Now that our competition season has concluded, let's share a few thoughts about the process (which is where the bulk of actual learning occurs):
1) Scores and placements at competitions can be very close...within mere tenths of a point. We were in 2nd place at our final two contests by margins of only .65 and .55 of a point. What makes the difference and how do you add those small increments to your score?
There are a variety of factors.
First, is our style and our fundamental approach to playing and moving well defined? According to the evaluators, yes on both counts.
Second, does the design of the show fit together, flow logically, and pace itself so that the viewer is engaged? Again, yes from all of our evaluators.
Third, are the performers delivering appropriate levels of achievement in all areas of movement and playing? According to our judges, not always. The occasional student starting early or ending late on a musical passage, the occasional student just a half step away from alignment of a form, spaces that are not uniform throughout a move, some notes out of tune, dropping out of your music when movement gets demanding...it can take on a variety of forms.
2) How do you fix these individual concerns? Appropriate instruction (which we have been assured by our evaluators is apparent) and TIME. The hours necessary to develop each individual student into a confident performer vary from student to student. Some "get it" within the first several attempts. Some take weeks to develop the physical and mental stamina. Based on other bands schedules, we rehearse less than many of our competitors. Our one week summer band camp is 2-3 weeks for other schools. Our one 9-9 Saturday practice and our one 9-5 Saturday practice might be four 9-9 Saturdays at other schools. Fall break at many competitive schools is another band camp week.
You also have to have students IN ATTENDANCE at rehearsals. Even when they have homework. Even when the family wants to hang out together. Even when their grades weren't as good as you wanted. We had kids missing at almost every rehearsal this season...and they were not injured or ill every time. Your commitment to the activity must allow you the time to learn and perfect the material...and to develop the stamina and consistency to perform it.
3) Don't panic. We are not going to add all of these hours to our schedule. Our philosophy is not based on winning or beating other bands...we strive to improve our best performance. We do, however, need to understand that if we are not willing to do the things that other bands do in order to perform at those levels, we can't expect to go out and be named "champions". We have to decide as a community how good we want the band to be...and act accordingly.
4) If we, as a group, decide that we want to raise our levels of achievement, then we need to be willing to do more than the minimum necessary to sustain our current levels of performance. Two of our neighboring bands that we saw this year have purchased matching sets of professional trumpets for their marching bands. Our kids predominantly play their old student horns from middle school (they won't take their professional horns outside). Obviously, the pro horns will sound better. Some of the band we saw this year hire top level consultants and designers from DCI to pick their show and create all of the effects. Rumor has it that they spend around $20,000 for this service. We did all of this ourselves, with a basic conceptual idea from one of our former instructors ($1000).
5) Are our kids still learning valuable lessons and improving, even when they are not "winning" contests? Yes. Is winning necessary ? No. In every contest, there is only one band deemed "the best". All of the students there have worked hard and have learned a lot during their journey. Is winning fun? Absolutely! It is not easy, however. The investment of time (and sadly more money) is often a factor.
6) Where do we go from here? That depends. As a community, are we willing to support a more active marching band schedule? Are we willing to do more fundraising or pay higher fees? Are we willing to give up more weekends during the Fall...or maybe a few days of Fall Break? Or are we satisfied to be a really good band who is near the top in our contests, but maybe not winning the show? Tough decisions to be sure. We will be discussing options as we look to the future.
Rest assured that we want the best experiences for your students. The learning process remains more important to us than a specific award. We do, however, realize how much fun it can be to be called "the best"!