If you’ve been around the marching arts long enough, I’m sure you’ve seen them: stock marching band arrangements shoe-horned into field shows. While I appreciate the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of buying something off the rack of a big publisher, those savings would be well spent on stockpiles of Excedrin to help endure the headaches that come along with those arrangements. Particularly for the percussionists, these arrangements cause three or more months of frustration. Let’s dig into why you should shred the percussion parts (or maybe not purchase those arrangements to begin with?):
First – A question to ask yourself as a band director:
When you being to search out any content for band – marching, concert or otherwise – you generally look at some criteria. Is it listenable and entertaining? Does it fit the concept of my performance? Is it playable by my students?
Inevitably the next thing many directors will do is look at range, particularly in the trumpets. Directors – how often have you looked at the percussion parts to see if they’re playable or even make sense when deciding on purchasing stock arrangements?
It looks easy. It’s not.
Something many folks don’t understand is that space can be the enemy of young or inexperienced percussionists. Think of it like a seesaw (or “teeter-totter”…I think that’s an actual phrase I used to use). You can’t keep the even momentum when jimmy keeps jumping off of the opposite side. Bad marching band arrangements are chocked full of awkward space and syncopated rhythms, and particularly awkward when split in the bass line. What comes out is a smattering of staccato sounds in just-wrong-enough-to-sound-awful places and kids tripping over their feet.
Usually paired with poor (or no) instruction
You want a perfect storm for aggravation? Here’s the recipe – stock drum charts with the percussion instructor sitting in the box, if there is an instructor at all, with no metronome to help bind it all together. I’m convinced that’s why this type of ensembles are generally the ones that need two-hour lunch breaks just to maintain sanity.
Too often it’s the same bands that due to lack of budget, time, or ambition that buy these arrangements also do not provide adequate instruction for the percussion students. It’s nearly impossible to excel as a section when the students are asked to play instruments with wildly different approaches than they see in concert band are left to their own devices (think of running a guard that way!). On top of that, they are given drum parts that are deceptively difficult because of the awkwardness.
Here’s how that almost always plays out: “Hey Suzie! Just play eighth notes on the rim and 2 and 4 on the drum until I tell you to stop!”. Fixed, right? That doesn’t sounds like an enriching or enjoyable experience to me.
Difficult to memorize
Those arrangements are so repetitive. They’re so repetitive. They’re so repetitive. They’re so repetitive. They’re so repetitive. Where do I stop? That’s why your tenor player is asking that question.
Sometimes the instrument doesn’t even exist
I think this is my favorite one. Who has seen a set of “tri-toms” in the past four decades? I’m pretty old myself now, but come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen those in person. If the bass drum part says “melodic bass drums” in the top left corner, you have chosen the wrong arrangement. Also – are you going to choose how many bass drummers to field depending on the arrangement? It’s also just as laughable to dole out the one and only mallet part to all the keyboards. Yes – the “Bells” part. Even more ridiculous is when you compare the “Bells” part to the flute part and they are exactly the same. Why bother?
If one restriction or another requires the use of stock marching band arrangements, the best favor that can do for your percussion sections is to throw the parts directly into the shredder. If the director is unable to arrange those parts due to time, knowledge, etc, he/she would be best to find the right person who can. If budget is a concern, your local college music departments often have student who greatly excel in percussion instruction and arranging and may only be looking for a few dollars and some experience.
As always, feel free to call or contact us here at EPIC. We’d be happy to work out a creative solution to any of the challenges directors may face.