Holy Drill: Why One Draft of Drill May Not Be Enough

Let’s explore an hypothetical scenario.

It’s early September. You finally got the end of the closer on the field. Music has been memorized and your students can (just barely) perform the show, visually and musically, from top to bottom. Satisfied with their efforts, you dismiss them at the end of practice, lock up the band room, and head home. Once you’re there, you decide to check your work email one more time before heading to bed. One new email pops up from a band parent.

“Dear Director:
I’m emailing to inform you that I’ve received a job transfer to Quebec. I start next week, and so unfortunately I’ll have to pull my kids Johnny, Sarah, Trevor, and Timmy from school, and from the band.”

Johnny is your lead trumpet player, Sarah is a 2nd clarinet player, Trevor is marching Sousaphone, and Timmy is a freshman bass drummer (it’s a very musical family.) That means you’re about to have four holes in your newly set drill. There’s probably nothing you can do before your first competition, but what will you do next Monday? There are two choices:

  • Leave the holes in the drill, or
  • Rewrite the drill.

Option 1:

Let’s say your first big impact in the opener of your show ended in more or less of a square, with cover downs to the front and diagonals. You now have three holes in various positions of this set, and one gaping hole in the battery that essentially divides your drumline into two drumlines. Now let’s move to the end of the show, which ends in a company front. Now, instead of one long line of performers, you have four lines of various sizes broken up by three holes throughout.

Even the kindest of judges couldn’t ignore the detriment these holes imposes on your overall general effect. The students next to these holes now look like they may have made a mistake, failing to split the difference between the two marchers next to them. Does an individual judge mark them for it, not realizing the real life situation that put them in the mess to begin with? Maybe, but maybe not.

At the end of the day, if you don’t address these holes, you risk taking a hit in both visual and general effect scores, ultimately effecting the hard work put in by the rest of your marching band.

So leaving the holes in the drill is not so desirable. Let’s explore option 2, filling these holes.

Filling the holes in the cover down box in the opener is tricky. After all, you have three holes in vastly different places along the form. Do you try to scooch over the people around the holes to hide it? That will ruin your cover downs, which is another red flag for any visual judge. So let’s say you try to shift every other marcher over so that the holes are moved to the back and less noticeable. This may involve changing drill for more than half of the remaining marchers. This brings about obvious questions about marchers travelling to and from this set. How were their paths affected? Will the change stick with the 7th grader you’ve drafted to fill that last minute saxophone spot?

Don’t forget, in addition to worrying about these rewrites, you’ve also got a full time job teaching and running the marching band, concert band, and other classes. And of course you have all of your other administration duties around the school like lunch monitoring and home room.

So what’s your move?

The best way to handle this hypothetical, yet often all too real situation, is to make sure that you’ve hired a drill writer who offers free rewrites in the event of sudden personnel changes. Let him or her figure out the paths to and from the most heavily affected sets. Let them use their experience to determine the best way to patch up all of the most important sets. Instead, focus on remaining calm and leading your band to the end of the season no matter what sort of setbacks occur.

Just like you teach your students, preparation will lead to success, so prepare your marching band’s visual program by hiring an experienced and dedicated drill writer this Spring or Summer. You’ll be glad that you did. And so will all of the trumpets who marched near Johnny during that company front.

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