35 Years of Pyware Software for Drill Design: 1981-2016

Mike Lawson • Technology • September 8, 2016

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It all started with pins in a corkboard or tin soldiers on a tabletop or drafting tools and a blank sheet of paper. “Brilliant” ideas played out with notes scribbled on whatever was handy. Band directors took these notes and ideas to the practice field and literally moved their people around just like the pins and toy soldiers to create the formations….and voila… a field show.

Formations were simple, frequently repeated from week to week, generally static, with an occasional new idea being integrated. Apple II circa 1977Somebody thought to create a printed form of the field, mimeographed a few copies and used those to transfer the notes to a more useable form. Extra copies were made to hand out to some of the band personnel to assist in translating the plan to their actual placement on the field.

In the late 1970s, the first small computers made their appearance and hobbyists learned to program them. While first applications were financial and numeric, a few folks started to translate their manual processes and procedures into planning tools on these computers. As the ability to create forms and even images on a computer came into being, applications that required diagrams or other non numeric or alphabetic forms became possible.

Typical of the computers of this era was the Apple II, released in June of 1979 and sold through 1982. It came standard with only 16K RAM storage, expandable to 64K, limited programming languages and a trackball interface. With the advent of the IBM Personal Computer (PC) in 1981, Time magazine called 1982 “The Year of the Computer” with millions already in use.

Apple II was the first computer to run Pyware.With the advent of these small computers folks in almost every sphere began to create software to do their jobs. Py Kolb had been in a very small high school band, went to the University of Texas where he was in the band and interested in the designing of the field shows. As a computer technology major it only made sense to see if field shows could be created on these new, small computers.

Kolb started a company to create field shows that they hoped to sell to school band directors. It only made sense that the company would develop a computer tool to help them create these shows. The Apple II was their first vehicle. It became obvious at the very first band conference that band directors were much more interested in Kolb’s software tool than his show designs. So what started out as their in house production tool very quickly became Pygraphic’s product!

Pyware's Apple II demo station at an early conference/tradeshowBob Buckner, former director of bands at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, told SBO, “Py once told me that he decided to develop drill design and band software because he loved band and he felt the need to give something back to this amazing activity in his life when he was a trombone player in the Longhorn band.” Buckner is now principal of United Music Enterprises, a Pyware consultant.

Pygraphics operates out of a small office in Argyle, Texas, a suburb of Ft. Worth with a total staff of only six. This is very much a family operation that is enhanced with a cadre of remote consultants that are almost part of the family. Kolb still does much of the programming with some outsourced to a few Pygraphics consultants. His wife Cayleen, father in-law, a nephew and two of their extended family round out the company. In addition to some programming, the consultants perform services like education with workshops and books as well as individual services to Pyware customers.

Initially known as the Charting Aid System, the software is now designated the 3D (Dynamic Drill Design) Pyware. It operates on both the PC and Apple platforms with identical functions.

Pyware's earliest days showing band directors the wonders of modern computing for their band programs. Customer loyalty may be best appreciated through the eyes of the longest installed user, Dripping Springs High School in Texas near Austin. Linda Mcdavitt, their band director, purchased the first license for the software in 1981. Typical of passionate band directors everywhere she made the purchase with her own funds since there was no money in the budget for things like computers and software. Mcdavitt is still an active pioneer of sorts having just appeared on the CBS Sunday Morning Show after becoming the first woman on an otherwise all male sailing team to circumnavigate the world.

Mcdavitt has been a band director since 1969 and has worked in North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas. She describes her relationships with computers as, “I’m not one who understands computers and programs and battled with them although they would win the battles!” She continued though, “the benefit to band directors and students of Pyware is that it can spit out each student’s position on the field making it that individual band member’s responsibility to learn their part.” Linda retired in 2001 as director at Judson High School on Converse, Texas and now sails, including around the world!

Screenshot from 3D (Dynamic Drill Design) Pyware.

Pygraphics has established itself in the band director community with thousands of license holders in every state and many countries. 3D Pyware software is supported in multiple languages. The importance of Pygraphics has been recognized by the America Bandmasters Association (ABA) by designation of Pygraphics as an Associate in 2006. One of Pygraphics’ consultants, Dan Ryder Field Drills, had been given this same honor even earlier in 1998.

But Pygraphics’ 3D Pyware has helped create memorable performances outside the world of marching bands as well. The iconic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” commercial was originally created in 1971. The classic remake known as the “Hilltop Reunion” in 1991 made use of Pyware to plan and execute the movements of hundreds of people on a hilltop in Italy. The opening and closing productions and ceremonies of many Olympics have also been created with Pyware. So if you’re trying to move a few hundred (or even a few thousand) people around in any orderly fashion the tool that makes that possible is 3D Pyware by Pygraphics.

Screenshot of Winter Guard plans.

To take full advantage of all the functions of this comprehensive software requires some education. Education sessions and training tools are available from a variety of sources. The Pygraphic’s list of consultants, dealers and distributors includes businesses in Taiwan and Beijing (at least they agree on Pyware!), the Netherlands, and Japan. The full list may be found at pyware.com/distributors.

But Pygraphics is much more than just field drill design software. Another significant software offering is their Music Writer Touch (MWT) music notation software. Introduced in 2010, this very inexpensive offering (well under $100!) allows creation of music with just about every methodology including touch screen, computer keyboard and mouse, touch screen monitor, MIDI, interactive white boards and more. Work can be maintained as computer work files or exported and played as MIDI sound files. Music Writer is offered directly from Pygraphics or from McCormick’s Software Avenue in Arlington Heights, IL or J. W. Pepper and Son in Valley Forge, PA. Py Kolb’s comments at introduction were, “we knew we were on the right track when middle school kids came up to our booth and dived right in with no explanation or instruction! These are the band members of the future!” Music Writer information is available at pyware.com/musicwriter.

In order to provide a mechanism to allow unsupervised practice by student musicians to be more productive and measurable, Pygraphics created iPAS, Interactive Pyware Assessment System, which provides listening, practicing and recording of assigned pieces. iPAS provides both student and teacher’s editions with teachers having record keeping functions. Information at pyware.com/ipas.

Pygraphics software is also available imbedded in other products. The Neil A. Kjos Music Company (www.kjos.com) sells two music student focused products, their Interactive Practice Studio (IPS) and their Interactive Teacher Studio. Both of these software applications have a “lite” version of Pygraphics Music Writer Touch imbedded to allow students to write or be tested on existing or self composed works. This, combined with Kjos audio, video, tuner and metronome functions is designed to make practice fun and productive for both student and teacher.

Reflecting on 35 years of Pyware, Cayleen Kolb, wife of founder and creator of the software said, “I am extremely fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to build with my husband and best friend. The Lord has blessed our company with customers who believed in us from the very beginning and the new customers we have today. We are grateful to all!”

With the Pyware logo now including “Music Technology of the Future”, what does Kolb see in the future? “Our first priority is to meet the ever changing needs of our users with ground breaking features and unequaled customer support. Most of our upcoming developments we can’t disclose, however our users can attest that we promptly integrate technology and users needs.”

Looking back at 35 years of worldwide success, Kolb added, “My Pyware experience has been such an incredible blessing and journey. I hope I have been able to contribute to our youth’s experience while they are learning to push themselves and shoot for their goals. Building those skills will be invaluable throughout their life. I am grateful that we have been able to provide tools and support for the teachers and directors who are the “true heroes” in making such a difference in their student’s lives.”

Perhaps the best summary of what Pygraphics has accomplished in 35 years is said by Craig Harms of Creative Consultation Service (bandfo.com), a principal education consultant for Pyware. “It is my honor to have been associated with people making up this unique technology company which has continually kept the needs of its users at the top of their priority list. Unlike so many tech companies which have come and gone…mostly gone… it is my feeling and hope Pyware will continue on for another 35+ years.”

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