What Is Marching Band Really Like?

Marching band is harder than any other sport you could imagine.
Image source: exploreminnesota

Marching band has a bad rap as being nerdy and lame, but if you knew what a real marching band is, then you might think otherwise. 

Most marching bands across the country simply march down the street straight down and play music, but Minnesota is different. Minnesota does street shows. There's a drill, which means moving around to other spots around the road rather than simply marching straight forward, and of course, there's music. 

The marching band in Minnesota is competitive, the competitions starting in June and ending in early July. Bands are judged on their marching, music execution, color guard performance, and drumline. Fun fact: if you're marching and a judge is in your way, you just keep going, run right into them.

The competition season was intense, to say the least. With parades every weekend, sometimes two in one day, it was easy to get worn out. Parades, however, were the best part of the season. No matter how hot or tired you were from just marching in big uniforms in 100-degree weather, you had fun. 

Most schools or marching groups will have band camp, an intense training/practice session that lasts a couple of days. At my high school, our band camps were three nights and four days. We would rehearse for up to 13 hours a day in the scorching sun on the hot black tar of the parking lot. Do any other sports practice that much or that hard? Outside of band camp, rehearsals usually lasted three to six hours, depending on whether it was the weekend or not. 

The wind section, or the section that plays instruments requiring blowing air through them, makes up most of the band (literally everyone except the drumline and color guard). In my band, the winds usually had it the toughest. They had a lot of complicated drills, they had complex music, and they were expected to be perfect no matter what. Our wind section, however, was terrific. Our band director really knew how to whip them into shape. In pretty much every competition, we won the best music execution. 

My sister performing in a parade

My sister played flute in the marching band, and she was very good. She was an excellent marcher too, she was first right, which meant everyone looked to her for their drill spots. For the drill, you guide to your right, which means you look to the person to your right, and you line up with them (when you're marching straight). 

Me rehearsing before a parade

I was in drumline (the coolest section, in my opinion). Drumline consists of either three or four different types of drums. There's a snare, tenors/quads, bass, and sometimes bands have tom drums. Some bands will also have cymbal lines, but our crew wasn't big enough for that. I don't really mind, though, because I'm not the biggest fan of cymbal lines. Our drumline was good, but we weren't anything special. We rarely won the best drumline, and when we did, we were all so stoked.  

My twin sister performing in a parade

My other sister was in color guard (yeah, each section had an Inserra). She was the best dancer out of all of them, and she'd get solos in every single show (no lie). Color guard is the section with the flags and props that dance around the street while the band marches and plays. Our color guard was phenomenal. They won best color guard at every single parade (again, no lie). They had it pretty hard, too; their instructor was rigorous, but he was incredibly talented too, that's why they won every competition. 

Each part of the marching band is equally important and equally demanding in its own ways. Without a drumline, you wouldn't have tempo or a backbeat; without the winds, you wouldn't have any music, and without the color guard, you wouldn't have a show. 

I think that marching band is an incredibly underrated sport (and yes, I said "sport"). It takes loads of hard work and lots and lots of time to put on a good show. 

I implore you to watch at least part of the video below to see what a real marching band is. This is my school's 2019 performance titled "Happy Camper." We won the state championship with this show. 

Similar to marching band, there is something called field marching. It's basically a parade marching band performing on a football field. 

These groups are full of professional players who dedicate so much time and effort to their shows. They put on a five to seven-minute show that consists of three movements; an opener, a ballad, and a closer. 

Field marching only consists of brass instruments which means there are no woodwinds. Woodwinds include flute, clarinet, and saxophone. These bands also have a drumline, a color guard, and a pit. The pit, or the front ensemble, is the group of instruments that don't move. They're set up in the front and they consist of marimbas, vibraphones, bells, timpani, drumset, and other auxiliary instruments. Sometimes the front ensembles will even have a guitar or a bass guitar. 

One of my favorite DCI shows (DCI stands for drum corps international) is titled Jagged Line performed by the Bluecoats who is also my favorite DCI group. Their drumline is phenomenal!

Again, I urge you to watch this video or at least part of this video of the 2017 show Jagged Line. 

Nonbinary creative writer who wants to change the world.

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