Overwriting for Color Guard

Color Guard (or auxiliaries if you wish) is one of the most important and, yet, misused components of a marching ensemble. Many times, this portion of the group is left to fend for themselves creatively or just moved aimlessly around the field. Because of the significance both visually and energetically, Band Directors should show careful attention toward the Color Guard from day one of show design. Here are some tips for improving the performance of these teams:

Include Guard Staff in the Color Guard Design Process

When meeting to discuss show ideas, be sure to include all members of your design team and instructional staff. If you can design with all parts of the program in mind, the show’s flow will improve. Create a timeline of musical selections and begin outlining important visual moments as well. Once the entire show is in place, meet with your guard staff and begin to create a storyboard for the entire show. This type of planning will go a long way to composing beautiful moments to feature the winds, percussion, or color guard in addition to establishing when the full ensemble generate impact together.

Balance must be achieved for Color Guard

Band Directors, find ways to maximize performance and rest time during the show. The cardiovascular nature of this activity can take a toll on the performers. The winds and percussion do not play and move for every second of a show. Neither should the entire guard. Utilize small squads of the guard from time to time, especially when one section of the winds or percussion are being featured as well. Find balance in the routine and use.

Color Guard instructors, it is okay to write simple flag (or rifle, etc.) routines for a portion of the show. As Sara Gray (a Winterguard Adjudicator) has suggested- routines should be written FOR the music. If a simple routine matches musically, then allow the music to guide your choreography. Having the team do 16 counts of excellently executed drop-spins into a dramatic toss while leading to a major impact point in the winds and percussion is appropriate and more visually effective. Visual energy and musical energy must move together.

Guard Staff: Remember Your Guard Members

A common problem of Guard routines designed for high school programs is that the choreography is overwritten. Groups attempt to perform movements that the students are not comfortable in doing. Staff members will simply say “they will do better once we clean it.” Some times, yes, they do improve. But many times, they do not find success. Just because Carolina Crown’s guard executed this amazing trick does not mean the 9th graders on your team can do it as well.

After agreeing to design a visual book for a high school once, it was requested that I allow room for visuals performed by the Cavaliers in 2002 to be inserted. It was my recommendation that the group not attempt these motions and find something that fits their ensemble. Long story short, this ensemble never performed the moves quite like the Cavaliers and it effected their overall performance.

The team of young women and men under your instruction deserve a show that they know will challenge them in some way, but also be attainable. The abilities of your team must be a priority and, much like the winds and percussion, routines should be drawn from the fundamentals that you work on daily. Write for the people in front of you.

Photo Credit: Indiana State University/Courtesy Photo
Photo Credit: Indiana State University/Courtesy Photo

Marching Band Show selection

It is that time of year again! That time when band directors and their staff members are gathering together to begin the process of selecting the marching band show. During these meetings, idea after idea will be presented and discussed in hopes of finding the best show for the season. But the overall success or failure of these selections is not understood until the season is complete in October or November.  In order to set up the students for success, there are several key areas that band directors and their staff members should consider before making the final selections.

What do you want your students to be able to do at the end of the year? This is a question that often does not get asked in March while putting show ideas together, but one that must be. The marching band season, while lasting for several months, should be considered part of the overall band program and not separate from concert band. The sound concepts and performance ideas ought to be aimed to the ultimate goal of year end growth and not just the last contest of the marching band season. The standard of performance need to be set from day one of the marching season and expressed daily.

J Corey Francis, Indiana State University

Know your students.  The shows designed for our students should reflect their abilities. Consider the ensembles strengths and weaknesses throughout the entire process. For example, if endurance is a problem for your brass, work on long tones and lip slurs, but also consider utilizing them less in the show by featuring another section. If you have a saxophone section that can play rippin’ jazz solos, show them off! If your French horns are weak, but your Euphoniums are strong, consider doubling their parts together in the score.

As important as knowing your students’ abilities is understanding their collective culture. Some musical selections fit your ensemble better than others. I can recall a year that, when wanting to perform some swingin’ jazz tunes, I found that modern rock compositions from the Foo Fighters and Fall Out Boy felt musically and emotionally natural. Additionally, I worked with two different ensembles that performed the same music by Phillip Sparke. One ensemble performed the parts well and it felt comfortable, while the other seemed never to provide the energy needed to succeed even though they performed it well.

Know your community. This is probably the most overlooked concept when selecting a show. Each community’s traits may require special consideration for your performances. Performing a show that is artistically pleasing to students, contest adjudicators, and a football audience is a challenge; however, if we want more support, finding selections that fit the community should be considered. As support builds, find ways to educate your audience as well. When speaking with Alfred Watkins (who was the band director at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Georgia) many years ago, I asked how he got to the point to where his students could perform John Barnes Chances’ “Symphony No. 2” on the football field. His reply was enlightening:

“It took lots of time, and I don’t just mean this season. This school opened in 1981, and I started in 1982. I had to teach the students and the audience. We didn’t play classical music on the field at first – we had to build support from the audience. Once they started to support and enjoy what we were doing, and we as the ensemble improved, I could push the envelope a bit. Now, we can perform anything because our students are capable and our audience understands what we do.”

Know your season.  Each school’s marching band season is different. Some ensembles perform only a few contests and end in mid October. Other schools attend state and national competitions that go into November and in venues like Lucas Oil Stadium or MetLife Stadium. Understanding the level of competition, the length of the season, and the places you will perform should guide your selections. Longer season require shows that have more challenges as being too easy could lead to a lack of learning later in the season. Shows during shorter seasons, while still being demanding, should not be too challenging, as the students may get a sense of failure and not progressing.