Tis' the season for band directors across the country to put together a marching band show for the upcoming fall. This also means it is the season I am glued to my computer for many hours putting together arrangements. This post is actually a bit of procrastination as I need a break from Sibelius at the moment.
I figured I would give some tips for band directors in order to get the best out of your show/arrangements.
1) First, you have to decide where you want to go for music. Obviously, you can go the stock arrangement route, but with that direction, you get what you get and you just have to make it work (stock arrangements help when $$ is an issue). For my purposes today however, let's say you chose to hire an arranger.
2) Pick a show concept. These days, most directors are going to want to pick something simple, yet effective. For a competitive show example, think something like "Darkness to Light." This concept works for many shows because you have the structure and concept built in and the audience/judges always know what's going on. If you're not worried about competing, maybe you want to tie together some popular tunes from the radio and come up with a clever title.
Also, know your audience. I think it's best to find a show that directors/staff, parents/students, audiences (at home and at competitions/festivals), and judges will find enjoyable. You may want to pop in the DVD from last year's Grand Nationals to get ideas... you also may want to Youtube some entertaining college bands. When picking a concept, you definitely want to weigh in all possibilities.
3) Once you've got a concept, think about how you want the show to progress. You always want to think about creating effective moments.. essentially how all music works. It's always going somewhere. In marching band, those moments tend to be the fff moments. I suggest making a timeline (like film directors will make a storyboard) of what you want to have happen. Include music and visual things you want to be happening at all the moments. Then, start picking pieces or parts of pieces that fit into the timeline.
**Note: When choosing music, remember that anything published after around 1920, you'll most likely need to obtain the rights to. Check out Tresona Music for more info. It's also a great place to take care of all your licensing needs.***
Finding Public Domain pieces can help with the $$ situation if you can work them into the show. Also, this is a great way to expose your students to some of the classics!!!!!
4) Know your strengths and weaknesses. Give specific information to the arranger so that they arrange for YOUR group (this is why it's helpful to foot the bill for an arranger as opposed to stock music.. you can get the music tailored to your ensemble!). Also, in terms of show design, think about where you might like to feature certain sections. Choose music that allows you to do this.
5) Once your get your arrangements, don't be afraid to play around with it. A huge difference between Concert Band Festivals and Marching Band Festivals is that you don't have to submit scores to the judges in marching band (...maybe we should have to?). So, make your group sound good. If your first trumpets frack that high A every time.. take it out. If you'd like to know how to tweak a show, just watch a drum corps rehearse. Watch how much changes from the beginning of the summer to the end.. it's a lot.
Also, if the vision didn't come across the way you intended. Make some changes to fix it. Hopefully, you've got an arranger that can rewrite a couple bars if necessary ..I know I've done this a good bit :)
For most band directors, this post is probably stuff you already know. Hopefully, it helps somebody out there! Good luck with the next season!!!
The musings of a composer that also band directs!! ... or maybe it's the other way around..