Building a better mousetrap


Very few would invest the time, energy and resources required to do something that has already been done well. Reinvent the wheel. Build a better mousetrap. Write a marching band field show. Wait! Surely there is still room for creativity and originality in the vast arena of field shows. Indeed, as long as there is music to be played, there is opportunity for individual expression. But how does a director find that new sound or write a wildly fresh and creative drill year after year?

Show creation and drill design can be drawn from at least three sources. A director may write his/her own show, (and financially subsidize Starbucks with the amount of coffee consumed in the late night hours of summer vacation as he/she attempts to sound the depths of their creative reservoir). A director may hire others with specialized skills and expertise to put together the project for his/her organization. Finally, a director may obtain a pre-designed show which allows him/her to use the product "as is" or tailor it according to his/her own ability and whatever resources that may be available.

Coming up with new and fresh ideas can be exciting for many directors and often proves to be a powerful incentive for writing a show. Because of declining budgets and reduced staff, writing your own drill is now a common choice for its financial benefits. With this decision also comes the inherent ability to determine your end product. You hold the reigns to the design, direction and just about every other aspect of your production.

What could be the downside? Writing a show is no easy task. The time, energy, and focus needed to transfer an idea from the visionary screen in your mind to the marching field takes knowledge, patience and a significant degree of expertise. Most of us do not have the concentrated time to focus on this with all the other issues of life clamoring for attention. Even someone with the time, creativity and talent must look for inspiration from others or incorporate a new approach from time to time to keep the active juices flowing.

This is when others may be called upon to assist with the creation of a field show. Help may range from one or two assistants at band camp all the way to hiring music arrangers and drill writers to put it together. Incorporating the expertise of others often raises the bar and allows for the production of a better show, while still providing the director with some creative control. This option also paves the way for a unique product and one-of-a-kind presentation.

Though a team of creative and knowledgeable people may take you "over the top" with a wide array of possibilities, you must also realize you may be at the mercy of these individuals. They may not always have the credentials or experience you anticipate. They may not follow through and meet your timeline or quality expectations. They also will be much more expensive than any other option available. In addition, a number of legal and technical requirements, such as copyright permissions, may still be an issue. Though the dangers and price of a "one man show" are significant, delegating the design and production of your show to others may not always bring optimally desired results either.

Is there another option? Purchasing a pre-designed show may be the ultimate choice for those directors feeling constrained by their own limitations of time, money and ability. Even those who might have the resources to incorporate the talents of others often find a pre-designed show to be a terrific launching pad for a unique and exciting show. A pre-designed field show is relatively inexpensive and includes all the necessary ingredients for a cohesive and workable presentation. If a well-researched and solid product is selected, the director can relax in the confidence that he has a quality, proven show to present to his organization and audience.

As a launching pad or template, the possibilities of all that can be added to, subtracted from and enhanced in the purchased product are endless. Think of the music as the foundation of the building and the drill as the framework. Though the show would be structurally sound and may be performed successfully "as is," the addition of other elements such as color and decorative treatments are what make the structure unique. The range of possibilities is limited only by the time, money and talent available.

Still, the pre-designed product may restrict the appearance, flow and content of a show. Musical arrangements do not always take into consideration a special instrumentation or star musician. The drill may need to be adapted to your exact requirements. This lack of control over content and design may be overshadowed by the financial and time-saving benefits inherent in a pre-designed show. No longer do you get to band camp worn out from all-night sessions of writing drills. No longer do you have to wonder how many collisions will occur on the field between the trombonists and flutists or when the next section of drill will arrive from the designer. In this case, peace of mind is wonderful and valuable.

A director's priority is teaching and imparting the knowledge, art and passion of music. Time and energy spent on the "other stuff" must enhance and contribute to this learning process or be eliminated as a distraction and detriment to the ultimate goal. Field show preparation is no exception. Choose the option that best serves your priorities, personnel and resources. Finding a workable balance will keep you from going around the mountain again or reinventing the wheel.