S-Steps To Success

By John Gardner

Super Size Poster
Super Size PosterAt the end of my first semester at my current school, I gave a “talk” at the Band Banquet Awards….. I’ve made some edits for outdated details and for a more general audience, but otherwise, it is what I said 12 years ago?

Context: Large, only high school in a county that includes students from 20-miles and long-distance phone calls away, some spending over an hour each way on school buses. Marching band is small for the school size and behind some area powerhouse programs in terms of size, staff, equipment, all things financial and cutting edge.



S-Steps To Success 

#1 – Super Size

Get LoudThe FIRST thing we need to do is to SUPER SIZE this band. Size doesn’t equal quality, but it can impact the sound. To some extent, numbers translate to sound, crowd appeal and score. That is part of the reason the State Music Association has different qualifying levels for the different class sizes.

We need to Search for Super Sizers. You can help. Be enthusiastic about your band. Enthusiasm is contagious. What YOU say to a middle school band student, or to any prospect, is often much more effective than what a teacher/director says.

Sideline ensemble people don’t have to be band members. Your friends who play piano can play mallet instruments. People who quit band in the past can come back. And then, without taking anything away from what it takes to be a percussionist, we can teach just about anybody how to hit something. And now that we’ve incorporated guitars, we offer an opportunity to some of your friends who are band members of a different type. Know someone with a dramatic voice? Perhaps they can perform the voice-over script.

Sadly, we have seniors graduating. For those who remain, I wrote a note to you,

Now It Is YOUR Turn

You need to Stay to be Seniors.

I’d love to see the school or community have to deal with

  • a band that can’t fit in the band room
  • scrambling to get instruments and equipment for the participants
  • providing 4-5, instead of 1-2 busses

#2 – Sensational Sound

SECOND, you should Strive for Individual Success. If you become the best that YOU can be, then we can work to blend your individual abilities to improve the overall band. A super-sized band can produce more sound, but we need your individual improvement to enable us to play some of the more challenging music you’ve heard.

Study Seriously for Improvement. Consider Individual Study on your instrument. If you can pay, we have access to professional experts on almost every instrument. They absolutely make a difference. For less pay, we can connect you with some college students who are looking for some experience.  And if you can’t pay, let us know, because some teachers will make allowances for hard working students. For sufficient interest, we can explore periodic after school Master Classes for instrument-specific instruction in a group setting. And several of you are already taking advantage of some of the musical ensembles at the local university. Instruments need to go home. There are no shortcuts. Proficiency requires practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it certainly helps, and you can’t achieve perfection without it.

Your Individual Level of Musical Success depends on a combination of

  • your musicianship
  • your training
  • your equipment
  • your commitment

#3 – Sizzling Show

FINALLY, we need a SIZZLING SHOW, and it won’t come cheaply. Sizzling requires specialists in music technology, creativity, art, design and construction, as well as dance, theater and maybe even drum corps.

We need Spectacular Music. That can including paying for licensing and excellent composing and arranging.

We need Stunning Drill Design. Some competitors pay three times what we are able for expert, on-site designers. We have had good drill design by someone in the area, even if he can’t be on site.

We need Superb Special Effects.

When I watch state finals, I notice patterns from the top groups. Effect generators include tarps, ramps, platforms, multi-functional backdrops, and some really interesting custom-designed and built theme-enhancing props.

Most color guards have 2-4 costumes and 4-6 different flags plus rifles, sabers, wheels, sticks, and other theme-specific props.

With the props and the horn and body flashes, we need some theatrical expertise for our show. Marching band is not just about marching and playing any more.

We need Splendid Style, requiring splendid basics. We have to march better, to get it sooner and to push it harder.

We need State-of-the-Art Equipment. Most of the drumlines had 4-6 snares, 4 quads and 5-6 basses. If we want to do that, not only will we have to super-size the drumline, but we’ll need more drums. The front ensembles tended to have 6-8 mallet instruments and 8-15 people. Many of the sideline instruments were individually microphoned with sound controlled by a remote controller managed by a staff person in the audience. Most had new silver Sousaphones or shoulder Tubas. One had ten such tubas and five bari saxes. One of the largest, if not the largest band there, had 100% silver brass instruments (trumpets, mellos, trombones, baritones, tubas). Another had all silver brass except trombones, which marched in a separate block.

This example built from two modified and stacked storage containers.

This example built from two modified and stacked storage containers.

If we’re going to get more and bigger stuff, are we ready for our own personalized semi trailer, like just about every other Class A band has?

We need a taller, safer rehearsal observation platform. It could be permanent or portable. Portable would enable us to move between rehearsal areas. A design I especially admire is basically a garage (for front ensemble equipment storage, podiums, etc) with inside access to a platform on the roof. One school has such a building in between a grass practice field and a parking lot…so they can watch rehearsals on either surface from the same place.

Let me sum it up this way:

Let’s SUPER SIZE this band by searching for super sizers and staying in band.

Let’s develop a SENSATIONAL SOUND by striving for individual success and studying seriously.

Let’s field a SIZZLING SHOW with spectacular music, stunning design, superb style and closer to state-of-the-art equipment.

You give us what we need in people, equipment, work ethic and attitude – and we’ll take some major steps toward super-sized, sensational, sizzling success.

Thank you.

VMO Business Card



15 yrs experience as a high school band director. 14 yrs as college adjunct faculty. 30+ yrs in the fundraising industry and 24 yrs as a small business owner. (Don't add all those up.). Experience in both the fundraising sales and education worlds give me a unique combination of perspectives in both. I love working with the youthful enthusiasm of today's teenage achievers and with those who work with them.Also 4yrs as proprietor of VirtualMusicOffice.com, which offers a wide variety of virtual services including web/blog design/hosting/managing, social media management (scheduling posts/tweets for maximum impact and brand enhancement) and small business consulting - specializing in school product fundraising.

Posted in High Schools Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Please share your thoughts.