Marching in a new direction

By on November 19, 2014
This year, the Ephrata High School Marching Unit field show theme featured a Wizard of Oz/Mean Girls twist

This year, the Ephrata High School Marching Unit field show theme featured a Wizard of Oz/Mean Girls twist

There was a time in the not too distant past when much of the focus of local high school marching band units was preparing for competitions with other bands.
And in particular, there was a time when the competitive spirit between Ephrata High School and Cocalico High School was fierce.
Today, however, those competitive days are a thing of the past.
For the EHS marching band, this has been a watershed year: Not only is the first year since Steve Goss became director, it is also the first year for a number of changes. There is no longer a drum major. And no longer is competition prep a central theme.
Goss began his career with Ephrata High School in 1995 as assistant director, percussion instructor and arranger. He was in that role from 1995-2006. Since 1998 he has been teaching at the Ephrata Middle School, starting the middle school marching band as a way for students to explore marching band before the high school years.
“This was designed to help students make a quality decision about doing marching band when they go to high school” said Goss. “It has been very effective and other schools in the area have copied the idea.”
Kristie Ohlinger, chorus and general music teacher at EMS, assists Goss as visual designer and guard instructor.
“Kristie brings a ton of experience from her former years of teaching guard at Governor Mifflin,” explained Goss. He also credits her experience as an actor with EPAC helping to integrate theater with marching band in order to creatively help tell a story.
But by far the shift away from marching band competition is biggest change this year.
“The focus of not doing competitions is related more to the effort by all the member schools in the Lancaster County Marching Band Coalition to make marching band more accessible to our students by reducing the amount of rehearsal time,” said Goss. “To have a competitive program you need to rehearsal at least 15-20 hours a week.”
The shift has been well received by students and parents alike.
“Everyone is thrilled,” said Goss. “The students are enjoying a more obtainable schedule. And at the Showcases, the students from all the bands have time to socialize and connect with each other. All the bands support each other by cheering for them in the stands.”
In addition, the schedule is designed to be less intense. Instead of rehearsing 20 hours a week, rehearsals now account for only seven. Goss explained that this is designed to allow more time for schoolwork. Since many band students are high academic achievers taking honors and AP classes, they need time to complete the work during the week. The new schedule also gives students who are also playing sports, the time to participate in both activities.
“The showcases are really about the community of music rather than a competition,” shared Goss. “It is about sharing each school’s unique program and appreciating the performance rather than trying to beat someone. Art and music is about expression and excellence. It is really not about putting a quantitative number on an artist performance.”
Goss added that all the directors involved in the new coalition felt that the rubrics for competition band forced them into picking music and drills based on specific requirements rather than being able to design a show that is unique to their students abilities and their community .
As a result of the changes in all member schools, bands are seeing an increase in numbers due to the more user-friendly schedule.
“Students have more time for homework, sports and work,” said Goss. “It’s a win-win. In addition, the coalition placed a requirement restricting weekly practice to seven hours per week instead of the 18 to 20. This means as directors, we had to develop a show students could achieve with less rehearsal time.”
Goss stressed the importance behind the creation of the new coalition.
“This coalition was created to further strengthen the county’s music programs through cooperation among all the schools,” said Goss. “By not competing against each other, we can focus on using the resources we all have to create a better experience for our students. We are trying to be proactive in building music education at a time when budgets are tight and use the resources of our communities to the best of our ability.”
The change has also had the effect of saving travel costs. All showcases are in the county, held at local high schools. Goss pointed out that in some cases competitions required the band to travel up to two hours away to perform.
Cocalico High School director Robbie Trescavage explained that his school participates both in coalition showcases as well as competitive events.
In January, Trescavage will mark 12 years at CHS, having started in 2003. He is the director of the wind ensemble and jazz ensemble. Howard Boots is the co-director of symphonic band and serves as the assistant marching band director as well.
“We have not focused the marching band program entirely around competition for quite some time, however we do value the importance of getting quality feedback from judges/adjudicators,” explained Trescavage. “For this reason, we continue to participate in competitions and non-competitive events as long as our program can grow from the experience and judge/adjudicator comments.”
For CHS, participation in the coalition has been extremely positive. Trescavage said the shows have been fun for the students while the feedback received from the adjudicators has been constructive and helpful to keep improving their field show program.
“With competition comes rules, and the Coalition has tried to limit rules,” emphasized Trescavage. “This has allowed each band to present a unique field show that can entertain the audience in many different ways. I anticipate even more unique field shows in future years as each school’s design team starts to become more comfortable with the freedom from competition rules.”
Another key difference between EHS and CHS is that Cocalico continues to have a student conductor.
“Our student conductor, Emily Gehman not only conducts the field show, but is the coordinator of all our student leadership positions throughout the marching band,” noted Trescavage.
Gary P. Klinger welcomes your questions and feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com or via twitter at twitter.com/gpklinger.

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