|Posted by Thomas J. West on August 2, 2010 at 10:34 AM|
One of the greatest parts of being a member of a high school marching band is developing the feeling of being part of a community with a common purpose. Fellowship in shared experiences is what builds personal bonds that last a long time. Marching bands tend to spend a lot of time together both in and out of the classroom. Most marching band programs have some kind of preparation period before the school year begins since their first performance of the year is often the first football game of the season. It is traditional to call this prep period a band camp even if the rehearsals are simply held on-site at the high school.
Band camp is a great time to build community, establish operating procedures, and set the tone for the entire marching band season. A successful band camp is crucial because in many cases, band students spend as many hours rehearsing at camp as they do rehearsing for the entire fall season. Every aspect of a band program needs some time and attention during camp. Here are some tips to maximize the effectiveness of your pre-season preparations.
1. Establish Health And Weather Procedures First
The most unpleasant part of the marching band experience is arguably the fact that bands must contend with the weather outdoors. We bake at camp and we freeze by the end of the season, and we get rained on in between. Band directors, have a policy for camp about protecting your students' health. Insist that they cover their heads with a hat, etc. Most of the body's moisture escapes upward. Establish a policy for how often and how long water breaks occur and make sure that your instructional staff follow them. Establish a routine for physical warm-up and stretching - this is often a great activity to assign to student leaders. Under NO circumstances should you allow students to share water bottles of thermoses. Meningitis is not on your practice schedule. Have procedures for what students do and where they go in the event of a weather-related emergency (or any other emergency, for that matter).
Parents, make sure you send your band student to camp well prepared. They need to have at least a quart of water to drink, a hat to wear, proper athletic shoes that are not stretched out, athletic socks, support for weak ankles, knees, back, etc. and any medications for bee stings or other allergies. Make sure you communicate your students helath needs to your band staff.
2. Orient Your Staff And Student Leaders Before Camp Begins
Your teaching staff (if you are blessed enough to have one) and your student leaders need to already be functioning as an effective team before camp begins. Each needs to understand their role and how to report issues to the proper person in the chain of command. They also need to feel like a cohesive unit within the larger band organization. Be sure to delegate authority to them as much as you can so they have ownership of the program and are co-creating it with you.
3. Establish Routines
Have a daily schedule. Post it where everyone will see it when they arrive. Keep the weather in mind when planning segments. For example, 1:00 to 3:00 PM during the hottest part of the day would be the best time to break into sectionals under the trees. Remember that student retention and energy levels will be greatest just before noon and will be better maintained if you keep rehearsal segments to a maximum of two hours. Plan for an afternoon snack (provided by parent volunteers) around 3:00 before ending the day with ensemble rehearsal.
4. Build In Some Fun
Theme days at camp can be very fun and community-building. Pajama Day, Crazy Hat Day, and other activities can add some variety while you are blocking all that drill. Just be sure that the activities do not become a distraction or hamper students' physical movement. Group activities over the weekends in between camp weeks can be nice too. A pool party, visit to a local amusement park, night at the movies, etc. can give students time to bond with their new section members and give members of sections that don't rehearse together a chance to get to know one another.
5. Establish Goals
When working with groups of people of any size, but particularly groups with more than 10 members, it is important to have specific and measurable goals for each segment of your time together. Have specific goals for your staff, your student leaders, your sections, and your entire ensemble. Create goals for two-hour rehearsal segments, full camp days, camp weeks, and the end of camp. Revise goals as necessary as you work toward them.
There is (almost) no such thing as too much communication. It is possible to give too much information too soon, but if information is shared on a "need to know" basis far enough in advance and with enough repetition that all stakeholders get the message and respond, you will be saving yourself a lot of headaches. Remember, if you don't communicate what is happening and how things are going, your staff, students, and parents will come to their own conclusions based on their own perceptions. That can be disasterous.
7. Set The Tone For How Things Begin and End
Studies show that students retain more of what happens at the beginning of a segment and the end of a segment. Use that time to set the tone emotionally and energetically for how things will go from there. At the beginning of a segment, briefly share goals and provide models for the mindset of that segment. At the end of segments, briefly share what works and what didn't and release them to the next segment with a positive spin. These "huddles" or "pow wows" are some of your strongest "teachable moments" and a time when community is at its strongest. Give staff and students an opportunity to share an observation, but make the band director's word the final word.
8. Do Everything You Can To Get The Drill Blocked By The End Of Camp
As stated earlier, many band programs have as many hours of rehearsal during camp as they do for the entire rest of the fall season combined! Getting the drill blocked is arguably the most tedious and "un-fun" part of putting together a marching band show - it's time consuming, frustrating when trying to remember the sets, and you really don't feel a sense of "the show's getting better" until it's all on the field. Unless weather keeps you away from the field, shoot for having it all done with at least the musicians singing their parts by camp's end. So many times as a marching band adjudicator, I have seen bands not get their entire show on the field until the beginning of October. In many cases, directors have unrealistic notions of the experience level and capabilities of their group in this regard. "Not finishing" the show until a third of the season has gone by can be very demoralizing to your students.
9. Don't Forget About Your Family
Band directors are passionate about the activity, and their band members become a second family. Don't forget about your first family. They understand that this is important to you, but you neglect them at your own peril.
10. Don't Forget About Yourself
I once jumped right into a band camp after spending a two week vacation hiking and riding at a ranch in Wyoming. Going from the highlands of the Rockies to the hot, humid summer of Pennsylvania was too hard on my body. Add to that the fact that I did not leave myself enough preparation time before students arrived and the stress that created, and you have teaching a band camp through heat exhaustion. I had no choice but to push myself through it, as I did not have a reliable band staff to fall back on.
Prepare, pre-plan, delegate, pace yourself. Your students need you to be physically and mentally functional. Take some time to do something non-band related to give your mind and body a break.
Good luck to all marching band programs on your upcoming season. I look forward to seeing some of you on the competition field.
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