Directors' Toolbox

Qualities That Make a Great Student Leader in a Marching Ensemble – Part 2

September 13, 2012

In Part I, we explored the undeniable tie between a student leader’s attitude of service and the ensemble’s willingness to follow a leader who exhibits this indispensible trait.  While foundational, attitude only goes so far, however.  The desire to serve must also be backed up by true ability in the core competencies of musical and marching skills.

When choosing student leaders, band directors face the challenge of not only assessing the candidates’ leadership abilities, but their musical and marching competency as well.  Every follower needs to sense those who are leading them are extremely capable if the group is to have confidence they are in good hands.  In choosing a drum major, this can sometimes create a conflict for the director — who wants to “lose” their best musician to the podium?  But if that musician truly is the best leader for the position, directors usually find shifting that student from the ensemble to the leadership role ends up a net gain overall.  This consideration of a student’s ability leads to the second trait foundational to building a great student leader.

Commitment to Excellence: Raising the Bar

The proficiency of the leader in his area of expertise has a defining effect on the achievement level of the group, so directors choosing a student leader must consider their best musicians first for leadership roles.  According to Dr. John Villella, Associate Dean of West Chester University’s School of Music and President of Vivace Productions, a premier provider of leadership education:  “First and foremost, a marching band student leader must be an excellent musician, and if charged with marching instruction, also an excellent marcher.  They must display [proficiency] at a level far above the average student.  If the leaders are rehearsing and performing at a 70 percent proficiency level, all of the followers will be less proficient;  likewise, if they are at 90 percent or above, the followers will also rise to a higher level.”

In this same vein, student leaders must display a commitment to improving their skills—a teachable spirit provides the fertile soil in which great leaders take root and thrive.  Where a leader might lack in knowledge, they should express a willingness and determination to grow in that area.

In the final segment to come, we’ll investigate one final, pivotal attribute needed in any effective leader, and explore whether the technological savvy of the current generation helps or hinders this trait.

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