Archive for October, 2009

MUSIC: Winning is great, but…

Friday, October 30th, 2009

TrophyWinning is great.  Taking first place in a major competition is validation of a great show and of the hard work of the students and the entire staff.  It can be a great motivator and a nice reward for all of the effort by everyone.

But please remember that a placing and a trophy are only a small part of what we get out of  our activity.  By being a part of our music organization we grow as a person in our self-discipline and musicianship.  The benefits of simply performing and being a part of a close-knit group are numerous.  Putting our entire heart into our performance is simply one of life’s great joys.

Plus, there are many ways to “win.”  At most every contest, it’s often a show that did NOT come in first that is my favorite or is the most memorable.  I love being entertained or moved by a production, even if it isn’t the most perfectly performed.  Even shows with major design flaws can be fun and exciting.

A group of very successful DCI and WGI show designers were asked to name the favorite show they had created.  Almost to a man the show they were most proud of was NOT one that won a title, but a show that achieved special success in some other way, pushing a boundary or being especially meaningful and emotional.

As we prepare to watch the trophies be handed out, let’s remind our students that it is the hard work, the camaraderie, and the personal emotion and effort that we put into our performance that we will remember and cherish throughout our entire lives.

FITNESS: Impressive or Ugly?

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Vascularity is the appearance of prominent, visible veins that snake across the skin.  All serious lifters know that  this is a sign of great health and fitness.  These are most common on the arms of serious bodybuilders, though in contest condition these veins can appear all over the body.  These are sought after by competitive bodybuilders as a sign of extremely low body fat.

new_improvedThe harder one trains and forces blood into the muscles on a regular basis, the more these veins will expand and become more visible.  This is a source of pride for serious bodybuilders and lifters, particularly the prized “bicep vein” on the upper arm.

Every trainer has heard someone exclaim that all the veins are “gross” or “ugly.”  Those not involved in the fitness world often do not know that these veins are a sign of good health and hard work.  It may be a bit of an acquired taste, as all bodybuilders see these veins as more than just aesthetic but as badges of honor.

Certain bodybuilders have a predisposition to high vascularity and can indeed seem a little “freaky” to the novice or uninitiated.  Certain men like Paul Dillett are famous for the huge number of veins crisscrossing their physiques.

If you encounter someone who thinks the veins are ugly, just explain that they are a sign of low body fat and good health, and then let any other negative comments just wash past you.  To those who know, they are a sign of a great accomplishment and something to be proud of!

MUSIC: Play to Your Strengths

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

All smart show design is simply about focusing on the best you have to offer.  If your members are great marchers, you should play a simpler music book and feature dazzling drill moves.  Create excitement with visual virtuosity.  If your strength is a great concert program, then choose music to show off your musicality and back off on drill demand.  I once built an entire seven-minute show around one first-chair All-State trumpet player.  I must have written it correctly because no judge ever noticed that every 90 seconds he was featured with a solo while my “ADD” low brass section played whole notes.

A strong color guard can carry an entire show with minimal demand for the instrumentalists.  Control focus to create movement and excitement with the color guard while the band drill remains simple and cleanable.  I once managed to spend up to two minutes with the band actually halted while the guard ran all over the field at what seemed like 100 mph.  At about the two-minute mark, one judge finally commented, “It seems like we might need to move the band,” just as the drill finally started to change drill sets.  I felt like a genius!

Play to your Strengths for success!

CoverThis is an excerpt from “Marching Band: A Field Guide,” my book which is available by clicking on the picture to the left of this screen.

MUSIC: Make Smart Show Choices

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

When you are starting to choose the show for next year, make sure that your choice of music and show concept are appropriate for your group.  A band with 24 horns should not play “The 1812 Overture.”  Likewise, a very large band might have difficulty playing very light or intricate selections.  Make choices based on what you are bringing to the table.  Have a great jazz program?  Feature those students with jazzy selections on the field.  Showcase your computer lab, percussion ensemble, electronics whizzes or art department!

I work with a very large band from a very small school.  This band usually competes against much smaller bands because contests in their area often are organized by school size rather than band size.  This band has great success playing big, loud selections that feature their ability to knock the socks off the audience with volume and impacts.  This gives them an advantage over smaller, sometimes better-playing groups.

“The sky’s the limit” when you’re initially planning your show, but make sure you make smart choices that will give your group its best chance for success!

CoverThis is an excerpt from “Marching Band: A Field Guide,” my book which is available by clicking on the picture to the left of this screen.

MUSIC: Plan NOW for NEXT season!

Monday, October 26th, 2009

stop watchYou’re exhausted, busy, almost overwhelmed with the last stages of the marching season.  But believe it or not, THIS is the perfect time to start planning for NEXT year!

Think about it: Your head is “in the game,” thinking about marching band all the time.  You’re watching numerous other shows at contests and critiquing what is working and what is not.   I’m sure that ideas for shows are swirling in your head, so now is the time to start writing down those ideas and thinking of next season.

Most of the top bands I work with plan their marching show an entire year in advance.  Show ideas are bantered around in October and November and discussions are held to pinpoint the favorites.  Get this planning done now and get this task “off your plate” before Concert Band, Winter Guard, and Indoor Percussion begin to demand focus from you.

Contact your music arranger and drill designer and reserve your spot on their work schedule NOW for next season.  Most of the top guys are booked by November.  Send their retainer deposit, and get them involved in the show concept discussion.  Give your group the advantage of a professional show that is well-planned and is given the time it needs to develop into something special.   Get busy, and good luck!

FITNESS: Superheroes

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Whatever sport you love, you watch and follow those who are the very best.  We learn from them and are motivated by their incredible achievements.  There can be a fine line to walk between admiration and inspiration VS. jealousy and consternation.  I have to pay special attention not to get down on myself when I make a comparison to these superheroes.  It takes some real mental focus to make sure I see them for “what is possible” and not “What I can never accomplish.”

Robert Burneika 06Hopefully you don’t fight this internal battle, but can stay positive and focused.  If I need inspiration for an arm workout all I have to do is see a picture of huge Robert Burneika and his 24 inch biceps and I’m ready to chew some nails in the gym!

ryanreynoldsWhen I find myself lagging on abs workouts I just find a picture of Ryan Reynolds and I’m reminded of what is possible with a lot of hard work.  This gets me working hard and motivated in the gym.

Whatever your interests or passion, find examples of the greatest and most accomplished and then use them for inspiration.  Remind yourself that they have a special gift, but you can accomplish something great and improve your own life and abilities in amazing ways.  Then get to work!

MUSIC: Laying out Guard Equipment

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Details are important.  At the end of the season it can be the very small things that make a big difference.  Here’s one show detail that is important to me.

Don’t give away all of your effects before the show starts.  Even though everyone may not be watching you set up for your show, many people are, including judges.  The show begins when the first member of your band becomes in any way visible to the audience.  I want my visual effects to be as big a surprise as possible.

If guard members are going to lay out equipment before the show, have them be as stealth about it as possible.  They should have their equipment pre-folded and orderly when they come into view. They simply should set it down neatly so that, when they pick it up, they will be untangled and in correct placement.  Even though we may see some hint of the colors to be used, I don’t want the audience to see the flag until the moment in the show when it will be used.  Under no circumstances should guard members open up the flag to straighten it out before laying it down.  If I’ve seen a flag before the show starts, it will have less impact when it arrives on the field later in the show.  Hide props whenever possible so that no one has seen them until they appear in the show!

Take a few moments in today’s rehearsal to address this detail.  It could make a huge difference in how your show is perceived.

This tip comes from my book,”Marching Band: A Field Guide.”  Order your copy  by clicking on the link to the left of this page.

FITNESS: Reward Yourself!

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

As you work toward both short and long-term goals, reward yourself for your hard work.   Don’t be too harsh with yourself, thinking you have to reach your major goal to deserve a reward.   Instead give yourself a pat on the back all along the way.

You know yourself best, and you know what really motivates you.  Create carrots that mean something to you.

If you lose 5 pounds, buy that dress you’ve had your eye on.  When you bench 225 for 8 reps, splurge by taking your honey to that new restaurant that you’ve been dying to visit.  Create short-term goals and then celebrate the achievement.

When your goals involve your physique, it’s often the wardrobe that is a real motivator.  I know people who end up buying an entirely new set of clothes to match their new body.  (You can save your money long-term as you’re working long-term on this goal.)  When your old clothes are hanging off of you, it’s wonderful to go shopping and buy those new clothes that look great on your new trim physique.


And the opposite can be true also.  In my life, it was incredibly exciting to be able to buy new shirts that showed off my new muscles as I got bigger and more muscular.   There are form-fitting clothes that I would have felt (and looked!) ridiculous in before, but once I started adding those curves and getting those bigger arms and pecs,  it was great fun to start to wear those clothes designed to show off those muscles.  You’ve worked hard, so show off a little!   (Bodybuilders, check out for fashions designed for muscular physiques.  In Orlando or Tampa, visit Urban Body Men’s Clothing.   Every city has stores like this.  Reward yourself!)

Plan that trip for next summer when you know you’ll look great in that swimsuit!  Then you’ll make sure you’re ready to wear it!  Buy that CD or DVD you’ve wanted to reward yourself for reaching your goal.  No matter how small the accomplishment may seem, it’s one more step toward your major goal.  Don’t discount the power of small goals, and reward yourself every step of the way!

MUSIC: Don’t Look!

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Here’s a suggestion every band director should consider today.  As you wind your way through a grueling marching season there are 200 things to think about and consider at every moment.  Even in a focused marching rehearsal with clearly defined goals, it’s still very easy to get distracted.

You need to take time to listen to the show without LOOKING at it.  The visual can be so distracting and engrossing that we forget to really listen to the music.  Some directors are very good at compartmentalizing their attention and can really just focus on the music at times.  But I always found this really difficult.

My solution was to listen to the show without looking at it.  You can create a good audio recording at a performance or rehearsal, and then sequester yourself in your office and just listen.  Close your eyes, or even turn off the lights, and really focus your attention just on the sounds.  If you don’t have an audio recording,  just turn on the videotape of the show and look away.   But Don’t Look!

By focusing on the music only you’ll likely hear things that need to be addressed but which you didn’t really notice in the middle of a rehearsal.  Balance, intonation, timing, the list of discoveries could be dramatic!

I often visit bands in the Fall to help put finishing touches onto shows.  I have the great advantage of NOT being at rehearsals all the time, so I often notice things that have been overlooked in the middle of the exhausting rehearsal schedule.  I have found completely wrong notes played by entire sections or soloists.  Balance issues can be hiding the melody during a passage, or a solution to a timing tear will be apparent to me as an outsider when it was a mystery to those “in the trenches.”

Take time to turn off your eyes, don’t look at the show, and just listen carefully with your best musician ears on.  This can make a real difference in your success!

FITNESS: Short-term Goals

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

When most people begin a fitness regimen they have a major goal in mind.  “I want to lose 20 pounds.”   “Getting bigger arms may help my chances of asking out that hottie.”  “I want to be able to play with my kids without being exhausted.”  Even…”I want to enter a bodybuilding contest.”

Major goals are great motivators, and I suggest you keep a picture on the fridge or bathroom mirror to remind you daily of this goal.  But accomplishing these goals in the correct, safe manner can take a long time.  If  you want to lose 30 pounds, and you want to do it right, it should be done slowly over time.  Changing eating and exercise habits over time and making gradual changes will be the healthiest way to accomplish this, and the most likely to make it “stick.”

But our culture loves immediate gratification.  We want it NOW and we want to be rewarded now.  So during your journey toward your major goal, continuously create smaller, more immediate goals to act as short term motivation.

Divide that 30 pound weight lose into 4 or 5 pound increments.  Your mind can wrap around losing 4 pounds, whereas losing 30 can seem so insurmountable that you just throw up your hands.  Add one more minute to your cardio routine each workout.  In a couple of weeks you could have added 10+ minutes!

Németh-Lewis (49e025e4)

Steve Namat and Flex Lewis

In the gym, strive for small increases with weights.  Add one more rep to your bench press every workout or two.  If you’re doing 6 reps at 200 pounds today, go for 7 reps next time.  When you get to 12 reps, add a 2.5 pound weight to each side of the bar.  Those little weights may seem pointless in the big picture, but adding small increments is a great way to keep increasing slowly but surely.  (You’ll hardly notice that extra 5 pounds, but your muscles will take note and grow and adapt.)

By finding these small, attainable ways to measure your progress you’ll stay motivated and you’ll be reaching goals weekly.  This sense of accomplishment will help to keep you positive and feeling like you’re getting somewhere.  Then one day you’ll realize that you’re now lifting 225 or have lost 10 pounds.  By focusing on the small goals you made real progress toward the big ones, and that’s something to celebrate.