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From The 13th Chair Trombone Player

Humorous and inspiring author DJ Corchin offers his unique observations about life in the world of marching bands.

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From The 13th Chair Trombone Player:
Gimme Some Props

By DJ Corchin
Posted April 20, 2010

(Deep Breath) As a beautifully groomed clydesdale named Strawberry Pachelbel trots across the 45 yard line harnessed to a laser lit '80s style dance platform supporting an electric flute trio, a sunglass-wearing keyboardist, and five sequins-vested masked colorguard members holding mirrored spheres (not to mention a freshman baritone player dressed in plaid following with a gigantic pooper scooper), a lone trumpet player places his instrument on the opposite goal line, climbs a 15-foot ladder built into a live tree painted gold, only to have his horn thrown up to him by a hydraulic catapult hidden in the grass. He raises his mouthpiece to his face in silence, building the suspense in slow motion. He takes a huge breath and lays out a high B flat for three tenths of a second...then cracks it.

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player Man I love marching band.

One of my favorite things to do at a marching band festival is to sit down and eat (of course) in a crowded area by the concession stand. Not only do I enjoy the taste of a store-bought hot dog and Skittles, but the rush of listening in on juicy conversations that happen near that little, noble parent-run eatery gives me a glimpse into the heads of true band fans.

One of the most repeated topics is about the use of props, sets, and tarps on the field. I hear, "Oh they won because of all the props they used" or "This is marching band not a theater!" It got me thinking about where I stand on this issue. On one hand, I am a huge fan of art evolving with the times and technology. (Like laser shows...I mean who doesn't love lasers?) On the other, I love traditions. (Like going to a baseball game with my brother and seeing how many brats we can eat before we actually get to our seat. My individual record is 4 brats, 1 nacho, and half a Pepsi. Just another thing I'm better at than my brother...sweet.)

There are some pretty amazing things being done on the field these days. The really funny part is that my description at the beginning of this column isn't that far off. I'm sure some of you have seen the "fire out of the tuba" routine on more than one occasion. Every time it makes me smile, then I cringe, then laugh because it reminds me of a tuba fart joke, then I imagine what burnt lips look like, then I feel bad for laughing at that, then I try to find the kid's parents to see what strange facial expressions they're making, then I laugh at that, then I pay attention to the rest of the show again...maybe.

The question I have to ask myself is, "Is it good?" I want to know if it's worth watching and listening. It reminds me of a side arm pitcher. Are you supposed to throw the ball that way? No, but if they strike the guy out then I'll watch all day. I don't like rules, but I love structure. I believe that each group sets its own structure for what it's trying to accomplish.

I've seen groups who go out on the field with absolutely nothing except their instruments and Drillmasters (an exaggeration of course, but it would be interesting to see what kind of general effect score they'd get). They kept my attention the entire time. They made a statement that they are going to do amazing movements and sound incredible. I've also seen groups literally use hammer and nail on the 50 yard line building a false floor that spans 20 yards. There were people on two-story structures, electronics, tarps, and funny costumes. They too had an engaging performance full of theatrics and emotional music. There was one common factor however. The kids could play. Marching band should always keep music and arts education at its roots.

As far as changing any rules for bands with a ton of props and those with none, I'm not for it. It's much more fun to see a show with competing styles. I picture a martial arts competition. Instead of seeing everyone do karate, I want to see some Flute Fu vs. Bonejitsu vs. Kickdrum Boxing. Now we got ourselves a show!

Regardless of style, it's about what the band has accomplished as a team. Is it good? Judge those merits. My high school band director was once invited to speak to our football team before a big game, both because he was a very motivating character and because of the consistency in quality the band had. He said to them that the game is a celebration of all the hard work you've done in practice. How true that is. I say...let 'em celebrate ;)

About the Author: DJ Corchin is author of the celebrated humorously inspiring book, Band Nerds Poetry From The 13th Chair Trombone Player. He was a featured performer in the first national Broadway tour of the Tony and Emmy award winning show, BLAST! where he was best known as the "unicycling trombonist." A pop recording artist out of Chicago and former high school band director, he continues to be involved in marching bands and music education through speaking events, competitions, and organizations such as Music for All. He will be publishing two more books and releasing a new album in 2010. Mr. Corchin welcomes your comments via email. Mr. Corchin is an independent contributor so his views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of

Text by DJ Corchin. Trombone illustration by Dan Dougherty.

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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