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A marching band is a group consisting of instrumental musicians performing outdoors for the purpose of entertainment, exercise, and sometimes in competition. Instrumentation typically includes brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments. Most marching bands use some kind of uniform (often of a military style) that include the school or organization's name or symbol, shakos, pith helmets, feather plumes, gloves, and sometimes gauntlets, sashes, and/or capes.
Marching bands are generally categorized by function, size, age, gender and by the style of show they perform. In addition to traditional parade performances, many marching bands also perform field shows at special events like competitions. Increasingly, marching bands are performing indoor concerts that implement many of the songs, traditions, and flair from outside performances.
Band is a general term for an instrumental group. The marching band originated with traveling musicians who performed together at festivals and celebrations throughout the ancient world. It evolved and became more structured within the armies of the early city-states, becoming the basis for the military band, from which the modern marching band emerged. As musicians became less important in directing the movement of troops on the battlefield, the bands moved into increasingly ceremonial roles - an intermediate stage which provided some of the instrumentation and music for marching bands was the modern brass band, which also evolved out of the military tradition.
Many military traditions survive in modern marching band. Bands that march in formation will often be ordered to "dress their ranks" and "cover down their files". They may be called to "attention", and given orders such as "about face" and "forward march". Uniforms of many marching bands still resemble military uniforms.
Outside of police and military organizations, modern marching bands are most commonly associated with American football, specifically the pregame and halftime shows. Many U.S. universities had bands before the twentieth century. In 1907, the first formation on a football field was the "Block P" created by Paul Spotts Emrick, director of the Purdue All-American Marching Band. Spotts had seen a flock of birds fly in a "V" formation and decided that a band could replicate the action in the form of show formations. The first halftime show by a marching band at a football game was done by the University of Illinois Marching Illini also in 1907 at a game against the University of Chicago.[unreliable source?]
Another innovation that appeared at roughly the same time as the field show and marching in formations was the fight song. University fight songs are often closely associated with a university's band. The University of Illinois also had the first fight song, "Illinois Loyalty". Many of the more recognizable and popular fight songs are widely utilized by high schools across the country. Four university fight songs commonly used by high schools are the University of Michigan's "The Victors", The University of Illinois' "Illinois Loyalty", the University of Notre Dame's "Victory March", and the United States Naval Academy's "Anchors Aweigh".
Other changes in marching band have been:
Since the inception of Drum Corps International in the 1970s, many marching bands that perform field shows have adopted changes to the activity that parallel developments with modern drum and bugle corps. These bands are said to be corps-style bands. Changes adopted from drum corps include:
Marching bands are categorized based on primary function, instrumentation, and style - although many organizations may fill multiple roles.
Military bands and field music were historically the first marching bands. Instrumentation varies but generally contains brass, woodwinds, and percussion. Given their original purpose, military marching bands typically march in a forward direction with (no variation of) straight lines. Music is performed at a constant tempo (120-140) to facilitate the steady marching of the entire military group with which the band is playing. The marching step size (interval) is consistent, and usually at a "6 to 5" (six steps per five yards) or "8 to 5". This style includes field music units such as drum and bugle corps or bugle bands, pipe bands, and fife and drum corps.
Active duty military marching bands often perform in parades with other military units and march in the same manner as other military personnel. Due to a lack of appreciation, competition venues, and military personnel, almost all military marching bands have disappeared from schools in the United States; notable exceptions the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band from Texas A&M University, the Highty-Tighties of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and the Cadets of Norwich University Military College of Vermont, the oldest collegiate band in the United States and the nation's first private military academy. There is also a pocket of about 80 high school military-style marching bands in Eastern Texas which enjoy a strong cult following.
Unlike in the United States, military style marching bands have a strong presence in Latin American countries, especially those that have strong military traditions, most importantly of Prussian, French, Spanish and Portuguese origins. Such bands (military bands and Corps of Drums) are found in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Peru. But in Ecuador and Venezuela, Corps of Drums are the main military style band for schools. Military style Corps of Drums are also seen in schools, colleges and universities in Mexico and in Mexican schools in the US merely using only the snare drum and the bugle (in some schools the instrumentation can be larger). These bands also are present in Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Panama.
The United Kingdom keeps the military style tradition with many civil and youth bands in all of the UK keeping the military band traditions of the country, either as marching wind bands, Corps of Drums, bugle bands, pipe bands, and in Northern Ireland, fife and drum bands. Examples would be the Royal British Legion bands, and the bands of the various UK youth uniformed organizations. Styled on the UK military tradition, Fiji's Military Forces also have a marching band. Military style marching bands are also commonplace in Germany, Austria, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. German and French military style band types can even extend to Corps of Drums and fanfare bands staffed full-time by civilian musicians, and even to the Bagad bands in Brittany and outside France made up of bagpipers. Spanish band traditions include military style brass bands, marching bands (using brass, woodwinds and percussion) and bugle bands and the Asturias region's unique pipe bands.
Corps Style bands directly reflect the trends seen in modern drum and bugle corps of Drum Corps International (DCI). Unlike the military band style, drum corps style step sizes are constantly changing to accommodate the differing forms the band is creating on the field. Forms may be linear, curvilinear, or scatter. Music selections can include anything from symphonic music, film scores, to world music, jazz, rock, or pop music.
Unlike a Military band's usage of baton twirlers, Corps Style bands may include the usage of a "color guard" which spin flags, rifles, sabres, and may also incorporate dance into their routines. Other visual elements unique to the corps style is the usage of props, backdrops, and even costuming - with the purpose of adding more theatrical elements to the show.
Other elements unique to the Corps Style bands are the incorporation of the "front ensemble". This includes the usage of keyboard percussion such as: xylophone, marimba, and bells; and/or any other color percussion instruments such as: timpani, cymbals, conga, tambourine, triangle, drum set, etc. The front ensemble may also use sound amplification or electronic instruments such as synthesizers.
The "Corps Style" is constantly evolving, with contributions coming from college bands, high school bands, and drum and bugle corps throughout the United States. Typically, corps style bands are gearing their performances for marching competitions and marching festivals. Competitions featuring the corps style on the national level include: Drum Corps International; Winter Guard International; and Bands Of America.
Show Band, more commonly known as Traditional Style Band, refers primarily to marching bands geared towards crowd entertainment that perform on fields (for example, a football field). Typically, they perform a routine before the game, another at halftime, and sometimes after the game as well. Competitive show bands perform only one show that is continually refined throughout a season, while bands that focus on entertainment rather than competition usually perform a unique show for each game. These shows normally consists of three to five musical pieces accompanied by formations rooted in origin from Patterns in Motion, a book penned by one-time Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band assistant band director William C. "Bill" Moffit, who would later become bandmaster of Purdue University All-American Marching Band and University of Houston Spirit of Houston. Depending on the band, though the show could be practiced and completed before the football season at band camp but mostly this is only done by competition show bands.
There are several varieties of Traditional Style Bands, the most recognizable would be the type depicted in the film Drumline. This style of band is based upon an amalgamation of traditional styles from bands in the Big Ten and African American traditions, where the music selections are largely based on rhythm & blues and contemporary popular music. Band members are also known to include a smaller dance routine while standing in their forms instead of marking time. Many of these types of show bands may have both a twirler line and/or a dancer line.
Other Show Bands are semi-military and semi-corps style, such as some of the Big Ten bands. These bands perform a show that is designed to entertain the audience, but feature more traditional symphonic styles of music rather than contemporary music (marches, film scores, jazz, or older pop music).
Most show bands of either type include the traditional military band instrumentation of woodwinds, brass, and battery percussion. Some also include the front ensemble keyboard percussion, and may also incorporate the use of a color guard for flag and rifle routines.
Carnival bands are a UK variant of show bands. Carnival bands typically march in time to the music, and may also participate in parades and competitions.. They contain brass and percussion, but may or may not use woodwinds. In The United States, specifically Southern California, carnival bands (known as Parade bands in the states) perform regularly in parades and parade competitions
Scramble bands (also referred to as 'Scatter' bands) are a variation on show bands. They generally do not march in time with the music, but, as their name implies, scramble from design to design and often incorporate comedic elements into their performances. Most of the bands in the Ivy League use this style, excepting only Cornell University.
The size and composition of a marching band can vary greatly. Some bands have fewer than twenty members, and some have over 500. American marching bands vary considerably in their instrumentation. Some bands omit some or all woodwinds, but it is not uncommon to see piccolos, flutes, soprano clarinets, alto saxophones, and tenor saxophones. E♭ clarinets, alto clarinets, bass clarinets, and baritone saxophones are less common, but can be found in some bands. Bassoons and oboes are very seldom found on a field due to the risk of incidental damage, the impracticality of marching with an exposed double reed, and high sensitivity to weather.
The brass section usually includes trumpets or cornets, French horns, alto horns, or mellophones, tenor trombones, baritone horns or euphoniums, and tubas or sousaphones. E♭soprano cornets are sometimes used to supplement or replace the high woodwinds. Some especially large bands use flugelhorns and bass trombones. Specially designed versions of the lower brass have been created for use while marching. These are typically wrapped in such a way that allow the bell to face toward the audience at all times. Bands may also modify their instrumentation to remove slide trombones completely and replace them with another instrument, such as a valved trombone or marching baritone horn.
Marching percussion (often referred to as the drumline, battery, or back battery) typically includes snare drums, tenor drums, bass drums, and cymbals and are responsible for keeping tempo for the band. All of these instruments have been adapted for mobile, outdoor use. Marching versions of the glockenspiel (bells), xylophone, and marimba are also rarely used by some ensembles. Historically, the percussion section also employed mounted timpani that featured manual controls.
For bands that include a front ensemble (also known as the pit or auxiliary percussion), stationary instrumentation may include orchestral percussion such as timpani, tambourines, maracas, cowbells, congas, wood blocks, marimbas, xylophones, bongos, vibraphones, timbales, claves, guiros, and chimes or tubular bells, concert bass drums, and gongs, as well as a multitude of auxiliary percussion equipment. Drum sets, purpose-built drum racks, and other mounted instruments are also placed here. Until the advent of the pit in the early 1980s, many of these instruments were actually carried on the field by marching percussionists by hand or on mounting brackets. Some bands also include electronic instruments such as synthesizers, electric guitars, and bass guitar, along with the requisite amplification. If double-reed or string instruments are used, they are usually placed here, but even this usage is very rare due to their relative fragility. Unusual percussive instruments are sometimes used, including brake drums, empty propane tanks, trashcans, railroad ties, stomping rigs, and other interesting sounds.
A rare inclusion in a marching band that is becoming more popular is the use of Electrophones in a marching band. The most common electric instrument seen is a bass guitar, but some schools also use keyboards and lead guitar. To make the electric instruments usable, external power in the stadium is normally used, but some groups may use a car-battery mechanism that requires a car battery and a converter to give the instruments and amplifiers remote power. Most bands will have the guitars in the pit with keyboard and auxiliary percussion, but some guitarists do march in the field show. This is made possible by the use of wireless transmission systems that allow the guitarists to hook a wireless transmitter to their instrument, while a receiver is hooked to the amp. This allows free motion of the guitarists to a fixed range of distance between the transmitter and receiver. This implementation of equipment can also be used in parades. Some band scores have parts for bass guitar, but in the event that a score does not, the bass guitarist will normally play tuba/sousaphone, bassoon, baritone-bass clef, euphonium-bass clef, or trombone music. It is very rare for a score to have a part for electric guitar, but the guitarist may use oboe or flute music in this situation.
Many bands have auxiliaries that add a visual component to the performance. For ceremonial bands, this could be a traditional color guard or honor guard. For drum & bugle corps and corps-style field bands, this could include Dance lines, majorettes, Auxiliary units may be collectively referred to as color guard or visual ensemble.
Auxiliaries may perform as independent groups. In the early 1970s, color guards began to hold their own competitions in the winter (after the American football season, and before the beginning of the summer drum and bugle corps season). These became known as winter guard. There are also numerous dance competitions in the off-season.
The color guard of a marching band or drum and bugle corps may contain sabers, mock rifles, and tall flags. In modern bands, other props are often used: flags of all sizes, horizontal banners, vertical banners, streamers, pom-poms, even tires, balls, and hula hoops or custom built props. The color guard may also employ stage dressing such as backdrops, portable flats, or other structures. These can be used simply as static scenery or moved to emphasize block drill, and are often used to create a "backstage" area to store equipment and hide personnel.
While military color guards were typically male, band color guards tend to be primarily female, though it is becoming more common for men to join as well. A few independent units are all-male. Guard members nearly always wear a special uniform or costume that is distinctive from that of the band, not necessarily matching in design or color. The men's and women's guard uniforms are usually designed in one of two ways: nearly identically, but with gender-specific parts (i.e. skirts) adapted for the use of the opposite sex; or complimentarily, with the two uniforms designed similarly but with variations in color or form. The color guard uniform, especially in a high school marching band, need not be in school colors; in fact, they rarely are. These uniforms are designed to represent a certain aspect of the halftime show, characterize the guard members through costumization, or tell some sort of story, and can thus be in any design or color (a surprisingly common complaint among the high school audience is that guard uniforms and equipment "aren't school colors").
Irishman Patrick S. Gilmore started the concept of a band leader. A marching band is typically led by one to three or, occasionally, four drum majors, also called field commanders, who are responsible for conducting the band (sometimes using a large baton or mace, though such tools are used rarely in modern marching bands for conducting) and commonly referred to as the leader of the band. When there is more than one drum major, one may be the head drum major, who stands on the 50-yard line while conducting, whereas the other(s) often directs from convenient angles (should the marching block not be facing forward) and/or functions as an apprentice of sorts. The number of members in the band often determines how many drum majors are needed, based on the complexity of the show (in which case, in a three-person scenario, one stands on the 50-yard line while another stands on the 30-yard line and the third stands on the other 30-yard line), and occasionally, additional individuals may be asked to perform brief conducting duties if beneficial in a particularly tricky part of the show (more often, such people are those on the sidelines or in the pit). The modern-day concept of the Drum Major has been exponentially expanded upon by George N. Parks, often known as the "Dynamic Drum Major", through his Drum Major Academy. Bands may also be led by a more traditional conductor, especially during field shows, where a stationary conductor on a ladder or platform may be visible throughout the performance. Aural commands – such as vocal orders, clapping, or a whistle – may be used to issue commands as well. In show bands, particularly in HBCU and Big Ten bands, drum majors often have a visual on-field role with a baton or mace, with the job of conducting relegated to the director(s). In these cases, the number of drum majors is often based on tradition, rather than being in proportion with the number of musicians. For example, the Florida A&M Marching 100 has one drum major for each university president. Other leaders within the band may include field lieutenants and captains of sections such as brass, drumline, and woodwinds, and members that lead a section, squad, letter, row, etc.
The size of the band may not only determine how many drum majors there are, but how many section instructors are needed as well. Section instructors function like the music director, but are mainly responsible for teaching members of a given section. Because they are commonly previous members of the section they teach, they're able to provide better instruction to combine the needs of the show with the characteristics of the given instrument.
As bands require leadership from within as well as from without, section leaders will usually be selected from among the members of each instrumental section (a "section" comprises all the band members who play the same musical instrument). The section leader is always an experienced band member, and is usually selected by the band director (rather than elected or self-appointed) for his or her leadership skills and experience. The section leader is responsible for the minute-to-minute instruction of his or her section members, and reports to the drum majors and the band director.
The director provides general guidance, selects the repertoire, interprets commentary and evaluations from judges, and auditions and/or recruits prospective members. What content is not provided by the director may be contracted from arrangers (who compose original works or adapt existing works) and copyists (who reproduce the parts of the score), choreographers, and drill designers (primarily for field bands). With the assistance of section instructors, the director also teaches performance technique—musical, martial, and visual—and assesses the pool of talent, choosing leaders and soloists as needed. The director also selects venues for public performance and oversees the staff that help provide funding and equipment. Many opportunities for member improvement are present: the director may organize clinics with various professionals, send representatives to specialty schools or camps, and/or plan trips abroad for education or exhibition.
Large bands also require a number of support staff who can move equipment, repair instruments and uniforms, create and manipulate props used in performances, and provide food, water and medical assistance. Additional staff may be utilized when the band hosts functions such as competitions and reviews. In high school bands, these activities are usually performed by volunteers, typically parents of band members or the band members of the lower grades. These people are often referred to as "runners" or "boosters". Significant support staff for college bands and independent corps are typically paid by the university or the corps organization, respectively.
The goal of each band's performance is different. Some aim for maximum uniformity and precision; others – especially scramble bands – want to be as entertaining as possible. Many U.S. university marching bands aim for maximum sound "impact" on the audience. Some bands perform primarily for the enjoyment of their own members. However, there are some common elements in almost all band performances. The following overview is heavily focused on U.S. marching band tradition.
The traditional music of the marching band is the military march, but since show bands also evolved from the concert and brass band traditions, music has always been varied. Often, music from other genres is adapted for the specific instrumentation of a marching band.
Commercial arrangements that are tailored for the "average" band instrumentation are also available. Military and university bands typically have a repertoire of "traditional" music associated with the organization they serve. Some competitive bands will choose to use an arrangement of popular music varied for marching band, as well as music from a movie or other such theme. However, the largest and most successful marching bands tend to steer clear of "show tunes" and popular music, instead preferring compilations or arrangements of classical or traditional concert pieces (i.e. Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring or Puccini's Nessun Dorma) or of entirely new compositions.
Music may be memorized, or it may be carried on flip folders, which are held by lyres that clip onto the instruments. Having music memorized is usually considered an advantage for competitive bands, and at competitions, there is usually a penalty for the use of the sheet music on the field written into the scoring rubric. Practically, memorization prevents obstruction of vision caused by the folders. The memorization of music is usually a matter of pride for the marching band, as a band that must use sheet music might be seen as of lesser caliber than one that performs with memorized music.
Most bands will meet in the summer, normally in August for summer training or prior to the specific marching season (known as band camp). This involves learning basic marching fundamentals such as the type of marching step the band uses, commands from the drum major, and how to move on field. The band is also given music to learn for their show. Drill for the show may or may not be provided to learn during band camp. The camp takes place outdoors on field for marching, and in a band hall for music-only rehearsals. Sectionals, or rehearsals including all of one instrument (e.g. flute sectional), take place during this time. Directors may use time during band camp to place band members in their sections based on playing and/or marching level and ability. For bands that require auditions for the band, drumline, or auxiliary, auditions may happen the first few days for placement. Band camp usually lasts 1–2 weeks, but in the case of a more advanced marching band, camp may last up to a month. In most university bands, band camp means an earlier move-in date for university students in the band.
The high step is used by many colleges and universities, including most Historically Black Colleges or Universities and Big Ten conference bands. Some bands use both high step and glide step, depending on the situation.
The most important part of this style of marching is known as "stop action," which means all movement ceases momentarily at the apex of each step. This requires a band to have a great deal of stamina, but is effective visually.
Many bands are known for using some variation of the glide step, also known as the roll step. This step involves bringing the heel gently to the ground with the toe pointed up, and then rolling forward onto the toes before lifting the foot (or walking on the ball of the foot with heel elevated when backwards marching). This style is used by drum and bugle corps. It gives the drill a fluid and smooth appearance, and allows for better control of the difficult formations and various styles of music played by those bands which roll step. With this control comes the ability to perform a much broader range of tempos; the proper execution of a roll step will give a player marching at 40 beats per minute the same smooth tone as a player who is marching at 180. The roll step allows for much better control of the upper body, and thus better control of the air support needed for playing.
When a band is not moving, the members may mark time, or march in place. The step used usually resembles the step that is used for marching forward, though mixing a high step mark time with a roll step march (or vice versa) produces an interesting visual effect. For a typical mark time, the foot is raised to the ankle bone of the opposite leg. The toe should not come off the ground and the knee should not come out much past the still-straight leg.
Some bands mark time by bringing their feet all the way up to their knee, this is also known as high-mark time. Some bands practice marking time during concert arch with the toes coming off of the ground in order to give the marcher a greater sense of marching while actually standing still. The heel should hit the ground on the beat. Some bands forgo marking time and instead come to a complete halt when not marching. Traditionally, the drumline would put their feet in a V-shape and lift their feet fully off the ground a few inches. This is to avoid hitting the drums.
When band members are marching in one direction but want to focus their sound in another, they may rotate their bodies at the waist, so that only the upper portion of the body faces in the direction of play. This is known as "lateral marching", but is more commonly known as either "shifting", "traversing", or "sliding". A lateral march is not a change in the direction of march, only in the direction the upper body faces. Percussion players, whose large drum harnesses often prevent them from twisting their torsos, and sometimes tuba and sousaphone players, will instead use a crab step when moving sideways. During a crab step, the musician crosses one leg over the other, either marching on the toes or rolling the foot sideways. Percussionists may also substitute roll step when their instruments would interfere with performing the high step.
A true direction change involving the feet moving in a new direction requires the use of a "prep step", sometimes referred to as a "flank". To perform the prep step, on the last count of movement in the first direction, a marcher will plant the foot with the heel turned outward in half the angle of the turn desired with the upper body still facing forward. On the next count, the other foot snaps into position completing the turn. The upper body may or may not turn with the lower body. Some bands plant the heel on the prep step rather than the toe, but the angle of the foot is preserved.
A back march may be used when the band wishes to move in the opposite direction from where it is projecting its sound. There are several ways to back march, one of which is to walk backwards, putting each foot down and rolling from the toe to the heel (the exact reverse of the roll step). Another variation involves marching on the platforms of the feet, dragging the toe of the moving foot on the ground. Backwards marching usually employs the same preference for leg straightness as forward marching (if the band marches with legs completely straight while marching forwards, they will also do so while marching backwards, to preserve uniformity of style). Using peripheral vision to align oneself to formations or field markings is even more important during backward marching.
Even when marking time, it is often considered good form for all band members to stay in step—that is, step with the same foot at the same time. A large majority of bands step off with, or start marching on, the left foot. Staying in step is generally easier when the band is playing music or when the drums are playing a marching cadence.
When the band and percussion are not playing, rhythm may be maintained in a variety of ways: a drummer may play clicks or rim shots, the drum major may clap or use a wood block, a drum major or band member may vocalize a sharp syllable like "hit", "hut", or "dhut" (the latter is usually characteristic of the drum line, and often said before playing in the rhythm; dhut, dhut, dhut-dhut-dhut-dhut [one, three, one two three four] ), or band members may chant the military call of "Left, left, left right left". Band members may count the steps of the move out loud so as to keep the entire band together. Typically most moves consist of a number of steps that are a multiple of four. This is because most marching band music is in the time signature of 4/4. Even-numbered time signatures like 4/4 aid in staying in step because they assign odd-numbered counts to the left foot, and even-numbered counts to the right foot. If a band member is on the wrong foot, for instance odd on the right foot and even on the left, this is out of step but when a band member is completely off tempo is called being out of phase. For example landing on the left foot on the + of 3 (+ of 3 or and of 3 is half way in between 3 & 4).
For parades, bands usually line up in a marching block composed of ranks (or rows) and files (or company fronts). Typically, each member tries to stay within his or her given rank and file, and to maintain even spacing with neighboring musicians. It is usually the responsibility of the people at the end of each rank and the front of each file to be in the correct location; this allows other band members to guide to them.
Band members also try to keep a constant pace or step size while marching in parade. This usually varies between 22 and 30 inches (56–76 cm) per stride. A step size of 22.5 inches is called 8-to-5 because the marcher covers five yards (about 4.6 m) in eight steps. A step size of 30 inches is called 6-to-5 because five yards are covered in six steps. Because yard lines on an American football field are five yards apart, exact 8-to-5 and 6-to-5 steps are most useful for field shows.
A drum cadence (sometimes called a walkbeat or street beat) is usually played when the band is marching, sometimes alternating with a song. This is how the band keeps time. Alternatively, a drum click or rim shot may be given on the odd beats to keep the band in step. Between songs and cadences, a roll is usually given to indicate what beat in the measure the band is at. Cadence tempo varies from group to group, but is generally between 112 and 144 beats per minute.
In Minnesota, Upstate New York, and Wisconsin, bands perform on city streets (called a performance route) with compact formation elements, sometimes referred to as a street show. These shows are judged using similar criteria as any other marching band competition. Elements of difficulty increase with street marching competitions because of the varying widths of streets in each community. Street marching is typical for bands who operate during the spring and early summer months. Typically, a band that performs street marching competitions will not be involved with field marching, and vice versa. Various venues exist for street marching competitions between high school marching bands.
While playing music during a field show, the band makes a series of formations, called drill, on the field, which may be pictures, geometric shapes, curvilinear designs, or blocks of musicians, although sometimes it may be pure abstract designs using no specific form.
Typically, each band member has an assigned position in each formation. In many show bands and most drum corps, these positions are illustrated in a handheld booklet called a drill book (also known as a dot book). Drill books, or drill charts, show where each person stands during each set of the show. The drill charts include yard lines and hashes as they would be on an actual football field, which shows the band members where to stand in relation to the yard lines and hashes. There are many ways of getting from one formation to the next:
Players may point the bells of their instruments in the direction they are moving, or slide (also called traverse) with all the bells facing in the same direction. Bands that march in time with the music typically also synchronize the direction of individuals' turns, and try to maintain even spacing between individuals in formations (called intervals). Sometimes bands will specifically have wind players turn their instruments away from the audience in order to emphasize the dynamics of the music.
Auxiliaries can also add to the visual effect. Backdrops and props ("scrims") may be used on the field that fit the theme of the show or the music being performed. In comedic shows, particularly for university bands, an announcer may read jokes or a funny script between songs; formations that are words or pictures (or the songs themselves) may serve as punch lines.
In some marching bands, a drum major has the option to give out a set of commands to the rest of the band either vocally, by hand command, or by whistle. These commands originated from the military history of marching band. Different bands might have different sets of procedures such as the number of counts it takes to carry out the command, but the overall result will be the same.
Aside from field show and parade, competitions among secondary school can also have the "March Off" (also "concentration block" or "drill down"). This event involves all participants on the field following the commands of a drill sergeant. If a participant makes a mistake, either by execution or wrong timing, then the participant will fall out of the field. A winner is crowned when there is only one participant left on the field.
Each musician in a marching band creates sound waves. The waves from each musician, traveling at the speed of sound, reach the other musicians, field conductors and listeners at slightly different times. If the distance between musicians is large enough, listeners may perceive waves to be out of phase. Typically, in this case, listeners perceive that one section of the band is playing their parts slightly after another section. This delay effect is informally referred to as ensemble tear or phasing (not to be confused with the music composition technique of the same name).
Consider also that viewers perceive the movement of marchers as light waves. Since light travels faster than sound, viewers may perceive that movement is out of phase with the sound. Sound waves may also reflect off parts of the stadium or nearby buildings.
For example, if two musicians, one standing on the front sideline of the football field and one on the back sideline, begin playing exactly when they see the beat of the conductor's baton or hand, the sound produced by the musician on the front sideline will reach listeners in the stands noticeably before the sound played by the back musician, and the musicians will be seen to move before the sound reaches the stands.
Ensemble tears can occur when musicians on the field listen to the pit. Because of the way sound waves travel, the sound pit produces first bounces off the back bleachers and then is heard by the ensemble. By the time the ensemble hears them, they are already late in timing. Because of this reason, the norm is to ignore the pit and let them listen to the ensemble for timing.
Delay can be reduced in several ways, including:
Nearly all marching band personnel wear some kind of uniform. Military-style uniforms are most common, but there are bands that use everything from matching T-shirts and shorts to formal wear. The school or organization's name, symbol, and/or colors are commonly applied to uniforms. Uniforms may also have substantially different colors on the front and back, so if band members turn suddenly (flank), the audience will see a striking change of color. Band members at many Ivy League schools wear a jacket and tie while performing. The Southern Methodist University band will wear a different combination of jackets, vests, ties, shirts, and pants for each half (changing before halftime) of each game and no clothing/uniform combinations are repeated during the marching season. The Alma College Kiltie Marching Band is famous for wearing kilts made of the official Alma College tartan.
The components of a band uniform are numerous. Common design elements include hats (typically shakos, pith helmets, combination hats or other styles of helmets) with feather plumes, capes, gloves, rank cords, and other embellishments. The USC Spirit of Troy Marching Band and Troy University's Sound of the South Marching Band wear traditional Trojan helmets. It is also common for band uniforms to have a stripe down the leg and light-colored shoes, or spats over dark shoes to emphasize the movement of the legs while marching. Competitive bands however, many times opt for matching pants and shoes (usually white or black) to hide the visual effect of members who are out of step as seen from a distance. Occasionally, a band will forgo traditional uniforms in favor of costumes that fit the theme of its field show. The costumes may or may not be uniform throughout the band. This kind of specialized uniform change is usually confined to competitive marching bands.
Drum Majors, the field commanders and band leaders, usually do not wear the regular band uniform, to better distinguish them from the rest of the band. Some wear more formal outfits or costumes that match the theme of the music, or most commonly a differently-designed version of the regular band uniform, often employing different colors (especially white) or features such as capes. Some (especially at the college level) still employ the tall wool-lined shako or much larger bearskin (both often derisively referred to as a "Q-Tip hat"). Sousaphone players typically use a military-style beret, as other hats may be in the way of the bell. Some auxiliary groups use uniforms that resemble gymnastics outfits: Often, these uniforms are themed, drawing inspiration from the music. Many auxiliary groups change the outfits they use from season to season based on the needs of the band, although some that do also have a "base" uniform for occasions such as parades or other ceremonies.
Some bands will perform the same field show at all of their appearances during a single season. Others will avoid repeating a performance in front of the same crowd. In either case, the amount of rehearsal required varies greatly depending on the number and complexity of the formations, and the difficulty of the music. Some bands do a new field show every week, but only practice drill for two or three hours immediately before the performance. Other bands can practice a single show upwards of 20 hours per week (or more, for some competitive drum and bugle corps, who have been known to practice as much as 16 hours a day) for an entire season. This amounts to an average of 400 hours spent rehearsing for every minute of a competitive show in a season.
In the US, some states, such as Texas, have association rules that prohibit high school bands from practicing too much, in order to avoid injuring or overworking students. Texas has an 'Eight Hour Rule' which states that no competitive part of a marching band can spend more than 8 hours per week, including full band rehearsals, sectionals, and time before competitions, rehearsing. The things that do not count towards the 8 hours are competitions, parades, football games, and rehearsals during the scheduled school day. However, in other states like Indiana, high school marching bands can practice 40 or more hours a week.
Music for parade and show bands is typically learned separately, in a concert band setting. It may even be memorized before any of the marching steps are learned. When rehearsing drill, positions and maneuvers are usually learned without playing the music simultaneously – a common technique for learning drill is to have members sing their parts or march to a recording produced during a music rehearsal. Many bands learn drill one picture or form at a time, and later combine these and add music.
Rehearsals may also include physical warm-up (stretching, jumping jacks, etc.), music warm-up (generally consisting of breathing exercises, scales, technical exercises, chorales, and tuning), basics (simple marching in a block to practice proper technique), and sectionals (in which either staff or band members designated section leaders rehearse individual sections).
When learning positions for drill, an American football field may be divided into a 5-yard grid, with the yard lines serving as one set of guides. The locations where the perpendicular grid lines cross the yard lines, sometimes called zero points or gacks, may be marked on a practice field at eight-, four-, or two-step intervals. Alternately, band members may only use field markings – yard lines, the center line, hash marks, and yard numbers – as guides (but note that different leagues put these markings in different places).
In order for members to learn their positions more quickly, they may be given drill charts, which map their locations relative to the grid or field markings for each formation. In other groups, spray chalk or colored markers are used to mark the location of each person after each set of drill, with a different color and, sometimes, shape for each move.
Some bands use small notebooks, also known as a dot book or drillbook, which they hang about their necks, on the drum harness, or around the waist. These contain pages of "drill charts", which often either give a picture or list coordinates that band members use to find 'pages' or 'sets' on the field. Coordinates are normally listed in 8-to-5 steps off the front sideline and front and back hashes, along with the number of 8-5 steps off of the yardline listed on each page. Some bands are even using small plastic pouches that hang about their neck on an adjustable strap, which has a zipper pocket for holding drill, flags to mark sets, and a pencil. There is also a clear plastic window in front to display the current part of drill being worked on at that point in time.
Members may also group into squads, ranks, sections, or (especially with scramble bands that primarily form words) letters. Instead of each member having an individual move, moves are then learned on a squad-by-squad (rank-by-rank) basis.
Marching bands serve as entertainment during American football games. For college marching bands, this is the primary purpose of the ensemble. The band plays the national anthem before kickoff (when home) often as part of a pre-game show, as well as other music while in the stands during the game. Sometimes, short songs from past field shows are used as stand tunes later. Bands cheer with the cheerleaders, and some bands create their own cheers. Marching bands then perform a show during halftime. When both teams' bands are present, it is common protocol for the visiting band to perform first. After halftime, some high school bands will use the third quarter of the game to take a break and get food. College bands do not have such breaks, but continue playing in the stands during the entirety of the game. The band will stay the entire game, playing the school's fight song and alma mater at the end of the game regardless of the outcome.
Three National Football League teams designate an official marching band: the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. Marching bands were once common fare during Super Bowl halftime shows during its earlier years but were later replaced by short stadium rock concerts from high-profile recording artists, some of which have incorporated marching bands into their performances. Marching bands are otherwise uncommon at the professional level.
In competitions, bands are usually judged on criteria such as musicality, uniformity, visual impact, artistic interpretation, and the difficulty of the music and drill. Competition exists at all levels, but is most common in the U.S. among secondary school bands and drum and bugle corps. Performances designed for a competition setting usually include more esoteric music (including but not limited to adaptations of modern orchestral pieces). Many traditional style bands compete in contest known as a Battle of the Bands, similar to the Atlanta Classic from the movie Drumline.
Although its legitimacy is often called into question, competitive marching band is sometimes considered a sport, due in large part to the physical exertion required in combination with teamwork. Many HBCU marching band fans refer to band as "marching sport." Sports Illustrated considered the activity a sport in 1987, describing the Drum Corps International World Championships “one of the biggest sporting events of the summer.” In the same article, Sports Illustrated quoted basketball coach Bobby Knight, "If a basketball team trained as hard as these kids do, it would be unbelievable. I like to take my players [to watch drum corps] to show them what they can accomplish with hard work and teamwork. Besides, once they see them practice 12 hours a day, my players think I’m a helluva lot easier.”
In his presentation to the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting in 2009, researcher and exercise physiologist Gary Granata presented research after studying members of the Avon High School Marching Black and Gold, noting "At the top levels of marching band and drum corps, you get a level of competition and athleticism that is equal to a division I athletic program." Granata further pointed out, "Performers are constantly moving, and often running, at velocities that reach 180 steps or more per minute while playing instruments that weigh up to 40 pounds."
Moreover, in an ESPN segment from 2005, researchers from Indiana State University placed devices on Drum Corps members that recorded metabolic rates during performances and practices, utilizing measurements of oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production, and heart rate. The findings were that the performers metabolic rates matched those of marathon runners halfway through a marathon, while the heart rate was more along the lines of someone who was running a "400 or 800 meter dash."
Spring and early summer parade marching (or street marching) is popular in the northern midwest and Upstate New York, where temperatures are moderate enough for students to march distances in standard uniforms. Performance styles range from traditional block marching to elaborate productions with evolving drill patterns.
There are also some circuits in the United States which continue to hold field show competitions during the summer months. Much like drum corps, these bands rehearse and tour full-time for about a month from mid-June to mid-August. Such circuits include the Mid-America Competing Band Directors Association, or MACBDA, and the Catholic Youth Organization circuits.
MACBDA is currently host to more than 20 actively competing, summer-only field show bands from the US (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan) and Canada (Saskatchewan and Alberta). The circuit sponsors fourteen field show competitions each summer and the circuit championships move on a three-year-rotation from Calgary, AB, Canada, to Traverse City, MI, to the Southern Wisconsin / Northern Illinois area.
The Honda Battle of the Bands is an annual marching band exhibition which features performances by HBCU bands. Seemingly contradictory to the name, Honda's "battle" is not a competition in the traditional sense; that is, no winner is crowned during the event. Rather, the bands compete for the favor of the audience, each other, and the greater community.
Most high school marching band competitions occur in the fall when the majority of schools begin classes. In the United States, there are two national competition circuits in which bands can compete; Bands of America and the United States Scholastic Band Association (USSBA).
USSBA was formed in 1988 through the help of the Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps. Over 700 high school bands compete during the Fall season with bands of similar size and talent. Each competition provides approximately 40 professional judges who give feedback on the show's programming and design. At the season's end the top 50 bands are invited to compete in the US Scholastic Band Championship, which is hosted at a college or professional stadium.
Also, many states have their own competition circuits as well as rules that govern competitions that occur in their circuits. Several colleges host annual independent competitions, many of which hold varying degrees of prestige, such as the Contest of Champions at Middle Tennessee State University, which is the longest running high school band contest in the United States.
In order to make competitions fair, bands are normally split up into different classes or divisions based on certain factors. One popular classification system uses the size of the school to split up the competing bands. This is the method used by Bands of America, the Indiana State School Music Association, and the University Interscholastic League. Alternatively, the number of band members determines the class—with the largest bands being Division I, and smaller bands being classified as Division II, III, and IV.
The Sudler Trophy and Sudler Shields are awards bestowed each year by the John Philip Sousa Foundation on one university marching band and one high school marching band. The awards do not represent the winner of any championship, but rather a band surrounded by great tradition that has become respected nationally. No school may be honored with either award twice while under the same director.
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