What Makes a Band Truly Great

Topics and polls that cover the overall marching band activity

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dr
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What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by dr » Mon Oct 11, 2010 2:20 pm

I generally post this letter at the beginning of the marching band season - just to remind everyone. Feel free to add anything else you think should be included.

What makes a band truly great? I don’t mean really good, I mean great in the broadest sense of the word. Never mind playing the music effectively or correctly. Never mind marching precisely. Never mind handling the equipment correctly. Those are all qualities of really good bands.

In general, the “great” bands are mostly in the 6A Field Classification in SCSBOA or the top class in SCSBOA band reviews. Before you accuse me of hypocrisy for violating my own disdain for saying that 6A bands are better than the “lower” (smaller band) classes, let me point out that most of the great bands are well established and because they are great programs they attract more students, forcing them to compete in the 6A Class. It is possible to be a big band that isn’t very good, but most of the best bands eventually get big. There are some bands I would consider great in the “lower” classes, but they are exceptions and not the rule.

Also, one caveat, great bands only happen with great band directors. The band director (and, by association, the rest of the staff and parents) set the tone for the band as far as values, behavior, and perspective. The best programs already have a set of standards of behavior and performance or are well on their way to developing them. There are a number of directors who have seemingly moved from one very successful program to another very successful program. Far from coincidence, the director takes with him/her a successful set of tried and true standards that are the basis of a great band. I could name names, but I think most of us know who those directors are.

I’ve compiled some attributes/competencies I think are common to all the great bands we see each year. Feel free to comment or add more. There are no wrong or right comments and I expect there are differences of opinion, so feel free to join the discussion. (I tried to arrange them in order of importance but IMO they are all vital, so they are in no particular order after all.) If I think of any more I’ll add them later.

1) Consistency. The great bands are consistent. Every group can have a great performance, or even a couple of great performances, or perhaps a great year, where everything just seems to work. Everyone hit their marks and the performance was far better than any rehearsal. But the great bands have great performances pretty much every time, every year.

2) Respect. The great bands show respect on many levels – for staff, other members, parents, other bands, judges, tournament sponsors and staff. They show respect by showing up for rehearsals on time and prepared, helping other members by sharing experiences or by words of encouragement, telling the parents how much they appreciate their support, acknowledging the accomplishments of other competitors, appreciating the feedback from the judges regardless of whether or not you agree with it, and being good guests for your hosts, the tournament sponsors and staff.

3) Confidence. A truly great band understands how good they are. The band has rehearsed enough and has a strong basic skill set (music, marching, presentation) so that members are confident in their performance. The music is solid rather than tentative. Auxiliary work is deliberate and effective.

4) Pride. The great bands demonstrate pride in all the things they do – performance, awards, rehearsal, interacting with other bands. Members realize that they represent their school, their band, and the activity. As such, they make sure they always behave appropriately and lead by example. False pride (“We’re number one!”) is far less impressive than the real thing.

5) Humility. Once a band begins winning major awards there can be a tendency to let the victories go to their heads. The great bands, though, realize that the best way to confirm they are, indeed, great is to let their performances and their actions speak for themselves. They also recognize that there are numerous great bands and that not all of them can come home with the top award. They understand that it is possible that they will “lose” to another of the great bands. There is no shame in acknowledging that on any particular day you were beaten by a better performance. In fact, don’t you think you are making a better impression if you admit that you may have been beaten by a better performance than insisting that you were beaten by a worse performance because of those inept judges? As half the saying goes, “Opinions…, everyone has one.”

6) Good Sportsmanship. Only one band can win the top award. The great bands are able to be gracious winners or losers. You won’t see one of them thumbing their nose at the bands they beat. Nor will you hear them booing when someone else wins. Friendly competition (“You guys may have won this week but we’ll see what another week of rehearsal will do at next week’s competition.”) is much more impressive to observers than the alternative (“You guys suck! You only won because the judges are bad.).

7) Reliability. Members show up late for rehearsals/performances. Students don’t return permission slips. Equipment was forgotten at home or in the band room. These are not qualities of the great bands. Sure, everyone makes a mistake at times, but the great bands didn’t get to be great with unreliable members.

8) Strong Work Ethic. Members of great bands realize that each of them is critically important to the group. The old saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is true in bands, too. You won’t see any of the great bands with any obvious weak links. All the various performing groups are solid because each member realizes the importance of his/her contributions and takes responsibility for meeting his/her obligations. Great bands aren’t made from lame excuses.

9) Dedication. Band is a very time-consuming activity. Most students have other activities in their daily lives that require time as well, like studying, sports or other extracurricular activities, helping around the house, jobs, volunteer work, etc. Trying to find time for all the activities can be stressful. The great bands find ways to make the time. Whether it be planning rehearsal time and performance time more efficiently to get the most “bang for the buck” or clearly outlining the requirements at the start of the school year so that participants can organize their schedules around the band schedules, the band staff and members seem to find a way to maximally meet their band obligations.

10) High Standards. The great bands all have high standards of performance and behavior. Whether it is the music, marching, presentation, dance moves, equipment movement, etc., the great bands constantly strive for better performances, even though they are already among the best. They also stress good sportsmanship and appropriate behavior when in uniform or participating in any public band activity.

11) Teamwork. Members of the great bands understand the concept of teamwork. They respect the directors’/staff’s decisions and understand that what may be best for the individual may not be best for the group. They respect their team members’ time by always coming to rehearsals and performances well-prepared.

12) Perspective. Understanding the “big picture” can be a bit difficult when students, staff, and parents are constantly pressured to win trophies. The great bands, while they may enjoy winning awards, will understand that winning isn’t everything. It sounds trite, but the real purpose of the activity is education and growth. The comments on the judges’ sheets are really much more important than the scores. A great band understands that the goal is to have the best performance possible, always striving to better your last performance. It is quite possible that the best performance by any given band may NOT be the best performance of the day. If a great band has its best performance ever, they are not devastated that they didn’t get the top award because the performance and the work that went into creating that performance is the real reward.

13) Tradition. The nature of the high school marching band activity is such that the members are constantly changing each year. Seniors graduate and a new class of students is added. The performances change each year with a new field show or a new parade march. Yet, the great bands recognize that they must make these changes work to their advantage. They must live up to their traditions or reputations. The great bands compete not only against other great bands, but against their own school’s band that preceded them. In order to do that they must be aware of their tradition of greatness. They must be confident that they can maintain or exceed that level, whether it be performance, behavior, attitude, etc.

14) Enjoyment. I have heard stories from parents and students about great bands that ceased to be fun, but I think that is rare. It is possible for a group to be so concerned with perfection that the performance is a chore rather than a joy, but normally those kinds of performances tend to diminish the band’s level of greatness anyway. Band can be the most wonderful part of your school memories, and should be. Enjoy entertaining. Enjoy working toward perfection. Enjoy the competition. Enjoy the company. Enjoy the accomplishment. Enjoy the growth and education. The truly great bands enjoy it all.

Recommended Browsing - Character Counts from Michael Josephson, Josephson institute, Center for Youth Ethics
http://charactercounts.org/
Last edited by dr on Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by Lucky2BMe » Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:52 pm

:bow:

:read: This should become required reading for all. :read:

Also, this should be a sticky!!!

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by bandguy » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:09 pm

Bravo!
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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by Luis » Mon Oct 11, 2010 5:02 pm

:bow: Amen Dennis!!

Vore, I hope this is/will be included in The BOOK!

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by dr » Mon Oct 11, 2010 6:57 pm

A sticky?? :oops:
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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by Bariguy » Tue Oct 12, 2010 8:31 am

That pretty much sums it up. Honestly that goes across the board for drum corps, youth bands, color guards, drumlines, majorettes, drill teams, cheerleaders, wind ensembles, orchestras, the list is endless.

The standards just have to be laid out, walked out and, eventually becomes a reality, as the "vision" is caught.

Thank You for sharing!
Bill Hix
Santa Ana Winds Youth Band '90 Tournament of Roses
Director-Quiksilver Color Guard '85-'86
Santa Ana Winds Youth Band '84-'86
Norwalk All-City Youth Band '79-'81

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by BD94Euph » Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:48 pm

i always like reading that Dennis... good job

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by clarinetking » Wed Oct 13, 2010 8:15 am

One of the things I look for is involvement. None of us are training the next future music majors in huge quantities. We are exposing young people to music to enrich their lives.

Look at the student body and see what percentage of that student body is enrolled in your band class. That will tell you a little bit about the job you are doing. It's not about size or trophies. It's about education.

At the end of my career I had 10% of the student body enrolled in band. The student body had about 2800 kids. I saw that as a sign of success.

Just random thoughts to add to the mix.
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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by JCYS » Wed Oct 13, 2010 9:02 am

Great feeder schools.

I can name several awesome bands that "come from nowhere"...but most consistently great bands have great feeder schools. And generally, particularly the big 6A bands have those great feeder schools.

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by Pathfinder » Fri Oct 22, 2010 1:22 pm

Success is happiness. Happiness comes from peace of mind in knowing that you've done the best of which you are capable. A successful program realizes its potential whatever that may be.

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by Brad » Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:02 pm

:hip: Our zen leader has spoken. Ommmmmmmmmm. :wink:
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be good to yourself

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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by agentsquishypenguin » Sat Oct 23, 2010 1:51 pm

Truly Agree!!!! :tup: :love: :cool2:
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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by darren.loney » Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:07 am

Thank you! I shared this with my student leaders and they loved it.
Darren Loney
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What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by dr » Thu Sep 15, 2011 5:24 pm

As the marching band season gets underway, I thought it would be a good time to re-post this topic for anyone who has not read it previously. It has been well-received in the past. Note, too, the additional comments made by other readers.
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Re: What Makes a Band Truly Great

Post by mfisk » Fri Sep 16, 2011 12:32 pm

I have posted the points in my room. We had a discussion during band camp about it. I think it is a great teaching point.
Michael Fisk
Instrumental Music Director
Tustin High School

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