Music, in itself, is its own language; for some it’s easy to understand, others take it to the next level and add choreographed movement to it, such as marching bands. An average marching wind ensemble practice begins with a simple stretch and review of the basic marching techniques. They begin one week before the fall semester starts. Normal “band camp” days involve basic technique practices on the field in the morning, rehearsal after lunch, and a combination of the marching and music after their dinner.
They meet three days a week during the fall semester; two and a half hours each session, depending on whether the directors think it’s necessary. They must learn a pre-game performance, their halftime show, and all stand-tunes (the short songs that are played in the crowd during the game). After every game where a halftime show is played, they all must learn a new show to perform for the next game. For this to be accomplished, the responsibility is split between sections and section leaders. There are two different “main” sections that depend on what instrument you are playing; brass and woodwind.
Woodwind instruments use a wooden reed to create sound by blowing into their mouthpieces and pressing the keys down to create certain notes. Brass instruments are made of brass and are played by buzzing into a cereal bowl shaped mouthpiece. The buzzing into the mouthpiece, alone, can create the notes desired; the rest of the instrument just projects the sounds made by the mouthpiece. Woodwinds typically have many keys that need to be pressed down in different combinations to make different notes and create different sounds, while brass instruments usually only have three buttons, but also have different combinations to ake different sounds and notes. There are also smaller sections within the woodwinds and brass that specify different instruments by pitches (how high and low they play). These different sections will, when instructed or in need of practice, break off into themselves and practice their parts of the piece of music until they are satisfied with how it sounds, this is called sectionals. During sectionals, there are people of leadership, that are students, who are chosen by the directors to lead their section.
Section coordinators and section leaders; section coordinators supervise rehearsals and sectionals and section leaders help with any instruction during marching practice, rehearsals, or any organizational tasks. Bigger sections (meaning more people who play that instrument) require more leadership within themselves to keep organized and learn the information and techniques within the time given. Sheet music is used for instruments in order for players to play a song or a dance. Sheet music has notes on a staff, varying where they are, depending on what note the composer wants them to play.
Each person has their own pages of music; each section has their own parts that differ based on how well the person can play. For example, the trumpet players that can play the highest will typically get sheet music for “trumpet part 1”, while those who can’t play as high, as well, or don’t have enough experience will get sheet music for “trumpet part 3”. Part 1 sheet music, depending on the piece and instrument, has higher and faster notes, therefore, requires more knowledge and practice.
Part 3 or 4 sheet music has more “long” and low notes, therefore, it’s easier for the person playing that part. Reading sheet music is a form of literacy used within all sections of the music department and around the world to communicate what is asked from the composer to the players’ instrument. Being literate in sheet music is fundamental to success in the marching wind ensemble; those who cannot learn quickly will fall behind and have trouble conveying the music given to them. Those who can read the music can be taught by the band director how the omposer wanted it played and show their audience how it should sound with much more ease than those who cannot. Drill sheet is specific only to marching band ensembles; you cannot find it in any concert band, orchestra, or choir. Drill sheets have placements for each member of the marching band and where they should be during a piece that they’re playing. It is laid out as the football field with markers and numbers; each representing a student. The different pages show where each person should be at certain stages of each song.
They also show the path that each person will take and the picture that the entire ensemble will make as a whole. While reading music is an extremely fundamental and important activity, reading drill is a literate activity specific to marching band, more precisely, leadership in marching band. I interviewed five different people; two were woodwind section leaders, one was a regular marching knight student, the last two were marching band directors, one of which has a doctorate degree in music.
I simply asked them all the same questions and recorded their responses as audio and, to a lesser extent, on a piece of notebook paper. Generally, the students all answered quite the same. I asked the students eleven different questions about their success in marching band, how long they’ve been in marching band and playing music, and their opinions on reading sheet music. The directors were asked different questions from the students: they were more about how the ensemble functions and different communication through the ensemble.
All of the students had learned how to read drill sheets in high school and found it a very easy concept to grasp; they all have several years of experience reading music before joining the marching knights in college. Also, they all believed that every section acts differently, but don’t use different terms or lexus. When asked about reading sheet music itself, they believe that it is not the same as reading a typical text. One of the interviewees described it as having its own style and another compared it to its own language.
Another said it was easier because reading sheet music has stayed the same, while, compared to science courses, new things are needed to be learned. Clearly they all feel very similarly about music, in that, it’s very unique to itself and can’t easily be compared to other forms of literacy. The directors were simply asked questions, less than the students, but required more detail within them. They both described to me terms that only the marching band uses. According to Dr. See, one of the directors, they are ds that were learned during band camp and are used during practices, events, and games. No other ensemble does this except the marching band. There are commands that require a verbal response and some that require a physical response. For example, for the drum major or director to tell the ensemble to be “set”, means the entire band must conform to a pre-established position and become silent and still until told otherwise.
Also, the entire band has prior knowledge of how to read sheet music, according to Dr. See, coinciding with my interviews from the students. Mr. Es, also a director, said that a lot of the commands used in marching band were also used in the military in the same way; to get the attention to leadership. This shows how the entire band communicates through commands used by people of higher power that, if tried on someone who has no knowledge of this, they would not oblige. Talso did an observation by watching how the entire marching band practices adding new drill sheets to a physical place on the football field.
I noticed that when the drum majors are up on their respective podiums (metal stands that allow the whole band to see them from across the field) and facing the band ready to begin another rep, the majority of the band pays attention right away, the ones who don’t figure it out quickly The ensemble has a high respect for authority and for their leadership. I also noticed that the leadership acted as guidance for all those behind them. Whatever they did, their section most certainly obeyed, but even when sometimes when the section leader didn’t say anything, the rest followed.
Specifically section eaders, they would go out of their way to correct anything wrong with parts of the drill; they would leave their position and correct others or make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be. This could be due to the experience, knowledge that the section leader has over the rest, or during their training, they could have been told to do so in order to speed up the learning process of the ensemble. Based on my personal experiences (because I did not physically see how this was done) the section leaders know and have all drill sheet music and know where everyone should be and when they should be there.
If a person was misplaced and a director from the box noticed, the section leader can use what they have to fix it, that being their drill sheets. The section leaders being able to read, understand, and respond quickly to their drill sheets and address it to their physical spots allows for efficiency within the ensemble. The drill is a way for only marching band students to have a physical map of everybody’s space within the yards and is executed by, specifically, the leadership within sections. Sheet music is unique in its own way and cannot be compared to a simple book with text.
It has its own style and is displayed through different means that can be interpreted by each person who hears it on an individual level. The marching wind ensemble not only portrays its own version of the music, but they perform the music and match it with its own physical footwork, which is also written down. The drill is a written out form of this footwork and each page can be identified by different sounds in the music played. The literacy of music, matched with the movement made along the field cannot be compared to any other community.
In my next study of this community, I wish to know how many people, currently, are in the marching wind ensemble. I also plan on getting interviews of more students who aren’t a part of leadership and brass section leaders. I want to be able to observe the ensemble again and see how they communicate to each other as individual sections. I also want to be able to talk to leadership within the brass section, to get a different perspective. I wish to get more observations and plan to meet with more brass players. I plan to receive texts from each section and at different spectrums of difficulty.