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Implementing the Show Plan

Mike Lawson • • August 3, 2018

As the summer practices and band camps are wrapping up, it is time to implement the show plan and make it come to life.

The band director and staff must do careful planning well in advance, whether it is a football band performing three shows for the season or a complex, custom designed show for a competition band.

This article is an excerpt from the show planning chapter of The Dynamic Marching Band. Some of the topics addressed are pertinent to the initial planning and choices made when creating a show.

1. Published vs. custom arrangements

2. Music and theme selection

3. Effective music repertoire in a nutshell

4. Creating a show

5. Story board

6. Data Module Sheet

7. Timeline

8. Visual considerations

9. Small band considerations

Now is the time to review the plan and make sure everything is working together for a successful performance.

Quality Music Arrangements

Regardless of the source, quality arrangements should meet the following standards:

• Interesting melodies, countermelodies, harmonies and rhythms

• Variety of orchestration techniques

• Dynamics and shaping clearly marked for every phrase

• Articulations for every note clearly marked or indicated

• Music should have direction, builds, impacts, tension and release

• Key centers utilized for resonance of the wind instruments, particularly at impacts

• Music selected should be challenging but achievable by the middle of the season

• Questions for analyzing your show now that it is “on the field”

• Are all of the above criteria “on the way” to being realized by the students?

• Are edits or rewrites needed? (e.g. melodies are often lost on the field because of staging of the melody & accompaniment groups. Thin out the accompaniment and/or boost the melody.)

• Did the arranger mark dynamics, articulations, etc.? If not, have the students mark them ASAP. Most students are visual dominant learners.

• Is the music too difficult for the majority of the students? If it is, they will never be able to perform with confidence. If you know NOW, then make the edits NOW to give the students a successful experience.

The Visual Component

With a solid musical foundation established, the show must also work well as a visual production. The visual caption is often out of the band director’s area of expertise and therefore, the color guard and visual specialist must be consulted to be sure the show lends itself well to a visual production.

The visual elements—drill, color guard, marching and body movement—should interpret and enhance the music. The most effective shows have a blended and coordinated musical and visual program. Other visual considerations concern possible use of props, color guard costumes and flag designs.

The color guard is an important element of the successful marching band. Now is the time to evaluate how well the color guard is contributing to the total band production. Is the choreography, equipment work and movement enhancing and interpretive to the music production? The guard is typically the last group to be able to write & learn their program which must be done after the drill and music program are designed. Are they progressing and achieving at an appropriate level?

Ballads are inherently difficult visually because the tempo is slow and there is less motion. Bands often march very slow tempos to the eighth note pulse to achieve more visual interest. Care must be taken to maintain a smooth technique that is not distracting to the music played. Usually a difficult music passage needs to be played at a halt in order to achieve a strong performance.

In such cases a body pose, or some body movement can visually enhance the effect of the moment. Be careful that the body movement does not impair good music performance.

Visual and Music General Effect

There needs to be an effect or applause point every 20–30 seconds in the show. It can be a “stand up and shout” moment or it can be a beautiful phrase that “takes your breath away,” but it must be something —musical or visual—that makes the audience react. Every few minutes (2 or 3 times in a show) there needs to be a very big “Wow” moment that is memorable. The most effective moments in a show are a combination of music and visual.

Theme and Show Title

If there is a theme and show title, take a look (and listen) as the show is performed and ask some questions. Is the theme and show title obvious to the average fan in the stands (the popcorn eaters?) This is important for the football band as well as the competition band. No audience member (or judge) wants to watch a show and wonder “what was that all about?”

What can be added or emphasized, musically and/or visually, to make the show more effective? It does not need to be hugely complex, in fact it is better if it is not! A simple prop or a short narration may be all you need. Enjoy Your Marching Band Season! This is VERY important for the students and staff. Make it happen!

Wayne Markworth is the author of The Dynamic Marching Band, a textbook on marching band techniques. He was director of bands at Centerville High School in Ohio for 35 years and developed the marching band, known as “The Centerville Jazz Band.” He received music education degrees from Indiana University and Northwestern University. In 2007, he was inducted into the Bands of America Hall of Fame.

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