Behind the Scenes: Dancing with Sousaphones…

There was a very interesting story in The New York Times that delved a bit behind the scenes of two marching bands: the Human Jukebox of Southern University and the Ohio State University Marching Band.


One of the things the article talked about how “the pageantry and power that a band exudes has inspired choreographers like Trisha Brown and Wally Cardona to feature marching bands in their work.”

“My favorite device is when the band dissolves one formation and assembles into a new one,” said choreographer Mark Morris in an e-mail message. “It is a miracle of shape-shifting. I love the scale. Such a huge amount of territory to occupy. So many people. And since they’re playing, they all face in the same direction.”

Mr. Morris, whose recent dance “Empire Garden” showcased costumes reminiscent of those worn by marchers, said he considered their form a choreographic one – along with color guard teams and parades.

The article goes on to detail what’s involved with getting prepared to perform. The practices are intense.

For example, one of the things Ohio State is known for is its “Script Ohio,” a drill created in 1936 that is as venerated as the Rockettes’ “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” The word “Ohio” is spelled in cursive as the band performs “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse,” and a sousaphone player – or a celebrity- dots the “i” with a flourish.

Of course, it is much harder than it looks.

“It’s not a follow the leader,” said Jonathan Waters, the assistant director of the Ohio State University Marching Band. “Everybody has to know how many steps to take through each part of the letter and what yard line to hit.”

“And if one person gets off, it will throw off everybody behind. Then there are the crossovers, the treacherous spots in the script’s loops where band members pass each other,” said John R. Woods, the veteran director of the Ohio State band. “We’ve had people lose teeth. It’s very tight. This one’s coming that way, and bang!”


The videos accompanying the article don’t do it justice. In fact, there should be a program — an hour or two — dedicated to the Best Marching Band routines. Let’s look at it on a big screen in HD!

For some HD fun, I recommend watching the movie “Drumline” from 2002.



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