Archive for September, 2011

MUSIC: Details Matter

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

The devil really is in the details.  Often at a band competition the difference from one group to another is the level of detail that is in the show.  Judges have told me that they responded to these details strongly, giving them the sense that a show was more complete and professional.  Higher scores were the result!

So what do we mean by these details?  On a musical level, it’s often simple musicality.  Attacks and releases cleanly played together.  Dynamics that are effective and varied throughout a piece.  A great balanced sound throughout the ensemble.   These may seem like basic things, as well they are, but often this clean performance makes the music seem detailed, and can certainly set one group apart from another.

Visually, the details are attention paid to smaller things.   How do you bring your horns down at the end of a selection?  Why not be creative?  Create simple stylized movements that work with your show concept.  Don’t just wait one count and pop down to attention.  Move to a pose, or pop down then up then down, or lunge and over and up…. whatever makes sense with your show.

Performing a show about pirates?  Lunge like a quick swordfight motion and back to attention.  Playing jazz music?  Swing the horns down and wipe your mouth on the back of your sleeve.  Show some attitude, make it fun!  Ask for ideas from your band students and staff.

Often ideas for visuals can be driven by the guard show.  A great guard instructor will write a show in the style of the music, and often a guard will have some certain visual motifs they work with.  A free arm, a leg pose, a way to hold the head…. find out what these are from your guard staff and then mimic them with the band in an appropriate way.  The audience and judge will respond to this cohesive look and these details will give you an edge over your competitors.

Also pay attention to the moments when the band is not playing.  Don’t just march around at attention, but hold the instruments and arms in a way that is in keeping with the show theme.  Create a unique carry position for this particular show, and use it throughout.

Ballad are another place you can take great liberties.  If a group is not playing, use them to set the mood with poses, groupings, interaction with the guard…be creative!

If you need ideas, watch the best.  The top DCI corps and BOA bands all have these details in their shows, so watch recordings of these performances and take inspiration from the way they have detailed their own shows.

I must also mention basic details like pants lengths that are correct, and instruments that shine.  Nothing can kill the effect of a show like baggy pants that puddle at the bottom, or their counterpart, the high water hem.  And make sure the drum major’s pants fit great…we watch this person a lot from the back!

Details can make all the difference.  Take the time to stop and add these things to the show, and it will pay off in great dividends.  I encourage you to add these AS YOU GO and are teaching the show.  Of course, they can be added later, but if you put some of them in as you are teaching, it becomes a natural part of the show from the very beginning and the performance will have fewer mistakes later.  Now get to detailing!