This fall, I’ve had the pleasure of watching some marching band competitions. It has really changed a lot since I was in band 30 years ago! I was curious if anyone has seen the whole transition, and could comment on how it happened, etc. Maybe provide like a history of marching band performances, or something? Or maybe it was just the area I grew up in, band wasn’t as big as in others?
Then: Our band did football games and maybe one “competition” during the year. This competition, if I remember, was more like a “grading” of your band, you’d get a score of “Excellent” or “Outstanding” or whatever.
Now: The local HS band has 6 competitions this year, everything from local ones to big national ones in other states. Most weekends in the fall seem occupied. Football games seem like an afterthought, really, not the primary focus.
Then: The show was primarily based on movement of the band members into different formations on the field. Players stood there and played their instruments, then marched to a new spot while playing, or whatever.
Now: Players don’t just play their instruments. They are dancing, doing various poses, choreography, etc., while playing and between parts. Sometimes setting down their instruments to dance and/or act.
Then: No electronic amplification. If you were a soloist, you had to be loud enough to hear. Note this means not too many flute or clarinet solos. Therefore, most solos were brass.
Now: Soloists are miked and play through speakers on the field.
- Music seems to be custom written for the show, by what I presume are professional composers. In ours, we did play some music from popular movies, etc., and would be edited, but it was done by the band director himself.
- Almost all bands have pre-recorded music, like to “set the scene” for their performance, before they start playing. Might be sound effects, there might be speaking, etc. None of this existed back then.
- There are props! I don’t remember anything in the way of props other than the drum major’s stand. Now there are platforms dragged onto the field for soloists, background signs to set the ambiance, mats laid on the ground that match the theme, all kinds of stuff.
- Drum majors! Man, we had 1 or some years 2. Decent size band too. Now it seems all the schools had 4 or 5.
I’m sure I can come up with more. I’m not saying these changes are good or bad, just that it seems so much different than when I was in high school, that at the first competition, I almost had to wonder if I was in the right place!
Overall, it seems WAY bigger. Tickets for the national show in Indianapolis in a few weeks go for up to $135 a seat for the best seats in the finals!
How and when did this all happen?