Welcome back to Deep-Fried Friday! Last week, we talked about high school fashion. This week, let’s take a look at one of the extracurricular activities that plenty of teens participate in: Band.
There are two kinds of marching bands: military and show. There are few military bands left, but the famous Texas A&M band (comprised of Aggie Corps members) is an example. They march in formation and use a 6-to-5 baseline, meaning 6 marching steps per 5 yards. The drum major typically leads from the front of the band, marching ahead of the members.
Show bands are far more common now and create designs on the field by placement of members. The drum major often stands on a podium on the sideline to direct. The show band’s marching baseline is 8-to-5, meaning 8 steps per 5 yards; however, there are many variations in step size to get to the right spot for your next design.
That was Then
Ours was a show band. I was in band for all four years of high school, playing flute and piccolo. My last year, I was one of two drum majors. My high school qualified to go to state competition three of my four years, so we were pretty good.
- Summer Band started two weeks before school and involved practices each weekday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
- There was a platform for our director to stand on during practices, but he also sometimes stood on his pick-up truck bed. He kept a megaphone with him at all times.
- Our director yelled a lot. One time he fell off his platform mid-rant.
- We wore thick wool uniforms and tall furry hats. I was so relieved when I made drum major and got to wear satin shorts and a shirt instead.
- Band trips: We went to Austin three times for marching competition, but Six Flags over Texas in Dallas was my favorite trip. I love roller coasters. However, I question the wisdom of throwing a bunch of hormone-driven teens into a hotel with a limited number of chaperones.
- My last year was my favorite in terms of our program. We did a themed show with songs from West Side Story–one of my favorite musicals. I will always remember directing “America” from the podium.
- I am connected on Facebook now with my fellow drum major. It’s nice to be back in touch.
I could tell plenty of stories about my band experiences, but I want to focus on high school bands now.
This is Now
While there has been a lot of rumor about the elimination of music and arts education programs, those cuts are largely the exception, not the rule. According to U.S. Department of Education findings, music and visual arts are nearly universally available in all public schools. When it comes to marching bands, there are plenty of students still involved. According to The Sound of Perfection, there are 27,000 marching bands annually, with 2.2 million middle and high school students enrolled as members in the U.S.
Music education has long been touted as an activity that boosts both student involvement and achievement in school. According to a Harris Interactive pool of school principals, music programs contribute to higher student attendance and graduation rates. In addition, the College Board has consistently reported high SAT scores for students enrolled in music performance classes.
While some school bands still hold the stigma of being a place for the geeky to congregate, band can be cool. Band alumni include Steven Tyler, Nelly Furtado, Gwen Stefani, and Ewan McGregor. And in case you need more:
“Yeah, I played a little trumpet in high school and was in the marching band.” -Jon Bon Jovi
“I was in my high school’s marching band. It was a lot of hard work but fun. I will always be a fan of marching bands.” -Steven Spielberg
Football halftimes belong to the marching band. While the music is paramount, band performances now often appear as dramatic presentations, with many accompanied by color guards (the flag people) and rifle corps. They have themes and formations that support the theme. To present the show, marching band memberss spend hours upon hours learning their baseline march and then adaptations to form and reform designs.
In Texas, the University Scholastic League (UIL) has limited the number of practice hours for marching bands to eight hours per week. In the districts in my area, bands use every single one of those eight hours to learn their music and prepare their show.
Heeding the storytelling rule of “show, don’t tell,” let’s just take a look at the results of that practice. Following are a few recent videos of high school marching bands.
First, my own school district’s “Mighty Mustang Band,” with a trailer of their program for 2011. Note the marching skills shown in the video and what all goes into the performance. (Yes, it is harder to march backward and sideways.)
And here is the largest marching band (of course, it’s in Texas): The 600+ member band of the Allen Eagles Escradille. In the following video, they are playing their fight song in the Cowboy Stadium. There are a lot of students on the field.
Finally, the Bands of America Grand National Champions for 2011, Broken Arrow High School. This performance is long (11 minutes), but even a portion of it shows how musically difficult and marching challenged their program is. And they deliver.
So have you been in marching band? What instrument or role did you play? What do you enjoy about high school marching bands? How do think they’ve changed?