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Music Advocacy

Band Camp: A Crash Course in Life Skills

August 15, 2013

Band CampFor some, band camp has concluded and the school year is underway;  for others, camp is in full swing, complete with marching and maneuvering basics, sectional rehearsals, and color guard catches.  The tail end of summer is an intense time for marching ensembles, a time that sometimes finds parents and new marching students a bit surprised by the level of commitment asked of them.  There are compelling reasons, however, to put aside other activities until November (or so) and make room for the full-time commitment marching band requires.

It’s good for you:

Being a marching musician is hard physical work.  The stamina it takes just to hold a baritone horn at attention for more than a couple minutes helps develop strength, endurance, and a willingness to muscle through tough tasks.  Building enough cardiovascular strength to dash around a football field for ten minutes straight while using every iota of breath to push notes through an instrument is something no other school activity can duplicate.  Marching music is a true marriage of artistry and athleticism a student will find nowhere else.

Lasting friendships:

Even into their adult years, many musicians who participated in marching band can cite countless treasured memories from the time they spent in their school ensemble.  For many, a band reunion would hold far more meaning than a class reunion, because in band, students find like-minded friends who work together as a team.  As a bonus, the students in band tend to be high-achieving members of the teen population, which puts kids in good long-term company.  Studies show that people who engage in healthy long-term friendships enjoy success in other life areas as well.

A commitment to the greater good:

It’s easy for teens (and adults) to become “me-centric” in a society that encourages a constant jockeying for the spotlight.  In marching band, students learn to operate as an integral part of the whole.  They must execute their individual roles to the best of their possible ability, but always with a mind toward how their instrument’s voice fits with the ensemble and how their positions on the field contribute to (or detract from) the form.  A willingness to sacrifice, to make it to rehearsal even when you don’t feel like it, or to help that struggling freshman instills skills of buy-in and empathy that will serve students in any field they might choose to pursue in their adult lives.


The western world has become a padded and fluffy place where failure has taken on an ill-founded bad name.  When a student is charging across the yard lines to make a set, playing the hardest passage of music she has ever learned, and praying her shoe doesn’t come off in the mud, she might just run into a mishap.  But because there’s an entire ensemble moving on whether she has her shoe or not, she must learn the skill of recovery.  Mistakes are inevitable.  Students have the choice when errors come along to implode or to recover, and a marching ensemble has an uncanny way of demanding the mistake-maker get ‘back with the program’ quickly and seamlessly.  The recurring theme of life skills a student can learn in marching band plays yet another refrain.

Though the hours spent in rehearsal become countless, the miles on the road to football games and competitions burn more tanks of gas than imaginable, and the emotional energy required to put on the best possible performance time after time may sometimes seem overwhelming, the emotional, physical, and relational gains that come from a full commitment to a marching ensemble are equally immeasurable.  When all is said and done in November, you can count on even the most initially-reluctant student to miss band until it ramps up again next summer.

Resources you might enjoy to help your marching musicians achieve:

Leadership Success by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, Pat Sheridan, Jon Gomez, and Scott Lang

Marching Bands and Drumlines by Paul Byer

Directors' Toolbox

Qualities That Make a Great Student Leader in a Marching Ensemble – Part 3

September 28, 2012

Over the past few posts, we have been discussing the qualities that define an excellent student leader.  The first two traits this three-part series has explored are a student’s attitude of service and his or her commitment to excellence.  A third pivotal trait in a leader’s effectiveness is the student’s ability to communicate information in a live, face-to-face setting, as well as “read” his effectiveness in his followers.

Social Sensitivity:  A Dying Art?

Sometimes the biggest personalities can be blinded by their own bright glow, and while these performer-types may be a pleasure to watch in action, they often don’t make good, relational leaders.  The best ensembles are based on a stable relationship of trust between its members and its leaders — trust that can be established through the leader’s attitude of service, as discussed earlier.

In terms of teaching, the best student leaders have the maturity to know when to push and when to ease up — when the call for excellence means more push-ups, or whether that freshman needs a minute to avoid bursting into tears in front of her entire section.  According to Dr. John Villella, President of Vivace Productions and Associate Dean of the West Chester University School of Music, “student [leaders must] realize that if they want their peers to respect and follow them, the leader must place value on the followers.  The fundamentals of leadership education have not changed.”  However, “technology and the way students communicate have changed dramatically over the past two decades.”

Today’s technological means of communication have the potential to stunt the development of face-to-face social sensitivity, but students who show leadership potential will exhibit the ability to relate to their peers, read social cues, and effectively communicate the group’s goals in person.  The student who exhibits the maturity it takes to communicate well, and the judgment to pursue that communication at the right moment, will help propel his or her marching ensemble to new levels of cohesiveness and work ethic.

The selection of a student leader is never an easy choice.  But directors who do give their young musicians the opportunity to shine in areas of leadership equip these students with skills that will benefit them far beyond their days on the band field.  And ensembles fortunate enough to work with well-equipped student leaders enjoy achievement and camaraderie they can find no place else.

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.

Directors' Toolbox

Qualities That Make a Great Student Leader in a Marching Ensemble – Part 1

August 30, 2012

With marching band season gearing up once again, directors find themselves looking to their flock of students in search of that indispensible percentage that will prove themselves leaders.  Many students are gregarious.  Some are popular.  But only a select few truly have the makings of a leader, and these students are an invaluable part of a marching program.

Teens identify with their peer group more strongly than any other models, so placing good peer examples in front an ensemble can set the tone for an entire marching season, even the whole academic year.  Drum majors and section leaders with the right attitude toward the job make a director’s task that much easier, while negative leaders can misdirect the ensemble’s attitude and work ethic.

So what should a director look for in a student leader?  The following series explores the traits that will prove substantial assets to any group as the marching year progresses.

An Attitude of Service: A Non-Negotiable

The most important quality for a student leader isn’t a flashy conducting style, the loudest voice for calling commands, or the biggest smile;  it’s an attitude of quiet willingness to serve.  Leaders need to be willing to do the thankless jobs that nobody even notices until they aren’t done.  Great student leaders anticipate the ensemble’s needs and are eager to fulfill them, even if that means walking around during the group’s break time and collecting empty granola bar wrappers.  Only a student who consistently demonstrates a genuine care for those under his leadership will earn the respect that inspires other students to follow that leader through challenging times.

This attitude of service is foundational in building a strong leader/follower relationship underpinned by the confidence that the student leader genuinely cares about those he is called to lead.  But students will only follow as far as the leader’s expertise is capable of taking them.  

Next:  Why a commitment to excellence and high level of achievement are also qualities student leaders must possess.

For some practical tools in developing student leaders, drop by the following product pages:

Leadership: Vision, Commitment, Action and Leadership 2 by Tim Lautzenheiser;

Scott Lang’s Leadership Survival Guide