When designing a marching band show, there are countless choices that a director must make. From the big picture to the most granular detail, all these decisions come together into a production that will serve as a major curricular component for the students in your program.
Designing a marching show is daunting. The guiding principle for any director going through the design and decision-making process should always be: “Does this serve my students and their music education?” Directors who keep this question in mind will be able to help their students through a meaningful and usually more successful marching season.
It’s never too early to begin designing the next season’s show! Early decisions that are critical in setting up your design process include budget assessment and putting together a design team (the people who will work on your production). Have a conversation with the stakeholders in your community, whether they are boosters or the administration, to ensure that you know the available funding as you begin to make choices for your program’s future.
When you know the funding situation, begin putting together your design team. Some of these roles can be done by the band director or other staff members at your school, and some or all of them may be handled by outside professionals who specialize in marching band. Not every school will need entire teams of designers to put together a show. Many groups find pre-commissioned or stock music arrangements, flags and costumes to make “budget-friendly” productions. Many band directors take on the program coordinator role or write the music or drill “in-house” with a staff member. Below is a list of marching band design team positions that are becoming increasingly common.
One of the significant considerations a band director must make when designing a marching band show is the amount of custom versus “stock” materials to use. The most important artistic consideration should be ensuring that all pieces come together to form a cohesive and coordinated vision.
Many vendors, from music arrangers to flag companies, offer materials that are pre-made and ready to ship to help you design your show. In the case of music, arrangers will often make adjustments to previous arrangements in order to better fit your band. These budget-friendly options are great to consider! The challenge in using these materials is creating a coordinated or cohesive production with pieces from different shows.
Custom arrangements, flags and costume design are often amazing ways to have control of every aspect of your production, and they give your students a unique experience in their music education. However, they are generally more expensive than stock materials.
It is fine mixing and matching custom and stock show materials. Just make sure that everything works together to convey the vision of your show!
Once you have your design team in place and know what direction you want to take your program, it’s time to choose the content and settle on a concept for your show. This is the creative and artistic aspect of the marching activity and can come from anyone or anywhere! Often, design teams will get together and brainstorm ideas, or a single coordinator or director may pitch a concept as a conversational starting place. When making decisions on content and concept, keep a few things in mind:
After you have put the big pieces in place for the creative aspect of your marching show, you need to get down to the business of producing it. Communication is key, ensuring that all designers, vendors and everyone involved with your production are on the same page and moving toward delivering the product. There is no such thing as overcommunication regarding marching band design!
Things as simple as file version miscommunications can set designers back weeks, and missing deadlines on things like costume measurements or equipment invoices can be the difference in having materials arrive on time for a competition or not. Having deposits paid promptly, managing timelines and staying in touch with everyone involved in the production of your show allows you to keep the design moving forward for your students.
Make budget decisions — This must be done immediately following the current year’s season. Begin the process in November and complete by New Year’s.
Coordination — It is critical that all elements of design work together to convey the theme and concept of a show. The more aligned the details and big-picture elements are, the more cohesive and professional a production will look to an audience. It is vital that the director or program coordinator maintains a clear vision for a show’s musical and visual designs and that these components work together to create an emotional effect for an audience.
Much of the work in marching season goes on behind the scenes, with a lot of it taking place during the months preceding the start of the season. Once the show is completed and your students are performing, make sure that you enjoy the fruits of your labor!
As music educators, we are wired to seek growth opportunities. We can get lost in the pursuit of excellence or in chasing every “tenth” on a score sheet. Don’t forget that you are delivering a positive and life-changing experience to your students by offering them the chance to perform in the beautiful world of the marching arts!
Remember, good show design is an asset to any band program, but no amount of good design choices can replace quality instruction. Take care of your students (from design to performance) and they will take care of you!