I have spent many years thinking about the role of marching band in a developing musician. It is easy to see that marching band is good for students as human beings due to the work ethic the activity demands. It also creates a wonderful and encouraging environment that builds long lasting relationships. But is marching band good for them musically? I believe it is. Have I gone back and forth on this? Yes. But here’s what really convinced me. I started writing for Dublin Scioto in 2014. My second year writing for them I was asked to arrange my concert band piece, Beauty Broken, for their 2016 show. The students fell in love with the piece and I’d often hear them walk around singing it. That’s not hard to believe since it was probably stuck in their head all the time from how much they rehearsed. However, a year later I walked into that school to drop something off to the director. In the corner sat a trumpet player facing the wall and playing almost in a meditative way to herself. What was she playing? A part from Beauty Broken. Memorized. In a therapeutic kind of way. I was quite touched by this experience. The music became a part of who she is and it has stuck with her. Just yesterday I had a student tell me he listens to that piece often. He knows it so well and it has become something special to him. The great amount of time spent working on that piece along with the positive environment that marching band provides gave him the gift of connecting with that piece of music. Marching band did that. Marching band is an intense period of the year and it presents a great opportunity to truly learn whatever repertoire is chosen. The students will know that music inside and out. (All the more reason to choose music you think is worth this much time and effort). Not only are they playing it, but they are also moving to the music. This gives a great opportunity to reinforce the physicality of music as well as the emotional side. But most importantly, they will come out with a deep encounter with music that could last a lifetime.
This year I wrote Dublin a show titled “Paradox”. If you’ve played any of my upper level concert band pieces you probably can tell I’m fascinated by the idea of a paradox. With this show I not only wanted to connect it with paradoxes found in life, but also try to combine the marching band world with the concert band world. When composing or arranging for marching bands, I try not to think of these two worlds as being completely separate from each other. Do they have some competing aspects? Yes. But can they also compliment each other? Definitely. Part of the show is bold, intense and homophonic in texture. But much of the show also has many layers and counterpoint, which is quite challenging off the field let alone on the field. But the students believe in what they are doing so they work hard at it and strive for musicality. Not an easy thing to do while thinking of a thousand other things! (How’s my marching? I hope that flag doesn’t hit me in the face…etc. etc.)
They also love that they had a new piece of music written especially for them. And I’m glad I get to be a part of that.
Cheers to a good 2018 season, directors. The demands marching band places on you is not easy, but I believe it is worth it.