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Dear Band Director, an open letter from your Guard Instructor

Dear Band Directors,

We know you have a lot on your plate, and you want your band to be incredible. You've seen every single BOA and DCI show and you just know that there are some elements that you can incorporate into your high school band that would be simple and ramp up your scores at your next competition. However, often the role of the color guard is not always well understood in these situations. Yes, a simple step out, bend at the knees, and lean to the side is easy for your band, to add, but what I'm talking about is changing the music, changing the drill, and expecting the color guard to have brand new choreography for a new show every single week.

My first disclaimer is that I know that not all of these points are going to apply to all color guards everywhere in the world. Some are able to surpass all expectation and simply be incredible on every level for every second of every day. Awesome, applause for them because they are who we all aspire to be. This post is about the rest of us.

First of all, often band directors equate writing color guard choreography to be as simple as writing body visuals for the band. This needs to stop. Writing color guard choreography needs to be equated more to writing the actual music for the band members to play. Sure, we can toss in an extra sixteen counts if we need to elongate a hold or make more of an impact statement, but if you want to bring a whole new song to the field in a week, you need to realize that the color guard choreography is going to be written as if they are writing an entirely original piece of music. Most people cannot just pull up color guard choreography on the J.W. Pepper site and hand it out to all of the guard members and say "learn this" and go on with their day. They have to listen to the music, look at the drill, and write the choreography to fit the piece.

Secondly, and this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine, your guard needs to be instructed in their basics before they can learn complex choreography. And in case you didn't understand the first time; THE GUARD NEEDS TO LEARN THEIR BASICS!!! Show of hands, how many band directors have ever thrown a student into the marching band who had never memorized a fingering, played a scale, mastered a playing test, and/or learned the special technique that is necessary to make all of the marching look uniform? Nobody? Really? Then why do you expect to have a good color guard when you have students show up, learn the choreography for an entire 4-minute show in one day, and have never even spun a flag before? Can it be done? You bet it can and I see it all the time. But it's overall damaging to your program because those students have no basis, no foundational skills that allow them to understand the physics of the activity and apply that to all choreography. Your guard instructor probably spends hours upon hours simply trying to get them to clean a simple move involving drop spins with body because your guard never learned the fundamentals of a drop spin. A well-trained guard is faster at learning new choreography and faster at getting it to go around together cleanly than a guard who only learns their show choreography each year.

Finally, please respect your guard staff as professionals. I have been hired to help improve dozens of guard programs over the years, and some of the least successful ones were due to the band director looking down on the guard instructor rather than seeing them as a valuable member of the staff. The guard instructor should be involved in your major visual decisions, or at least informed of them well in advance if not allowed to help make those decisions. They should also be respected on the field in front of the students. Please don't refer to your instructors as being "emotional" or "dramatic" because the students will pick up on that as well and begin to disrespect them too. All students, not only the guard members, need to respect the guard instructor as an adult member of the teaching staff.

I hope this can be helpful to those of you who are stuck in a rut with your program due to misunderstanding of the position of the guard instructor by the band director. Or misunderstanding of the skills that the guard needs in order to be successful in your trade. Good skill to all of you out there!

<3 Jackie

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