Monday, October 29, 2007
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Think of a sports team—say, a basketball team. Basketball players spend hours practicing their dribbling, shooting and passing in order to ultimately challenge another team's skills. When they win a game, the athletes are rewarded for their hard work. When they lose, they become better players by learning to avoid the mistakes they made.
Just as competition is beneficial to sports teams, it can also be rewarding for marching bands. “Competing is mostly a positive experience for me,” explains Bre'younga Jackson, a trumpet player in the Clinton (Miss.) High School Marching Band . “It boosts our morale when we receive a ‘Superior,' and when we receive anything less, it makes us want to work even harder.”
Birch Wilson can't wait to see his school's new marching band, Raven Regiment, compete in the US Scholastic Band Association (USSBA) for the first time this September. As director at Robbinsville (N.J.) High School , Wilson believes that competitions are important because they allow students to see what their peers around the country are doing. “You'll never have the opportunity to see 30 or 40 bands together in one place besides competitions, so get out there and watch,” Wilson says.
Not only does competing expose students to new ideas and performance styles, but it can also be highly motivating. According to Wilson, most students who watch a great performance by another band will say to themselves, “Oh, that's so cool! I want to be able to do that.”
Wilson explains that competitions also can be highly educational because bands receive valuable feedback from music educators and other professionals. These critiques illuminate positive and negative aspects of their shows and help directors and students improve.
After spending weeks of rehearsal with the same group of people, forming countless memories and inside jokes, high school marching band students often find that participating in competitions is the ultimate bonding experience.
“Even if you are competing with people you have known for years, you build a bond with them that can never be broken,” says flutist Kassara Lu Brown from the Fremont (Neb.) High School Tiger Marching Band. “Band mates are teammates, just like in volleyball or football. Even when you are competing against someone, you bond with them because you both have the same passion. You both love to play and make people happy with music.”
Garrick Brown, who marched trumpet for Lucy Ragsdale High School in Jamestown, N.C., holds a similar sentiment. “I have met many people from other schools [at competitions] and have kept up with them over the years,” says Brown, who is now a freshman at North Carolina Central University in Durham. “When you compete, you learn how to deal with all types of people. I made my best friends marching, which made competing worthwhile, and I learned a lot about myself.”
On the other hand, high school students in the United States currently seem to be competing for just about everything—the best grades, the highest SAT scores and admissions to the highest-ranking colleges and universities. With all this stress heaped upon students, competing may not always be the healthiest method of keeping band and guard participants motivated to march their best.
The physical rigors of marching alone can cause students a great deal of anxiety. With so much to worry about—from group uniformity to personal posture—students can be extremely hard on themselves while training for a competition.
“You have to have a straight back with arms held up correctly,” explains Kassara Lu Brown. “Your flute must be parallel to the ground. It is stressful and nerve-wracking because if you slip up at all—if your instrument isn't parallel to the ground or if someone doesn't look like everyone else—it can cause your band to lose points.”
Many students also feel an extraordinary amount of pressure to win competitions because they believe that a high score is the best measure of their band's success. When their band doesn't come in first place, then some students can become deeply discouraged and forget to view the experience as an educational one.
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