. Sometimes, changes are forced upon us due to circumstances. Or, change can just be a natural procession.
Over the last decade, marching band has witnessed significant changes in terms of design. While many directors will never fully embrace these new concepts, adopting a few would be wise. I certainly fall into the group which does not like all the new concepts.
What is causing all the changes? It is rather simple: indoor guard and percussion. Ensembles involved in Winter Guard International and other circuits are finding new ways to create drama and use all the design elements to generate effect. With their limited space on a basketball court, it becomes important to think outside the box in order to communicate your show to the audience.
The indoor activity has become theatrical. I do not use the term as an insult, though some people do. The ensembles are pulling ideas from the stage to build interesting and emotional performances. Props, costuming, blocking and staging, casting for characters. These ideas and more are being used inside.
And now, they are coming outdoors.
Marching bands are starting to draw more design concepts from the indoor activity. Sure, Bands of America has been around since 1975, but the progression of the activity is largely due to what happens indoors. The question is which of these changes should be incorporated into your program. Not all of the concepts are adaptable to every program. Nor are they cost effective.
Here are a few concepts I recommend incorporating.
- Tell a story: Music music and visual, tell a story. All parts need to work toward the drama production, from the music to the flags to the drill. Make your marching band a bit more theatrical.
- Useful props: Many groups incorporate props into their shows, but finding a way to make them integral into parts of your program is needed. Use them as platforms for a soloist, or an interactive piece that changes with your show.
- Levels of the body: By changing the height of body positions can add visual tension or impact to the music. This can be accomplished by laying down, squatting, or leaning.
- Staging: How you place your ensemble on the performance field is crucial. If the trumpet section is performing the most important content, they must be highlighted on the field. This could be by placing them in the center of the field in full view of the audience, or by grouping them together in a tight form off to the side while others move around them.Gone are the days of isolating the on-field percussion and guard/auxiliaries. All parts of the ensemble can and should be mixed in the formations on the field.
- Casting of Characters: This one can be a challenge, but it just as necessary. Too many times I have witnessed ensembles trying to portray a character but the actors or actresses fall very short through their actions. If you are going to perform a show about James Bond, the actions on the field must fully evoke that image. Posture should be tall and elegant, and motions should be quick and exaggerated. Simply wearing a costume and moving around the field is not enough.
What about other ideas?
Good question. For me, they are optional or not needed.
Electronics are great for adding effects and percussion colors to your program, but amplifying top-performers in your ensemble to help your overall ensemble sound is over the top.
Getting new uniforms and costumes every single year is expensive. Not every marching band can afford such things.
Tarps can add great impact to your show, but can also be an obstacle in which performers lose footing and trip over. Or, it can be blown by the winds of Central Illinois on a brisk October afternoon.
The most important part of all this is doing what works for your marching band. If you can afford new uniforms, get them. Maybe start with the staging and story-telling concepts. Add as you move along. But the days of three tunes and one are in the review mirror.