Last weekend was Grand Nationals in Indianapolis. Great weekend, and more importantly, some truly great performances. Congratulations to all the bands at the show. In thinking back to the early 90s when I was marching in those shows, it’s pretty amazing to see how far the activity has come over the last 20 years.
Trends come and go, both visually and musically, but there is one trend that I’m hoping is on its way back. Melody. Let me explain.
It’s important to know the medium and the audience you are writing and performing for. Music and visual have to come together to make something special. It is always a little sad when you see a show that is played incredibly well but has little or no visual program to back it up. It’s equally disappointing to see a program that is visually fantastic but has poorly executed music backing it up. There are a number of factors that could play into it. Maybe the performing ensemble had a rough day, maybe the music book was too hard, or maybe the music book was just plain forgettable.
We sometimes joke about seeing a West Side Story show on the field and saying that there is a mandatory 10 point deduction. Sure it has been done to death, but there’s a reason for that: It’s damn good music. Melodies and chord progressions that will stay with you long after the performance is done.
It seemed to me that over the last few years, lots of bands were moving into the direction of shows that had music that is slightly minimalistic, highly rhythmic, and in the end, somewhat forgettable. Still, the performances were great. The performers were nailing the written book and doing it with incredible technique and sound. We would watch and listen to these shows, enjoy the performance, but as soon as the band was marching off the field, you couldn’t hum a single melody from the show that you just watched.
This year, a couple of programs brought out some older orchestral classics as part of their shows. I would suggest that the reason that those selections come back is because the music is just that good. I’m sure that in the 18th and 19th century that there was a high quantity of equally forgettable music too.
I’m not saying that all of it is bad. What I’m suggesting is that we as designers and directors can have both, not just one. We can have fantastic and thought provoking visual programs that are coupled with compelling melodies that will stay with the audience, the performers, and the judges long after we leave the field.
We can demand melody.