Monday, October 6, 2014


So...The Band Played In The Rain | Speaker Placement in Front Ensemble

So...The Band Played In The Rain by Walker Carter

The air is heavy and the sky is overcast. It is probably going to rain. The principal and the superintendent will be at this game, and they have both expressed their delight at being able to see the progress of the band. Five-o'clock has arrived, and the band is suiting up. Unfortunately, the first chair trumpet player and his best friend (who happens to be the drum major) are late. There are 18 texts the band director has gotten in the last 5 minutes that she can't answer because half the flute section is mad at each other, the tuba player forgot his mouthpiece, 3 clarinets and 2 saxes need reeds, someone put a hole in the 24" bass drum, and just now, wait...was that a rain drop I felt?...

Does this scenario feel familiar? When so much is on our minds and we are working hard to produce another show, sometimes rain can ruin the momentum and cause a little panic. Most band directors know that rain can wreak havoc on woodwind instruments, ruin the finish of a silver or brass instrument, cause problems with the wood on percussion, and fry the electronics that may be present. The best advice is, obviously, to avoid playing in the rain. However, life doesn't always follow the best advice.

The first thing you need is a weather plan. Writing the plan down will help make it more complete and thorough. Start off by asking yourself the question "What if?" For example: What if we are in the stands and it starts to rain? What if we are on the field performing and it starts to rain? What if we are in a parade and it starts to rain? Tornado? Hail? Etc... The more weather questions and scenarios that are thought of, the better prepared the band will be.

Have an emergency kit with the band at all times. When we think of an emergency kit for the band, we think of first aid kits and maybe emergency repair. But part of an emergency kit should have things needed in case of rain. If you haven't already, assign a couple of students to be the "emergency kit crew". They are like the loading crew, but their only responsibility is the emergency kit. Some things to have in this kit that deviate from your standard fair are rain ponchos for kiddos, contractor size garbage bags for drums, tarps for electronics, duct tape, and absorbent towels or cloths for drying off anything that may have gotten wet.

So the plan is in place and we have our kit. It rained and some stuff still got what? Simple...dry it!! Please don't make the mistake of putting wet instruments in cases. The case is a perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. Introducing lots of moisture into the case, then closing it, will certainly bring mold in 24 hours. Use the towels from your kit and completely wipe down any and all instruments.

Start with the woodwinds as they are the priority. Time is against you. Most woodwind pads are cotton felt on the inside and tend to be fast to absorb water. The quicker you rid the instrument of moisture the better. Be sure to pay special attention to the keys, posts and springs. Be thorough. Removing moisture from the metal is very important. Rust can set in after an hour and if it waits overnight, then keys can become almost permanently fused to the interior hinge rods. Hinge rods and pivot screws are made out of steel and will rust. Many springs are also not rust proof and may not pose an immediate problem, but once they start to rust, they will get weaker very quickly and eventually break. Apply key oil to all the pivoting points on the instrument (this is where the hinge tube meets the post). It only takes a tiny drop at each point, but it can stop the hinges from developing rust. If the pads definitely got wet, then dry it as best possible and clamp the keys down. If you don't have key clamps, then you can use rubber bands around most keys to hold them in the closed position. Do not use more force on the keys than you would under normal finger pressure. Over pressuring the keys down for an extended period can weaken and tear the pad. Clamping allows the "seat" to remain when the pad dries out. After a day, the pads are probably dry so you can unclamp them. The instrument may need to be adjusted, but the actions taken probably saved the instrument from a complete repad.

Next, taking care of wet electronics. Electronics can be tricky. If they got wet while powered up, then they may be fried. If they got wet and were not powered up, then they may still be okay. Very important! Do not plug in anything and try to turn it on. If the electronics were not fried but have moisture inside it, then you probably just fried it trying to test it. Take care to wipe off excess moisture from the electronics. Rotate the pieces gently and see if any water drains from the heat vents located on the back or bottom of most electronics. Once these steps have been taken, set the electronic piece out preferably on an end so the component boards inside are vertical to the ground. You can help dry them out better if a fan is set up to gently blow at the piece. Each day for a week, gently rotate piece to make sure excess moisture that may have pooled somewhere, runs out and has the chance to air dry. If electronics are kept in a dry place with some flowing air, a week will most certainly dry it out. However, it is always best to send in your pieces to a qualified electronics repair technician so they can test it. Please let them know what has happened!

Lastly, wipe down brass and percussion instruments. Brass and silver instruments are very hardy and are fine to play in the rain, but not drying them afterwards will cause the finish to be compromised. Also, be sure to pull out valves and slides and apply grease and oil. Excess moisture dilutes the grease and oil and once it dries out can cause stuck valves and slides. Most percussion instruments have a large degree of moisture tolerance, however, keyboards, bass drums, quints, wood blocks, and anything where wood is exposed to moisture needs to be thoroughly dried with towels. Pay special attention to the vent holes on bass drums. In a hard rain, water can get inside a bass drum and the head may need to be removed to get the moisture out.

Hopefully, your band will experience a comfortable and dry marching season. If not, then having a plan and taking the steps outlined above will certainly give some piece of mind and insure lower repair costs.

Walker Carter
Head Instrument Repair Technician - Palen Music Center
[email protected]

Walker began his career as an instrument repairman in 1997 while attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree, he taught band in Texas for four years before returning to the instrument repair field full-time. In the summer of 2002, Walker and his wife, Michelle, began their own band instrument repair business in Abilene, Texas. At the end of 2010, they sold their business and moved to Missouri. Walker joined the Palen Music repair department in January of 2011. When he isn't adjusting flutes or overhauling sousaphones, Walker enjoys fishing and spending time with his wife and seven children (Yes, seven kids!).

Front Ensemble Speaker Placement by Casey Tillman

Last month in Marching Band Pro Audio - Part One we talked about the very beginning of the sound amplification signal chain with microphones and mixer settings. In Part Two, we will jump to the very end of the chain and talk a little about speaker placement and aiming.

Pro audio speakers (like those pictured) that are used by hundreds of marching bands are not designed just to be louder than your standard home stereo speaker. More importantly, they are designed to focus the sound they produce at the audience. Unfortunately, most pro audio speakers were not designed with a marching band audience in mind. Most are configured when sitting upright with a focus pattern much like the diagram attached. This wide horizontal and narrow vertical pattern means that a speaker sitting level on the field (like the top left speaker in the picture) could not adequately cover the upper rows and press box of most stadiums. Tipping the speaker back slightly solves this problem and provides optimum audience coverage. However, this upright configuration can create stability and transportation issues. For this reason, many will find themselves with their speakers already laying on their sides (like the top right speaker in the picture). This might in fact be the best and only solution in many situations. However, as the speaker rotates to it's side, so does the speaker's coverage pattern. In this configuration, the speaker has a narrow horizontal and wide (or tall) vertical pattern. Now the speaker has no problem at all covering the stands and press box from top to bottom. The tradeoff is the horizontal coverage is narrowed significantly.

All this means that having a speaker upright and tipped back is the ideal configuration from a sound perspective. However, that configuration is not practical or possible for many. In that case it is important to carefully analyze the location and angle of the speakers. Because the horizontal coverage is narrow the speakers must be angled IN sufficiently to insure there is no gap in coverage in the middle of the seating area (where the judges are likely sitting).

With a little knowledge and a little tweaking your band can maximize the impact of your sound system investment.

Casey Tillman
Chief Operating Officer - Palen Music Center
[email protected]

Casey Tillman graduated from Missouri State University in 2000 with a degree in Mass Media. He came to Palen Music in 2001 and oversees technology and computer systems. Casey also coordinates inventory, shipping and receiving and oversees the accounting department.