Monday, November 17, 2014

Volunteer High School Marching Band
(A Unique Concept with a Sound Educational Premise)

by Danny Watring

Established in 1984, The Grandview High School Blue & Gold Brigade marching band from Grandview, Missouri has maintained a strong and effective tradition of being a voluntary organization. This concept began with former Director of Bands, Bob Drummond and Garry Anders, and is built upon many sound educational principles. Yet, it is certain to be no different than most other programs; we stress and expect strong fundamentals in music, marching, teamwork, and entertainment.

Since the band rehearses outside of the school day, our concert bands (the pinnacle of any band program) are allowed to rehearse/perform throughout the fall season. This accelerates the development of 'inside' tone and technique building, ensemble balance and blend, and advanced musicianship skills. Students are also not spending months working on the same 5-10 minutes of music. They are actually getting to play "real" band literature from the start of the year. The added time of playing both in marching and concert band on a daily basis allows endurance and embouchure strength to advance at a faster rate.

Our overall rehearsal schedule is not too extensive. Besides a weeklong summer camp for our drum line, color guard, and then the entire band, we rehearse every school day morning from 6:10-7:15 AM. We also reserve Tuesdays after school for indoor drum line and indoor color guard, and Thursday evenings for the full band. Our one-week summer camp specifically focuses on marching fundamentals and music. No drill is taught during this week. With four instructors and a guard sponsor at every rehearsal, the learning curve of these fundamentals (and eventually the drill) is hastily excelled.

The fact is, some students just do not care for marching band, yet they still love playing their instrument. Thus, volunteerism keeps some of our students in band throughout high school. We realize that when students volunteer to be in marching band, there is increased focus and fewer discipline problems. Of the students involved in high school band, 65% of them are in marching band. Another unique aspect of our marching program is the inclusion of selected 8th graders. Since we do not rehearse during the school day, this scenario is made possible. After morning rehearsals, school buses serve as shuttles to get these students to their respective middle schools.

We use a fairly uncomplicated method for choosing our personnel. Members are selected in one of two ways. Returning marchers are accepted without hesitation as long as there are no violations from the previous year. Newbies' acceptance is based upon director recommendation, a prepared etude, and demonstration of coordination skills (marching). Once students are invited to participate through these means, a non-refundable fee must be made (on time). This is usually required in early February. The reasons being: music is selected; a drill writer is contracted; and parts are assigned in early spring. We must be certain of our numbers. This is a vital step along the selection process.

Many schools have attempted to model their marching programs around this volunteer philosophy. Some have been quite successful. Nevertheless, we are still asked, "How do you guys make it work?"; "How do you get that many kids there every morning?"; and "How do you make it work with those 8th graders?" Honestly, other than steeped in decades of a successful tradition, there is no magical answer except -- we just do!

Danny J. Watring
Director of Bands
Grandview Consolidated School District #4
[email protected]

Danny J. Watring, is the Director of Bands for the Grandview Consolidated School District #4. His responsibilities include directing the Blue & Gold Brigade Marching Band, the Symphonic Winds and Percussion, and the Jazz Orchestra. Before returning to Grandview in 2006, he taught at Oak Park High School and Liberty High School. Danny is a founding member/director of the NorthWinds Symphonic Band -- a music educator’s wind band. He also currently serves as the vice-president for the Missouri Association for Jazz Education and vice-president for jazz of the Missouri Music Educators Association.