Parades are where many non-musicians will see a marching band. While it may look like all marching bands do is walk in lines in parades, the most exciting and entertaining part of seeing a marching band perform is during halftime.
Having special drill, playing music people will recognize, and taking the energy from the stands down onto the field is where the magic of marching band lies.
For some high schools and HBCU colleges, there is a specific type of halftime performance they will do, the Marching Band Field Show. These performances are high energy, fun, and the kind of entertainment that keeps people in their seats at halftime, or is why someone came to the game, just to see the Field Show.
Marching Band Field Shows are about pageantry, combining musical excellence with marching and maneuvering. Added to the mix is a tight drumline often doing tricks and a dance team that will perform during the Field Show on the football field with the band. Keep reading to learn more about Marching Band Field Shows and their uniqueness.
What is a Marching Band Field Show?
A Marching Band Field Show is a performance on a football field by a marching band, color guard, and dance team members. For high school marching bands, the term “Marching Band Field Show” may be used instead of “Halftime Show.”
Both terms are used to describe the same marching band performance. It just depends on where you live and what terminology your school uses. For Historically Black College and University (HBCU) marching bands, a Marching Band Field Show is an extreme form of halftime performance.
HBCU Marching Band Field Shows involve playing popular music for nine to twelve minutes, nonstop choreography for the band and drum majors, and complicated moving drill formations.
For HBCU schools, a battle of the bands competition or homecoming is when you will see their biggest and best field shows. These battle-of-the-band competitions bring in hundreds of thousands of audience members and feature the best marching bands in the country.
How is a Marching Band Field Show Different From a Parade Performance?
A Marching Band Field Show differs from a parade performance in many ways. A parade performance requires the band to stand in multiple straight lines, and the entire band follows a set parade route.
Parade performances will include the school’s fight song or a single song played numerous times during the parade. Sometimes a parade will end with a short performance by the band standing in concert arcs or the parade formation.
Note: It isn’t uncommon to see feature baton twirlers doing tricks as they walk along the parade route or dance teams doing short choreographed numbers to add some flair behind the drum majors.
On the other hand, a Marching Band Field Show takes place on a field. The band will play several different songs and move about the field to form patterns; the entire band will usually dance or will have precise choreography to perform as they march and play.
A Marching Band Field Show is about putting on a truly entertaining show, and the band is the center of the stadium’s attention.
The Elements of a Marching Band Field Show
The marching part is one of the essential elements of a Marching Band Field Show. A marching band must march, but in a Marching Band Field Show, the band will use stylized marching to add to the performance value. The stylized marching can involve things like sharply throwing your head back every time you cross a yard line (tassel plumes add to the effect of a head toss), unique high-stepping styles, and almost constant pass-throughs.
The second element of a Marching Band Field Show is the music. Without music, a marching band is just a bunch of people wearing the same outfit while moving around the field. The music drives the marching and is what audiences wait to hear. Marching Band Field Shows often will feature R&B and Rap music or Top 40 Charts.
The third element of a Marching Band Field Show is the choreography. Every aspect of a Marching Band Field Show is expertly choreographed, from marching style to full dance breaks, and even the drum major follows choreography.
The final element of a Marching Band Field Show is the visual effects. Tight drill or alternating pass-throughs are part of the visual effect. The drumline will often perform stick tricks or flourishes with cymbals. The choreography and visual effects go hand in hand and are a big part of the entire performance.
How are Marching Band Field Shows Structured?
The beginning of a Marching Band Field Show will typically feature the drum major or majors twirling their maces and dancing.
The band will often enter the field after the drum majors do a big backbend and touch the tips of their plumes or hats on the field. Then, like any halftime performance, the band will march and play two or three different songs.
The middle of a Marching Band Field Show features the dance team. The band will clear a large space in front of the 50-yard line and march in place or step side to side. The dancers will throw off the capes they have on covering their costumes and perform a high-energy performance with tricks like kicklines, jump-splits, multiple turns on one foot, etc. The dance team will perform for one song, then exit the field.
The end of a Marching Band Field Show will involve marching and playing one or two final songs. Full band dance breaks are often done towards the end of the show for one last crowd-pleasing moment.
Once the band has finished their final piece, they march off the field and either exit a stadium or stand along a back sideline while another band performs. Standing on the sideline is an opportunity to support and cheer on the members of other bands.
How is the Music for a Marching Band Field Show Selected and Arranged?
The music for a Marching Band Field Show is selected by the band director and may be songs that fit with a theme that the director also decides. When it comes to musical arrangements, there are usually two options the director will choose from; buying the arrangement or writing it themselves.
What gets played depends on whether the original artist has permitted a band to perform their songs and to arrange the song for a marching band. Some musicians’ will let bands use their music but place other restrictions like preventing the band from recording their song on a CD. Copyright and ownership law plays a large part in what a band can play.
The band director can also buy an arrangement created by a music company or from a hired arranger. You can purchase full shows online, and colleges lend or sell their show music to other colleges if they are permitted to distribute the charts.
Many songs in a Marching Band Field Show are radio hits that need to be arranged for marching bands. The director or arranger will listen to the song and write music for each section that, when played together, sounds like the song or incredibly similar to it.
Musical arrangement is an art form, and it is a challenging task, which is why bands will sometimes re-use music they have played in the past that they already have printed sheet music for. It saves time and allows a band to get new music more often.
How is the Choreography for a Marching Band Field Show Created and Taught to the Performers?
When it comes to the choreography, the band director may ask the band to make certain moves that they think look good. Not all directors can dance or do dance, so often, the auxiliary/majorette coach or the dance team coach will create choreography for the entire band.
For more complex choreography (more than nodding up and down or stylized marching moves), the majorette or dance team coach will then teach the whole band the choreography. This is done step by step, and the band will mimic the coach and string moves together to form a piece of choreography.
Once the band has been taught the choreography, the next step is to practice it over and over. When a band uses a lot of choreography, they will practice it at every practice. For those members who just “can’t figure it out,” sometimes there will be a dance class for these musicians that happens either before or after marching band practice occurs.
Note: Choreography is a large part of Marching Band Field Shows and can get the audience excited and increases the chances that the band will go viral.
How Does a Marching Band Prepare for a Field Show Performance?
A marching band prepares for a Field Show Performance by practicing the music, drill, choreography, and the entire nine to twelve-minute-long show. To build up the band’s stamina, the band will perform several times at practice during the week.
How are Marching Band Field Shows Typically Judged and Evaluated?
Marching Band Field Shows are judged and evaluated in two different ways. The first way is the same as any other marching band competition.
The band will perform before judges, who will give the band scores for marching and maneuvering, music, and general effect categories. The total scores from each category will be added together, and the band with the highest score out of 100 points will be named the winner.
The second way Marching Band Field Shows are judged and evaluated is by fan vote. At a battle of the bands competition, the bands who perform are often selected by votes online.
The six or so bands with the most votes will be the groups to perform. The Marching Band Field Show is an exhibition performance, there are no judges, or there are celebrity “judges” who make commentary on the performances.
Note: The Field Show is about entertainment and pageantry/showmanship. Sometimes at the end of the battle, the MC will ask the fans to cheer for whatever band they think is the best when they call the names over a microphone. The band with the loudest applause and cheers is the “winner.”
Some HBCU websites will set up polls for fans to vote on their favorite band/which performance was the best. These polls are primarily for bragging rights and are a fun way to engage the fans after the event has already ended.
Every band that participates in a battle of the bands is usually given money from event sponsors as either a grant or a donation for supporting the band program or contributing to the band’s scholarship fund if they have one.
These Marching Band Field Shows are taken very seriously, even if there is no first place or a winner’s trophy. Every performance is a competition between the band’s last performance and the one happening at that moment. Competing to be better than yourself is a massive motivator for Marching Band Field Show participants.
Notable Field Show Performances
Southern University Human Jukebox National Battle of the Bands 2022 Field Show
Alabama State University 2019 Halftime Field Show 2019
Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South Southern Heritage Classic 2021
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