What do New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Thanksgiving Day in New York, and summer days at Disneyland all have in common? Parades! While millions of people around the country have the day off from work or school, thousands of band members are working harder than ever before. If asked, most marching band members admit that parades can be difficult, and preparing for them properly is key. Not only are bands judged on the difficulty of music and the accuracy of marching, but also on the overall neatness or appearance of the group. Whether they’re freezing in the cold, sweating in the heat, or simply tired of marching, keeping a smile on the faces of your band is crucial. From understanding the step style to looking great in the uniform, here are a few ways to prep your band for a parade.
Unify the Step
Whether your band uses the glide step, an old-school high step, or something in between, make sure each student understands the step well enough that they can accurately describe it to another student. Older students should model it for younger students, and younger students should model it for each other. Because, let’s be honest, if your band isn’t unified in their stride the judges will notice right away. Along with marching style, you should take the time to standardize the way your band stands and holds their instruments. If one saxophonist holds their instrument further up in the air than all the others, the band will appear sloppy- even to those who know nothing about music. At the end of the day, people (and the judges) want to see the members keep their heads up, their shoulders back, and their feet picked up.
Presentation is Key
Before judges will ever hear your band, they’ll see them lined up waiting to enter the judging area. Even though they aren’t technically supposed to be judging at this point in the competition, they more than likely already are. It’s important that everyone has the same look, from their shoes to the tops of their heads. If band members aren’t wearing their uniform with pride from the second they step off the bus to the second they step back on it to go home, then the entire group will suffer. To maintain the appropriate look throughout the parade, entrust certain band members to inspect the others. Although each parade has different rules on how a band should present themselves, most parades ban jewelry, prefer minimal makeup, and even have restrictions on the type of straps and accessories your students are allowed to use on their instruments.
Dress for Comfort (If Possible)
Depending on the parade your band is marching in, your band members may be able to dress for comfort instead of for looks. In an extremely casual parade (meaning one where no uniform is required), encourage your students to wear loose-fitting, light clothing that won’t weigh them down and the sturdiest shoes they own. If your students are marching in a major parade that will be judged and televised, this obviously isn’t an option. In such a case, instruct your band members to wear thick socks that will cushion their feet. If they don’t already have insoles in their shoes, ask them to purchase some right away. Check the rules for whichever parade you’re marching in, as items like sunglasses may be permitted.
Prepare Your Band Physically
Parades last much longer than typical performances, which means your band will need extra endurance. Building your band’s endurance is a responsibility shared among band directors, band members, and parents. Encourage your students to start with 20 minute walks outside, in whatever temperatures they’ll be marching in; i.e., if the parade is in New York in the middle of winter, they should take walks in the early morning when temperatures are cooler, but if the parade is in California in the middle of summer, they should take walks at high noon. They should gradually increase the time until they’re walking nearly as long (and as far) as the parade will take them. Limber up your students with the appropriate stretches, warm-ups, and cool downs after practice and increase the severity of their routines gradually. Not only will this tone their muscles and increase their strength, but it’ll also help reduce aches, pains, and fatigue from long practices.
Last but not least, keep your band members hydrated and healthy. Remind them to eat well and exercise in the days leading up the parade, and to stay as hydrated as possible. Encourage them to drink lots of water the day before and the morning of the parade and, if possible/if allowed, keep a bottle of water somewhere in their uniform or wear a water backpack. Finally, they should get plenty of rest in the days leading up to the parade. Other helpful tips include avoiding dairy products right before a parade, as they can make certain individuals sick if they’re out in the sun for a long period of time, maintaining a positive attitude, paying attention to the person in front of them, and, most of all, remembering to have fun!
Interested in taking part in a parade? Check out Five Awesome Parades for High School Marching Bands. While you’re at it, check out some of our favorite ways to Prepare Your Students for Marching Band.