High School Halls: Marching Band

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

Drum Major
Calallen 1985-86

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.
Taking a bow
(Yes, that’s me on the podium.)

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?

Sources: OneDublin.org; The Sound of Perfection; MusicforAll.org; School Band and Orchestra Magazine

15 thoughts on “High School Halls: Marching Band

  1. In high school, I was in one of the last two military all-girl drum and bugle corps in Texas. We didn’t have a drill team…we had over 200 girls on the field playing a variety of bugles, trumpets, drums, and bells (more like xylophones). I loved that time, especially my senior year when I was a field captain. We split halftime with the band. We went to San Antonio and Orlando…

    Julie, you’ve made me nostalgic now. I’m going to dig up some old pictures. 🙂

  2. Amazing Julie and so spectacular. I was in the school band in junior high and played the glocks. I had no idea what I was doing but loved that people were always gracious and welcoming. I think it’d have been cool to be involved in something like you were and those big marching bands…WOW!! Impressive!!!

  3. I cannot imagine how much practice has to go into coordinating so many people who have to learn how to play the instrument along with walking correctly and all the rest of it. Amazing.
    Oh, and I love the pictures of you. So cute.

    1. Thanks, Patti. Sometimes I wish my husband had known me back when I was a drum major because my legs looked WAY better back then. Marching will do that to a girl, LOL!

  4. We have three high schools within a mile of us, and they all have bands, and they are all pretty amazing. One in particular has played the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for several years running. They’re the ones that are working on their routines every time I go past the school. The kids really work their backsides off. They’re out there year round, including summer, in some of the hottest and most humid weather North Georgia gets. I get tired just watching them. I know some band parents, too, and they work as hard as the kids do. I never went to a school with a marching band, and I probably wouldn’t have made it anyway.

    1. Macy’s Day Parade? Awesome! That’s an honor. We are also blessed to have band parents who spend a lot of time behind the scenes. Not me, but other band parents. I do what I can.

  5. Oh Lord, high school marching band! I both loathed and loved marching band. Like you, we started two weeks early, with band camp. Marched in the summer parades in those miserable uniforms I will forever hate. And then of course, football half time shows, which were both hectic and fun. Ours was a little school, though, and I didn’t follow through in college (I played clarinet), but I love watching the big marching bands. People don’t realize how hard those shows are to pull off.

    Fun post!

    1. I wanted to play clarinet! But my teeth needed braces, and my orthodontist didn’t approve clarinet. I didn’t continue into college either, but high school band was fun (mostly).

  6. I’ve never been in a high school band, although I find them fun and a great way to involve the teens in music education. Some of the uniforms still do look uncomfortable, just like your wool one with the furry hat 🙂

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