Dear Band Director…

shelba waldronMarching Band, Training and the Technician

An open letter to all of the band directors out there from you guard staff. 

Dear Band Director,

I am your guard instructor. I want to tell you a little about myself. First I want to say that with me, you have hired a professional. I was unable in college to major in color guard like your percussion instructor or woodwinds section leader. For my education, I had to start learning my craft in high school and then carry that into different realms of development through winter guard, drum corps, and even dance and acting classes. I may have a degree in education, psychology, or engineering, but I don’t have a degree in color guard. This however, does not make me less intelligent, less educated, or less knowledgeable about the section you have hired me for.

I know that you have hired a drill writer. You might have even hired a designer or program coordinator to help you build your program to a level of excellence, that is competitive on the national music stage. I want you to know though, I am also a designer. I have ideas about what show should be chosen and how that show should be staged. I have ideas as to what equipment should be used and where. I can also fix the drill if we find it isn’t working. You know what else I can do? I understand music. I can read it and my sensitivity to musicality allows me to create moments of beauty we call art.

I am a coach of young women and men. In the way I talk to them and coach them, can make or break their self-esteem, body image, and absolute enjoyment for their future in the activity we both love. It can even make or break your program. I can hinder and stall the success of your bands name just by my decision to NOT make your program a priority. What I have to know to make your color guard successful ranges from the mechanics of body conditioning, dance, equipment fundamentals, performance techniques, judging score sheets, an understanding of staging, components of colors and even the building of props. My very expertise can impact your General Effect, Design Analysis, Guard Caption, and sometimes even your music caption if just one judge decides to venture out of said caption. I am a professional.

I know that you have spent a lot of money hiring drill writers, music arrangers, and consultants that come to your band class and teach the nuances of music. You hired me, too. You want me to teach a daily class. You want me to stay up late at night designing costumes and then ordering those costumes to precise measurements, that will allow beauty to flow from the performers bodies just by the very essence of the way they stand on the field. You desire to hear, “…and in first place for color guard is…your guard.” With that first place score will most likely come with high marks in general effect and ensemble analysis.

When the design company you hired has been paid their final check and your music consultants have flown back home…I will still be here. In fact, I will most likely be planning for the winter season on top of the planning for the fall marching band season. One thing I realize in color guard, is that we as an activity have failed in the promotion and advocacy of the training of proper conditioning, certified dance teachers, and even certified technicians specializing in the use of equipment. I know that you realize that there are guard instructors out there who have failed in keeping with their end of the bargain. They used the activity as a stepping stone to their ego. Some have even been fired for misconduct with students. Some are in jail. Some have been caught stealing funds from the guard itself. We know this happens. It also happens on your side as well. Our activity is fraught with issues of accountability. This however, does not make us all unprofessional and uneducated. I am not a neophyte to this activity, nor am I corrupt. I have honed a skill that is unmatched by the sheer way I’ve learned to lead young women into excellence beyond the pageantry arts. I am building the performers to be leaders of the nation they are about to inherit. Am I worth the money, when we take into account the absurd responsibility you have handed me night after night after night?

This is what I ask in return. I ask that you respect my work as much as you respect the work of the design company you hired for $10,000 that raped the till of finances for your day to day guard staff. Without proper pay, I cannot dedicate my time fully to your program, as I have bills to pay as well. So I will have to split my time, find a full time job, or just simply fit you in when I can. That is not what I want to do. I want to build a program and not just call it mine, but call it ours. To do that, you have to trust me. You need to include me in the design side of the program and not just hand me drill charts and say, “Here…write.” I would like to be included in the pre-season…very pre-season discussions on show concept. I’m not an afterthought. I should be the first thought. You see, in this activity and in many, many programs, the design of the show and who should design that show comes first and those that will be around to bring that show to life comes second. I need you to reverse your thinking. One…this will cause you less stress. If you put the correct day to day staff in place…people you trust…people who are professionals and who can grow your program together, then the design will come easy. Programmatic issues will be handled in house and with less stress. It’s easy to write a check. It’s a lot harder to build a team and a team is what will make your program successful in the end.

There are no quick fixes and easy answers. To build a program takes dedication and decades. When your day to day guard staff is a second thought or the bastard child in your mind, then we will leave and move on. Your band will become just money to us. The reality is that you can hire the best names in the country to design your show and arrange your music, but without me…that great design becomes average and forgetful. Your first thought should have been, “Who will train my color guard to be the finest in the nation?” You would expect nothing less from yourself as a band director in front of young musicians, so why would you expect less and pay less and communicate less and trust less of your guard staff…We who are your day to day staff. We are the people who are in front of your guard, mostly young women, and the kids that are trusting you to bring in the best, as they stand with a flag in their hand waiting to hear the words, “…and 5,6,5,6,7,8.”

We must not forget that with the very way I add nuance to effort changes in let’s say the slight tilt of the head, in a moment when that one note, from that one soloist is heard off in the distance; I could make an audience weep. I can make them laugh by the way I train for performance. I can bring your show to life. I do bring your show to life! So I ask you to consider all of this as the nation begins band camp and the start of the fall season. Who is more valuable to building the name of your program that the community will cheer for as your band loads the buses to some far off show to earn trophies to be shown on the local news? Who is there sweating and laughing and crying with your students? Is it your day to day staff or the far away designer who posts pictures of their feet by the pool, while they write your drill and calling the kids in your band…dots?

Never forget that we know the names of every kid and they are more than just dots to us.