Making the Show
by Joe Roberts
Halftime of a college football game is the marching band’s moment to shine and become the center of attention. Audiences often look forward to an elaborate and entertaining field show. But few fans realize that the 10- to 12-minute performance they are about to watch is the culmination of months of development and many hours of rehearsals.
In the summer months prior to football season, Dr. Brad McDavid and his directing staff create the themes for the season’s shows. While some bands only create a few unique shows each season, the Husky Marching Band produces an entirely new show for each of the six or often seven home football games each year. Ideas for show themes come from a variety of sources, including band member suggestions, prominent events coinciding with the game or season, and other ideas conceived by the band’s staff. A theme may revolve around a particular style of music (Broadway, Seattle Rock, Latin), a tribute to a particular artist (Chicago, Queen, Stevie Wonder), or something more esoteric (Star Wars, Las Vegas, video games). Every season also includes the annual High School Band Day. Availability of musical arrangements, performance time constraints, and rehearsal schedules are just some of the many considerations that must be taken into account when selecting show themes for the year. Once the themes have been selected and scheduled, the development of the shows can begin.
Music is the primary element for every show. A halftime show typically contains three or four musical numbers selected to fit the show’s theme. The musical arrangements come from a variety of sources. Some are either commercially available or already in the band’s music library, but many are simply unavailable or not in a form suitable for the marching band. In this case, new arrangements will be written by the director, graduate assistant directors, or through collaboration with professional music arrangers. Producing custom music arrangements is a significant annual expense for the band, but there are many benefits over purchasing commercial arrangements. For one, the band owns the arrangement, and more importantly the performance rights to it, and can freely copy, reuse, and adapt the music as necessary. Additionally, the arrangements can be made to the band’s specifications, including instrumentation and style, as well as providing a rendition exclusive to the Husky Marching Band. Due to the unique composition and skill of the band’s drumline, the percussion arrangements for all tunes are written by the band’s drumline instructor.
After the music has been selected and arranged, the actual development of the field show may begin. Working from the music, key impact points are identified and the designer begins to develop an overall idea of how the field show will take shape. Key points in the music may be emphasized by tightly focused formations, while other moments may be highlighted by creative, whimsical formations closely associated with the music (i.e., a large trombone moving its slide while playing “76 Trombones”). Additional entertainment value may be added through the creative use of props or other embellishments.
The show is broken down into a series of formations, or “charts,” which are plotted using specialized computer software. Each chart contains a dot representing each band member on the field, as well as instructions for transitioning from one chart to the next. Full halftime shows typically consist of 30-35 charts, which together form the entire show.
The music has been written, the show charted, and now the rehearsals begin. The band’s time to learn a new show is dictated primarily by the football schedule. As is typical during a football season, back-to-back home games on two successive weeks leave the band with just one week to learn an entirely new show. Mondays are generally a two-hour music rehearsal in which band members will receive the new music to be used in that week’s show. Beginning on Tuesday, the band will be out on the field, rain or shine, to learn the drill for the show. Every band member will receive a complete set of the charts for the show, and will be responsible for identifying his or her own position on the charts and following the instructions provided. Chart-by-chart the band learns the show, first without music, then with percussion, and finally adding the full music back in. After three two-hour field rehearsals, which include time for additional music rehearsal as well as rehearsing the week’s pre-game show, the halftime show is nearly ready.
On the day of the game, the band is typically the first to step onto the field in the morning, and last to leave after the game. About four hours before kickoff, the band takes the field for its final rehearsal of the show. By now, many band members have the music and their chart positions memorized, and the show is fine-tuned as any last minute adjustments are made. Finally, as the clock winds down on the second quarter of the game, months of preparation culminates with the band finally taking the field to entertain the dedicated fans for halftime.
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