Music Advocacy

The Marching Panthers: A Band Like No Other!

October 21, 2011

In an earlier blog, we introduced you to the Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Panthers.  In some ways, they are just like any other marching band. 

They love music, marching on the field during halftime, and getting the crowd full of spirit to root for the football team!  How do these students accomplish becoming the Marching Panthers?  To find out, I recently interviewed Dan Kelley, the Marching Panthers’ band director.  Dan graduated from the Alabama School for the Blind and Kenmore High School in Akron, Ohio.  He then went on to get his bachelor’s degree in music education and master’s in visual impairments from The Ohio State University.

How did the Marching Panthers get started?
The Ohio School for the Deaf restarted their football program in 2005.  The Marching Panthers, created by music director Carol Agler, was designed to complement the football program.

How important is the marching band in the students’ lives?
The students have been encouraged to take ownership in the sound and look of the OSSB marching band.  Most students describe being in the band as very rewarding.  They learn many skills that help them in and outside of the band room.  Organization, responsibility, teamwork and self-determination are a few of these skills.  They love being a part of something, to be around other students who have the same interests, to work with a diverse group of people and create something magnificent.

How do the performers get around the field?
Most of the students have marching assistants, who are all volunteers.  They come in every week for practice, show up on game days and put in a tremendous amount of hours.  They are an integral part of the look and sound of the band.  They learn the show along with the students and all of the in-place movements and marching drill along with the marchers.  A marching assistant will place their hand on the student’s left shoulder and be a guide or safety net.  We don’t want any collisions out there.  It is on the student to learn their part in the drill, where to turn, when to march, how many counts to march, when to march in place.  Sometimes we have marchers guiding assistants.  The marchers and assistants work very well together.

What are some of your or the students’ most memorable moments with the Marching Panthers?
The Rose Parade and Mr. Kelley’s quirky quotes.  The sounds and atmosphere of a crowd on its feet applauding and the inspiration to play stronger and march straighter with snappier movement.

What are some of the challenges your band has faced?
Funding, practicing, getting everyone together enough to work out the finer points of the show, and getting students to practice outside of band.  I tend to look at the challenges as not being much different than any typical marching band.  Little things happen constantly that can really throw a huge wrinkle in what we’re doing, such as:  instruments breaking, uniforms getting dirty, or someone getting sick and missing a performance.  I think we feel these things more because our numbers are smaller, but these challenges also make us stronger.  Sometimes you need to work twice as hard to accomplish your goal as others, but the payoff, the reward, the end result is well worth the hard work.

Is there anything else you would like to share with me or think is important for us to know?
Band members use a multimodal approach to learn their music.  First we buy the tunes we are going to play.  Next we put each part into Finale.  Once that has been done, it is in an electronic format.  We can save the Finale parts as SmartMusic accompaniments that the students can practice with on the computer using SmartMusic (www.smartmusic.com).  Or, we can export the files as music.xml files.  These xml files are imported into a program called Lime and then opened by a program called GoodFeel to produce Braille music (www.dancingdots.com).  We can also make Mp3 files of the score and the parts for the kids to listen to on their iPods or PDAs.  And lastly, we can increase the font size of print music so students with low vision can read the large print music.  All students are required to memorize their music.

The Marching Panthers of the Ohio State School for the Blind are a great example of how a group of students can become true musicians.  They work very hard to become a great band and we are all very glad to be able to share their story with the rest of the world!

Go to http://www.ossb.oh.gov/ to find out more about the Ohio State School for the Blind and the Marching Panthers.

Click here to read our previous blog about the OSSB Marching Panthers.

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