Marching band: mathematics or music?

The behind the scenes of a marching band field show

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In a marching band field show, there are three main musical positions that have to be filled: battery and wind instruments who march on the field, a front ensemble pit section and two drum majors.

A field show requires marching bands to perfect many different elements to be successful at competitions, and Oak Park High School’s 2018-19 marching band is no exception.

“There are the wind players — the people who are primarily on the field playing the music that is most prominent — drumline is also on the field and they are the ones that provide percussion sounds. The pit orchestra is not marching on the field but is in the front,” drum major and senior Samantha Heller said.

The pit band utilizes the fact that they do not march to focus on other aspects of creating a field show.

“We focus a lot on technique rather than marching, so we work on pulsing, which is moving up and down to the beat,” senior Arielle Markowicz said. “The music is different because it is a little more complex than a horn part.”

The drumline, has three different types of drums, including tenors, snares, and basses. Each bass player has separate pitches that can be higher or lower depending on the size of the drum. Tenors have higher pitched sounds than the bass, and they have five different drum heads per player. Together, they all create different types of sounds that work together to create another element to the music.

“The nature of our activity is different,” drum captain and senior Angus Hsieh said. “Instead of doing scales like the winds do and doing basic marching formation, we have our own warm ups we run through to warm up our hands and get ready to play with the rest of the band.”

The wind players may play brass instruments like sousaphones or trumpets or woodwinds such as the saxophone or flute. Marchers have to practice the proper form and technique required to effectively play an instrument and march at the same time.

“We do this thing called ‘basics block’ that helps us practice our roll-stepping technique, so that we can play with a clear sound as we are marching,” sophomore Liam Case said.

Musicians can take up other roles in the marching band, including horn sergeant who acts as the drum major’s go-to leader, ‘gak’ crew and section leaders for instrumentals. For those who are part of the ‘gak’ crew, they work on preparing the field so its marching conditions are up to par.

“We can’t use the football field all the time because football has to practice too, so we go down to the grass field below, and what we do is, we basically spray paint a football field of our own,” Case said.

Another aspect of a marching band field show is the visuals. This involves the coordinated movements that the team performs and the color guard team, who are normally seen amongst the band members on the field dancing with flags, rifles and other various objects.

“I learned in hearing the judiciary feedback — and not just from the color guard, but from the other visual judges — how important and impactful the color guard is to the overall product, as it enhances the show visually,” band director Zachary Borquez said.

Drill writer, Donovan Alanes, creates the pictures that are seen on the field while the marching band performs. These pictures are the lines, shapes, and arcs that are created by the band that is used to support the music.

“Drill basically turns the football field into a giant grid. I take that grid and use it to give the performers specific coordinates to get to at specific times to create a visual moment to support the music,” Alanes wrote.

All of these factors come together to create a field show that the marching band performs in front of judges at local and statewide competitions.

“Competition acts as a measure of our overall growth and performance of the band over the season,” alumnus and previous drum major Peter Ye wrote to the Talon.

Every year the marching band has a new show to perform. This year they have decided to incorporate classical songs, such as “Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

“We are taking these classical pieces and then we’re tweaking them, adding little slapstick puns, and adding a little more modern-sounding music,” Heller said.

This year marching band will be attending Southern California’s regional championships, which they have not attended in any previous years.

“In order to qualify for championships you have to go to at least three competitions earlier in the season,” Borquez said. “Out of everybody in the circuit, which is the Southern California School Band Orchestra Association, the top twelve within each division qualify for championship.”

Every year the Oak Park Marching Band puts together a show that invests all sorts of different people and concepts to create a unified piece.

“It takes a lot of work over a lot of hours,” Case said. “There is constant repetition, and we put our heart and soul into it.”

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