Posts Tagged ‘mb cultures’

Those of us who are engaged in the fall edition of pageantry have been “at it” for a little over a month thus far. Each summer, as the start date for Band Camp creeps closer and closer, my level of apprehension is in direct proportion to the timeline: the closer we get the more apprehensive I get. It is a mix of anticipation, excitement, and primal terror!

This year was no different than any other except for a few personal reasons:

  • coming off a much needed sabbatical
  • fully recovered from a second hip replacement
  • finally getting on top of my health and feeling AWESOME

I started camp, however, the same way — apprehensive — but at least I was in a more positive frame of mind.

As camp progressed I did, however, notice a distinct difference between what I perceived the trajectory to be this year versus what it has been for the last…I don’t know so let’s say “number of years.” This could be directly related to my attitude and my approach or it could be something else or it could be a combination of many things. Regardless, something was different.

Rehearsals have been productive; only two performances in–with only one of them being the full show–and the energy is skyrocketing. Communication among the student leadership is topnotch–stronger and more proactive than previous years. In short, there just seems to be a whole lot of JOY out on the field, as well as OFF the field!

One of the reasons may be the inquisitiveness of the student leadership: they ask PROPER questions; they are engaged; they “do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether they want to do it or not, and without being asked.” They are not afraid to inquire about WHY of things in order to understand more–which brings me to the reason for this post.  I received an email from a student wanting to know why I felt this year was different when compared to last year. More specifically, the student still sees many, many mistakes that need to be corrected. To use the student’s own words:

 “I’m curious as to what you see from your point of view that we don’t. This has just puzzeled me as there is still so much room for improvement for this band.”

The student is, of course, correct!  It’s September 19th and we haven’t even scratched the surface with regard to cleaning. There is SO much to be done.

It is about perspective; it is about experience. It is not something I expect anyone IN the band to understand. When you are WITHIN the experience you cannot also stand OUTSIDE of it and “see” the “bigger picture.” If you could…the whole world would be a much different place!

If you place 100 senior band members in a room and ask them what was their favorite year, odds are in favor of over 98% of them saying “their freshman year.” Why? Simple–it was Christmas for them and nothing is better than Christmas! With that said, one of the hardest learning curves for anyone is to put Christmas away and begin the journey of moving quickly from stage 2 to stage 3.  <To understand these references click here.> Stage 3 is challenging for many reasons because the personal reward is indirect. Asking college students to push through their I/ME stage of development is HUGE! Many do extremely well, others can struggle. By simply asking the question, it is clear this student is on the way to stage 3–only a little push is required!

But I haven’t answered the question…or have I?

Every band is different. The minute you change one single thing, even if it is the EXACT SAME BAND with only ONE person not returning and no new people being added, the composition of the whole has changed! My dear friend George Parks, former director of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band, used to ask the rookie class “How many of you have seen the UMMB? How many of you want to be in THAT band?”  Virtually every hand would shoot up into the air…and then he dropped the most unexpected statement ever: “Well, you can’t be in that band. That band is GONE! But YOU will be part of making THIS year’s UMMB great!” Of course, no one in the rookie classes ever understood what he was trying to convey. To use my good friend Rob Hammerton’s words:

“Odd thing to say, if you want to rev up your troops on the eve of battle … but his point was: this year’s band is not last year’s. It’s not even the same as last year’s.”

It is best not to analyze the situation, merely to accept it. The 2016 UDMB is NOT better than other years, it is merely different. It is the differences that can make something seem more magical than something else. This does NOT mean other bands were LESS–for every band I have ever had the privilege of working with has been “the best” as far as I’m concerned–it merely means that the proverbial stars have aligned ever so slightly more and there is something intangible about the composition of the various elements that make this band seem to be “more special.”

Of course, it is still early in the season and anything can happen…but I have the feeling this group won’t need to be coaxed to the edge and won’t need to be pushed–they already know how to fly!

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

There was a man who once said, “I love watching lots of people doing great things.”  This man was correct as there is perhaps nothing more rewarding than a group of individuals working together toward a common goal.  In this case we are talking about over 400 people (330 in the UDMB and another 70+ volunteers–parents, friends, colleagues) working 3-4 hour shifts, doing a wide variety of jobs from ticket sales, program selling, tshirt pressing, moving high school bands around the athletic complex, greeting band directors, and setup / cleanup….all for one purpose: creating an experience OTHERS will remember for a lifetime.

The world we live in is one of selfishness. We are products of a society whose mantra is “What’s in it for me?”  This is an extraordinary narrow life view.  The humanity has been beaten out of us to such a degree that people no longer have the ability to communicate with another member of the species unless it is via an electronic device.  Social interaction is the newest phobia.  And yet yesterday I watched my students go out of their way for each other as they went beyond and above the call of duty for thousands of strangers.

26 high school bands were in our “house.” They came to us from as far north as Connecticut to as far south as Georgia.  They brought parents, friends, siblings, extended family members.  Community members from Newark, Delaware were there as well. Family and friends of the UDMB too.  Thousands of people passed through the gates of UD stadium and spent the day relishing the talents of over 3000 musicians and performers–who gave their all in the spirit of competition, education, and growth.

Bands of America came to UD for their Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship.  UD and the UDMB were their hosts.  The day began at 5:45 am and ended at 11:45 pm. The UDMB performed twice in exhibition–once at the conclusion of prelims and again at the conclusion of finals.  …and yes, the band grabbed the audience by the throat and said, “You will love us.”  …and they did.

I could write for pages about all the incredible moments woven within the fabric of those 18 hours but it is not necessary.  I will simply state in print what I said to the members of the UDMB last night at the conclusion of their last performance:

I have never been more proud of this band as I am today.

…there were, of course, many shenanigans taking place throughout the day as well…I leave you with an image of my transportation for the day. Decorations were courtesy of my professional staff….

Sarv's Ride

Sarv’s Ride

It’s here! It arrived faster than we ever wanted and now that it’s here folks are all SCARED TO DEATH!  That’s right, every marching band director across the country is shaking in their Dinkles right now because they looked at the calendar and saw “HALF WAY THROUGH THE SEASON” and they know that means only one thing: the band is going to stop improving and start sliding backwards. The worried thoughts have all started. The stress has begun to spill over. The anxiety is on the brink of explosion–if one more person asks ANYTHING of you there is a high probability of physical retaliation.

Well guess what folks, I’m calling bull***t on this.  That’s right.  Knock it off.  There is no such thing as the season midpoint meltdown…..unless you didn’t prepare properly during the off-season.  And frankly I don’t think many of people do.  And THAT is the REAL nightmare.

I have it easy compared to my colleagues teaching high school competitive marching bands.  I just bring out a second show. The band learns new music and new drill and voilà, instant “new” season.  Oh if it truly was that easy.  Mid terms, papers, projects, etc., all the outside pressures of other classes weigh down upon the students and their moods are nowhere near as excited nor are they as engaged as they were during band camp.  It’s getting cooler outside, darker earlier and earlier.  Band can quickly become a chore and one that can even be loathed.

Now is the time to CREATE fun.  For us it was the necessary break for normalcy and the annual event of the season: the Newark Halloween Parade.  Costumes are mandatory for band members, no exceptions. A wonderful break from reality, completely no stress, just lots of laughs, photo taking and of course, total awe at the creative ideas the members of the UDMB have!

So how do we keep smiling through the rest of the season?  I can only speak for myself but perhaps my thoughts will resonant with others in my position.

  1. Smile.  Smile and Laugh.  A Lot.  ENJOY THE PROCESS!  If you do, they will.
  2. Slow down. The band members are working harder than any other organization in the school, or at the very least, AS hard as other organization. If they are not improving slow it down and don’t try to fix everything during every rehearsal.  Step by step, inch by inch.
  3. Get off the tower and teach from the field.  Show the students exactly how you want something done as opposed to just blathering it over a Long Ranger in the hopes they can interpret what you are saying, what you are envisioning inside your brain.  Interact with them, give as many of the some personal attention as you can.
  4. Remember to experience the bigger picture – other bands.  So many directors and staff members get caught up in being the “best,” winning captions, bringing home trophies, etc.  I get it, don’t misunderstand me, but while it seems the right thing to do at this time–getting yourself all pumped up and out of control–when you don’t win those things the fall from grace happens fast.  And then the anger sets in. And what’s worse is that you cheated yourself AND your students out of valuable life experiences! Watch other bands. Enjoy the college exhibition bands. CHEER AND SUPPORT THE BANDS THAT BEAT YOU! That’s right.  So you lost, so what.  How about we cheer for the ones who beat us and perhaps learn from them?  How else do we, as individuals ever hope to improve unless we take the time to learn from those who are achieving what we are not?

It’s not about winning, or at least it shouldn’t be.  It’s about so much more than that.  Sure the kids want to win…so do we.  But down the road when you and they are older and wiser, the times you won will fade into the woodwork and you will remember the time you shared with people.  The bus trips, the jokes, the bus songs (Heaven forbid I ever post them here!), the crazy antics of each section (particularly the tubas), the absurd moments that are fixed in time like a snapshot. Oh you might remember who won in 1984 (those wretched Hawthorne Caballeros) but you will most likely recall and share stories about the tube trip down the Delaware River more often than what happened at finals that year.  (Those stories are for another type of blog but suffice it to say George Parks DID know how to swim even though his mother convinced Gige and I he did not….yes, the two lifeguards tried to save the “drowning” drum major….oh boy.)

So push hard to the end of the road gang but remember to enjoy the ride.  The ride is always more exciting than the destination when it is shared with friends.

And remember, smile.  As I said earlier on, NO exceptions to the mandatory costume rule.  (A sad note: the Fat Ballerina had to be retired…she no longer held her voluptuous form and sadly looked like a deflated cartoon character in need of much cosmetic surgery following gastric bypass!)

Just dressing the part I play every day.

Just dressing the part I play every day.

I learned a simple lesson a long time ago from my parents: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  I, like most people in society these days, struggle with this.  We like to complain–actually I believe we tend to relish it at times.  We “believe” it puts us on a higher level than the people causing what it is we are complaining about.  We are, of course, merely lowering ourselves to their level when we do this–the complete opposite of what it is we are hoping to accomplish.

I am not talking about ignoring situations that need to be addressed, nor am I saying that all complaining is inappropriate and we should just roll over and take whatever the world hands us.  I’m saying there are times to complain and times to simply stand up tall, smile knowing that you have a different set of standards that you are most proud of, and to perhaps, turn the other cheek.  Again, it all depends upon the situation.

I learned another lesson, along the same premise of the one my parents taught me, from my dearest friend who departed this world far too soon.  He taught me (and many others) to always have class in everything we do.  We may not understand everything about a certain situation and to act in a classless manner only exacerbates things. He taught me there are always two sides to every story; to take time to examine a situation from all angles; to remember that the actions of one represent the views of the whole.  (And for the most part to remember never to throw cheese cubes….but that’s a story for another day.)

Yesterday’s game against Del State was one for the record books.  A beautiful morning, a cloud covered afternoon rehearsal (how one gets the worst sunburn of their life during the overcast part of a day I will never know), and an early evening of what could have been sheer chaos–and was anything but!   Each day I wake up knowing I have the greatest job in the world–I have the PRIVILEGE to represent the UDMB as its director.  A group comprised of over 300 college students every fall that could get themselves into a world of trouble quicker than you blink.  A group of 18-22 year olds who are living the dream: four years to learn the first steps to what it takes to be an adult while simultaneously acting like a bunch of 6 year olds.  (Oh what I wouldn’t give to go back and be where they are again!)

At the conclusion of yesterday’s rehearsal I explained to the band what they needed to do if the stadium were to be evacuated.  I explained they exit the stands carefully, enter the basketball arena and sit in the stands to await further instructions.  Simple enough….one hopes.

Game day began—with the new location of the President’s Tent I am still working out a timeline that allows the band to play the Fight Song at various locations around the stadium grounds (patience fans, please). The band’s performance at the new Hospitality Village was strong (more bugs to work out with this new location too).  An unexpected interruption in the performance and a blocked exit location made for the band’s first challenge of the day–and they handled it magnanimously.  They finished their “gig,” listened to instructions and proudly went about resetting the block in another location.  Not  a single person said a word–THAT’S CLASS!

Halftime: DSU started their performance with the UDMB standing respectfully around the perimeter of the field as they always do during another band’s show, anticipating their first opportunity to be the best audience their guests have ever seen.  30 seconds later–EVACUATE THE STADIUM IMMEDIATELY.  I pointed to our drum majors and pointed to the arena.  They nodded, turned and instantly the band began to calmly exit the field/stadium and enter the arena.  I asked DSU’s band to follow them as they were unsure what to do next and it proved to be the perfect solution to their situation.

After 20 minutes, perhaps more, content that everything was taken care of with regard to student safety and equipment organization, I entered the arena myself.  I had no idea what I was going to find, and I expected to be confronted with all sorts of problems, negative reactions, and yes, chaos.  Why? Simple–the band was on their own inside the arena during a volleyball tournament along with a few thousand football fans while the staff and I were outside “securing the perimeter.”  But what I found was quite the opposite…..and it was at this moment I have never been more proud of any group I have ever had the PRIVILEGE to work FOR!

Remember, the instructions were simply to exit the field and go into the stands in the arena.  Nothing more.  I got to the top of the arena concourse, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened my eyes expecting to find band members everywhere…..and I didn’t.  I looked out into the arena and found the entire UDMB sitting in the center section of the arena cheering on Columbia University (they were in blue so it seemed appropriate) against Texas A&M. The band members were in FULL UNIFORM, shakos at their feet, instruments in their laps and all sitting together.  No one told them to do this; no one told them how to act; no one told them where to sit; no one told them anything expect to “go into the arena and sit in the stands.”

I could go on and on about the rest of the evening, the percussion concert in the lobby between volleyball matches, the volunteer brass players who cheered on the team in the pouring rain, the quiet departure of band members with parents or when the buses came to pick them up, etc.  But I do not believe it is necessary–you get the idea.

Class, dignity and respect—the pride of Delaware, the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band.  …not much more to say, just proud to be a Blue Hen.

photo courtesy of Chris McCauley Ohannessian

In a couple of days I will begin my 18th season as director of the UDMB, and the 25th band camp of my professional life will be underway.  25 times I will have stood in front of a group of “rookies” and teach them to say “HUT!” real loud; 25 times I will have listened to the first sounds of show music coming together; 25 times I will have stood on top of a metal platform baking my feet AND my brain while watching my students bring life to the dots on a piece of paper.

And for the 25th time as a band director I will cherish every drip of sweat, every sore and aching muscle, every late night drive home to face a lonely look from my dog.  I will cherish these things because it’s Band Camp—and I LOVE BAND CAMP!

Perhaps for some a statement like the one above is absurd.  If so, then they do not understand and most likely will never understand.  Band Camp is the equivalent of spring—a time when new life is born; a sense of excitement is in the air.  Our work is realized: drill and music begin to develop…for me watching a show I’ve written “come to life” is nothing short of miraculous.  Something one created on paper comes “alive” on a  football field.  And over time the “newborn” grows into a “mature being.”

Right…you think I’ve finally cracked up.  Quite the contrary.  Band Camp is the start of a new year for band directors–a chance to begin anew; a chance to work with lots of people doing great things.  And all these people (for me, over 330 this year) join together and begin the creation of an art form that puts music in motion.

In a few days I will begin my 25th band camp as a band director.  I will put in 20 hour days; I will be exhausted. I will laugh; I will cry.  I will watch my students find joy in achieving their daily goals; I will smile when my students cheer as they achieve each milestone along the way.  I will sweat with them outside on the turf, and I will freeze with them inside Loudis Recital Hall.  I will crawl into bed each night and drag myself out of it each morning.  I will abuse my prescription anti-inflammatory pills in order to be somewhat physically limber enough to keep up with my students during breaks of frisbee and football catches.  I will find joy in every wrong note played when it is played with commitment and gusto, and I will celebrate when my students “fix” the wrong note on their own.  At the end of the week I will watch my students perform all they learned and I will applaud them the entire time.

To my colleagues who share in the joys of this time of year–our smiles say it all.  To my colleagues who do not share these feelings…..perhaps a re-evaluation of your career is in order.  Band Directors should have their own type of Hippocratic Oath that includes “Do no harm.” For if WE, the band directors, are not “in it with them” from start to finish, we do harm.  For me it is simple:  when it becomes a JOB it is time to step away because all I am doing is hurting my students.

Band Camp–a period of time when committed band directors take on the world and the world cooperates.

As we head into our fifth home game of the season here at the University of Delaware I have mixed feelings about things.  They are personal yet they revolve around the profession I am so proud to be part of.  UD plays UMASS in football tomorrow and for the first time since the 1990’s the UMASS Minuteman Marching Band will not be in attendance.

WHAT?! you say.  It’s true.  And it’s not for any reason short of budget concerns.  The UDMB faced the same thing last year when we were unable to travel to the northland.  The economy is taking it’s toll on college marching bands all over the country.  The cost to move 300 people for just ONE day can be upwards of $15,000.  An overnight trip can run as high as $25,000.  Remember–you have to feed them too!  It’s expensive, period.

When I spoke with the new band director of the UMMB about coming down and learned that they would not be making the journey I have to admit to disappointment.  This was our sister band. George and I, Thom and Jim, Rah and Fred worked for years to cultivate the relationship between the programs–we would be the unique ones in the country: two college rival football programs whose bands were closer than siblings.  (Well OF COURSE the students would be–all the directors were!)  It did not take long for this relationship to not only develop, but THRIVE.  Let’s face it, have you ever heard of two other college marching bands, their parents and their alumni all traveling to Ireland to perform in two New Year’s events as ONE organization?!

I was looking forward to celebrating the UMASS departure from the FCS to Division 1.  I was looking forward to being host to my old friends Thom Hannum, Colin McNutt, John Leonard, and a host of others.  I was looking forward to showing the new director Tim Anderson our Delaware hospitality and wishing him well as he begins his journey down the road that George Parks left so abruptly.  So I was disappointed.

And yet after thinking about it I came to the conclusion that, once again, things happen for a reason.  In this case a very selfish reason.  The last time the UMMB was in our house was 2009.  The two groups joined together for a massed band performance of “America, the Beautiful” and “My Man.”  George and I got to enjoy being “kids” again–we were able to go back to the way we were when we first met in the Buccaneers:  George on the podium and me playing solo trumpet.  And for a brief moment in time, we WERE kids again.  The two staffs were arm in arm during “My Way” and “In My Life” as were  the two bands.  Swaying and singing together as ONE organization.  …and yes, the UMMB tubas “forked” the front lawn of my house with “UM hearts UD.”  And it was all good and it was as it should have been.

So my mixed feelings are between personal and professional.  My professional side would have liked to play host to my alma mater one last time; my personal side is content with the fact that the relationship between the programs ended as it was meant to in 2009.  And those memories will be cherished by all those who were part of our 16 year relationship–one that I do not believe exists anywhere else in the country.

Will the relationship continue?  That remains to be seen–perhaps yes, perhaps no.  Changes–they happen.

The Route 1 Rivalry has begun and with it a new relationship with a new college band: Del State. We have had bands come in and out of Delaware Stadium for years and the most important part for me is to get the students to appreciate each other’s efforts, and embrace each other’s differences. Del State fit right in line with all the other groups we have hosted,

Haltime was easy–we had chatted a few times prior to the game in order to make sure we had the timing correct so that there would be no concern about when one band as finished and the other would start. In fact, the timing was so tight we were about 30 seconds UNDER time–something almost unheard of! This is a credit to the DSU leadership!

There is no question that DSU knows how to entertain–they did a fantastic job and it was a treat to see the UDMB dancing on the sideline during their post game performance!

Here’s to the next part of the rivalry–a football rivalry but a band co-existence.

PS. The DSU band received a call in the middle of the UDMB post game performance that forced them to depart prior to our completion. This is not unusual and was completely understood by our band. We hope the fans understand they were not being disrespectful with the early exit.