Rehearsing the High School Band

Mike Lawson • • April 4, 2016

Share This:

Richard SaucedoRichard Saucedo was the director of bands at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana from 1982–2013. He completed his undergraduate work at Indiana University in Bloomington and finished his master’s degree at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Program History and Structure
Rehearsing the BandThe band program at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana, had a solid foundation and the community was flourishing when Saucedo arrived in 1982. It was his third job, having served one year each at Mt. Vernon and Norwell High School in Indiana. His first years at Carmel were a rough transition for him, because his expectations and teaching methods were different than the previous director. However, as students began to succeed, fewer complained and more became attracted to the program. From there, the program took off.

The fine arts programs in Carmel have always received tremendous support by the parents, administration, and community, Saucedo said. When he retired in 2013, there were almost 500 students in the high school band and color guard in a school of about 5,000 students. He started with two concert bands, but the program eventually grew into six concert ensembles, with four jazz bands and three winter guards. Within the fine arts department, there were also four orchestras and nine choirs. As the program size increased, Saucedo became concerned that students would become lost among the masses. Therefore, he relied heavily on his assistants to help in that process. “In general, we all wanted to make sure students were not getting a better education anywhere else and every kid felt like they were in the best situation possible for a student involved in music,” he said.

An enormous team assisted Saucedo and all contributed to the success of the Carmel Band. He had four co-directors at the high school, a percussion specialist and a color-guard director. Supplemental staff was hired to work with the color-guard program, as well as eight to ten college students, mostly former students and/or music-education majors, who served as marching technicians in the summer and fall.

The concert bands rehearsed every other day for 90 minutes on a modified A/B block schedule. It was a demanding schedule, but Saucedo and his staff planned accordingly and set a higher expectation for practice outside rehearsal. This schedule did, however, prove frustrating for the ninth-grade concert bands. These students needed consistent training and development and the lack of daily practice caused a lapse of information between rehearsals. As a result, a significant amount of reteaching was necessary and stifled their overall progression. . . .


In his last few years, Saucedo received approximately 150 incoming first-year students from the three middle-school feeder programs, which he said was “a testament to the exceptionally strong work ethic and teaching ability of those teachers.” First-year students were divided between two concert bands, but could perform in one of the upper level bands pending a successful audition. All returning students auditioned once a year and were able to select what they played for their audition.


Saucedo continually strived for a balanced instrumentation in all of the concert bands so the students’ overall experience was worthwhile. In instances in which a first-year student band consisted of thirty-two trumpets and six clarinets, for example, the directors would transition struggling first-year students to another, less-populated section to give them a fresh start and help balance the instrumentation. For the top two concert bands (Wind Symphony I and II), the typical instrumentation was nine to ten flutes, two oboes, twelve clarinets, four alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, one baritone saxophone, six to eight horns, seven to nine trumpets, six trombones, two euphoniums, three to four tubas, and seven to eight percussionists.


The concert bands rehearsed year-round during the school day, even during marching-band season. In fact, a fall concert was normally scheduled at the peak of the competitive season, and Wind Symphony I would also perform a Veteran’s Day concert a week before BOA Grand Nationals. While the students were initially hesitant about this event because of the added commitment, they eventually saw how inspiring it was to use their talents to recognize veteran soldiers. The concert bands also performed a winter and spring concert on top of a state qualification assessment performance the last weekend in April and a possible state concert band performance the first weekend in May. Students could also voluntary perform at the District Solo and Ensemble contest .

Repertoire Selection

When choosing repertoire for these concerts, the most important aspects for Saucedo were the quality, substance, and depth within the music. Even for the younger bands performing literature for grades 2 and 3, this was always a factor. It was also essential that a wide variety of genres and styles were programmed alongside something lyrical, in which students could create artistry and demonstrate musicianship. Saucedo said, “Our number-one job is to help kids fall in love with music. I wanted them to listen and perform all kinds of music because they might fall in love with one genre and not another. Their tastes are different, and one student may love jazz, another musicals, and another might attach to film scores. Younger kids enjoy making those connections so we as music educators must provide those opportunities and experiences.”

Rehearsal Preparation

Concerts were scheduled every six to eight weeks, but on a modified block schedule this meant only four weeks of preparation. Thus, every rehearsal required careful, detailed planning. When preparing a score, Saucedo listened to and studied a multitude of recordings of as many different ensembles as possible. When teaching Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy, for example, Saucedo studied at least six different recordings and selected versions of each movement congruent to his personal interpretation. He also focused extensively on the harmonic and melodic structures to achieve the necessary balance and clarity the pieces required. The various textures would be analyzed and then prioritized numerically based on their listening priority. One would designate the melody, two would be the accompanying melody, and three to four would be the supporting accompaniment. Saucedo was also cognizant of certain passages in which the composer used the same dynamic for every instrument group. During the score study process, Saucedo would change these to reflect the priorities previously established. Saucedo was meticulous in the planning of his daily rehearsals. He often used brightly colored note cards.


Though Saucedo firmly believes his primary responsibility was to help the individual fall in love with music, his secondary goal was to foster independence in his students, both in reading and performing music, so they could function on their own outside rehearsal, without a teacher. “If they like Chopin, for example, I wanted them to buy a book, go home at night, and be able to play Chopin,” he said. This motivated his rehearsal process and time devoted to building musical independence and fundamental skills.

Saucedo typically began rehearsals with breathing exercises because he feels that lack of air support is a common problem for all amateur players.


To develop tone quality, Saucedo regularly played examples of great ensembles and professional performers for his students. Together, they would analyze these recordings and discuss the similarities and differences between them. In time, the students were able to hear the disparities in their own sound and work to imitate what they heard. “Sometimes this was worth the weight in gold over any comments I could make,” he said. Saucedo also relentlessly focused on correct use of air and having a proper embouchure.


Saucedo taught his ensemble that blend was taking two sounds and turning them into one. Balance, on the other hand, was a matter of dynamics, so the audience hears what the composer intended in the score. “The clarinet section, for example, has to blend to create one section sound, but also has to play at the right dynamic relative to their priority in the music,” he said.

Saucedo’s primary focus in a performance was to achieve clarity within the ensemble sound. “Everybody should be able to hear exactly what you want them to hear, when you want them to hear it, without anything being in the way of that,” he said.


Teaching students to internalize a consistent, subdivided pulse was Saucedo’s primary goal when addressing rhythm. He said, ”Many bands don’t subdivide and the kids don’t understand that once a piece starts, it’s essentially a soundtrack that doesn’t stop. When a professional musician is recording in a studio, they have a click track going through one ear bud and they must play along with that pulse, using everything they know how to do on their instrument . . . Everybody has to understand that from the beginning of the piece to the end, that click track is always going. They have to feel it inside of them. There are fluctuations with rubato, but the ensemble’s track has to be together.”


Saucedo stressed that faster technical passages require a relaxed, deliberate approach. Building these skills involves knowledge and mastery in all of the scales. He said, ”There’s nothing better than scales. And we can’t just be teaching the B-flat, E-flat, and F scales. It has to be all of them so that students know and understand accidentals.


Saucedo adheres to the philosophy, “Music either comes from somewhere or goes somewhere.” He continues to study the great conductors and analyze their musical decisions in order to further develop his interpretive skills.

Professional Development

Saucedo encourages directors, especially new teachers, to observe the greatest teachers, leaders, and band directors and understand their process and procedure so they can apply it to their own programs. Directors must also network as much as possible, he said, and ask for guidance and mentorship .

Creating a Culture of Success

Saucedo and his staff built the band program at Carmel through hard work, dedication, and a commitment toward excellence. It may have appeared to be easy because of the relative a fluence of the community, but he stressed that regardless of circumstances, great teaching was and continues to be the most important factor for any successful music program. “At the great programs throughout the country, things may be set up correctly but somebody has to come in everyday and teach those students. I believe you can put any great band director in another school and they will continue to be successful because the directors who are passionate will not let anything stand in the way of creating and sustaining excellence. They figure out a way to get the things they do not have and do what needs to be done.”

Saucedo quoted Vince Lombardi, the football coach for the Green Bay Packers, who said: “A person’s quality of life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence.” Excellence was a lifestyle for the directors, the students, the parents, and the entire Carmel community. Everybody was unified under a single goal and worked hard, despite any obstacle or circumstances that might get in their way. It was this philosophy of excellence that allowed students to fall in love with music and, in the process, improve their quality of life.

Excerpt from Rehearsing the High School Band by Stephen Meyer. ISBN 978-1-57463-439-6, $19.95. Meredith Music Publications, distributed by Hal Leonard Corporation. The complete chapter and publication is available from local and online music and book dealers nationally.


The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!