Returning students to the Bands of America Drum Major Institute put their leadership skills to the test today with a new challenge: The Marble Exercise. In addition to conducting and score study classes at the Symposium, drum major participants build and improve leadership qualities important to marching band leaders. Teambuilding exercises that expose leaders and move them outside their comfort zone are important in ensuring that drum majors can lead and empower in almost any situation.
In a group of 20, students received a piece of paper folded in half and one marble, which they were required to roll from one point, 25 feet out and around back to the original point using only the folded sheets of paper. Group members lined up their folded paper and attempted to move the marble down the line. After the marble passed through their paper, the participant would then have to move to the end of the line, helping the marble advance further. At first, the marble moved very quickly, students were unable to react in time and the marble fell soon after. Participants then realized that they would need to carefully control the pace of the marble, especially when it reached a curve in the track.
Throughout the exercise, some students because visibly frustrated, while others keep encouraging and supporting others. Many had simple phrases to help their fellow participants remember tactics they had agreed on, such as “Stay with your partner,” or “Keep your shoulders out.” After several tries and some discussion, the group was able to successfully roll the marble through the entire track. While many cheered at the distance they achieved, several even wanted to go further and keep improving.
Like the brick exercise and other leadership activities that the drum majors participate in, the Marble Exercise is applicable to their own program. The marble, like their band, does not stop rolling. Leadership must utilize control, make adjustments along the way and communicate constantly to ensure that the ensemble does not falter and fall. When the marble fell and the participants failed, they had to get up and try again, and keep encouraging the others in their group. While applicable to a lot in life, the nonstop rolling reflects the fast-paced nature of marching band. From band camp to daily rehearsals to competitions, you cannot allow yourself or fellow members fall off the wagon. If so, they’ll not only be behind, but also be discouraged.
“When you go back to your own program, I charge you to find a way to make a flame,” said DMI faculty member Kim Shuttlesworth. Drum majors must empower their band members to be passionate about the ensemble. They must create a supporting family environment, where students can be honest, caring and respectful of each other. Just one of many exercises throughout the week, the Marble Exercise helped students realize the importance of group encouragement and teamwork in a larger group. At the end of the day, the marble keeps rolling, and you must adjust.
While conducting is an important part of the Bands of America Drum Major Institute at Summer Symposium, leadership training is key to the DMI curriculum. Each day, the DMI Faculty empowers campers to become effective leaders of their own band through varying lessons and exercises. I was intrigued by one of these exercises outside Pruis Hall and decided to stick around to watch our young leaders at work.
James Stephens, DMI Faculty member and Associate Director of Bands at Broken Arrow High School, created the exercise "The Brick Game" and presented it to the drum majors with fellow faculty member Kim Shuttlesworth, Director of Bands at James Bowie High School and former drum major of the University of Texas at Austin "Showband of the Southwest."
The challenge: Each group of approximately 15 students is provided 10 bricks in order to travel a path of 20 feet without touching the ground. All of the bricks start on one side, and one member must be touching each brick at all times until they cross the path. If any group member touches the ground or leaves a brick unattended, they must start over. Groups are given a couple minutes to devise a plan; however, they cannot speak during the exercise. Although nonverbal communication is key in "The Brick Game," there are many more attributes of effective leaderership required to be successful in this exercise.
Many groups first attempted to cross the bricks individually without assistance; however, many fell or left bricks unattended. Quickly, members began to use each other for support and assistance. An active awareness of each other and their surroundings proved valuable to the groups. Patience was one of the most important attributes for the "The Brick Game." The group I watched required several tries before reaching the goal. While it was easy to become frustrated after a failed attempt, patience and perseverance prevailed.
Unlike most leadership exercises where the difficulty lies in finding the solution, the difficulty in this exercise was completing the exercise once the solution is found. Very quickly, groups had successful plans to get across the path; however, executing the plan proved very difficult and required that each member commit to the plan. The success of the group falls on every single member, not just one leader. Just like in an ensemble or on the field, the weak link was easily visible. Positive reinforcement and support helped the entire group achieve the challenge.
In the end, only two of nine groups were successful. It took participants nearly 30 minutes to get the entire group across the path. Once one group was successful, I was surprised at the reaction—they clapped and celebrated for themselves politely, but quickly stopped to encourage the other groups. While friendly competition served as the initial motivation, the drum majors remained committed to each other. The unsuccessful groups did not seem too discouraged, as they recognized the leadership skills learned during the exercise.
The Drum Major Institute's core teaching principles include Character, Content, Communication and Chemistry, and "The Brick Game" reflected these principles: the patience and persistence revealed the character required for an effective drum major and leader; the requirement for all to commit was similar to the content of marching ensembles; all forms of communication, including nonverbal, were integral; the awareness and support between group members reflected the chemistry of a successful community.
I am very glad I decided to stop by the Drum Major Institute. The leadership and life skills displayed in just one exercise were astonishing, and I am confident that each of the participants will become an excellent drum major, leader and human in his or her own community.
Seth Williams is currently Development Coordinator at Music for All. Seth is no stranger to Music for All and Bands of America – first as a participant and as an intern in Development and Participant Relations. He is a graduate of Butler University and previously worked in the Broadway theatre industry in New York. A proud alumnus of "The Centerville Jazz Band," Seth is likely the biggest band nerd he knows.
This afternoon, I decided to go listen to the Concert Band Honors Recital in Sursa Hall. But, on my way, I stopped by to check in on the Drum Major Academy.
I caught the last portion of the Drum Major students’ afternoon, indoor session in Pruis Hall. Students were working on conducting patterns when I walked in.
“Do you see how different styles and patterns can affect the music?” Heidi Sarver, Drum Major Academy Coordinator, said.
It was clear from the couple minutes I observed that conducting styles and patterns really affect the music and the result. Students were working on a lyrical pattern that perfectly matched the feel of the expressive music.
I stopped to chat with Mitchell, a DMA student, on my way out. I asked how his week was going and also what the students had been working on throughout this session.
“I’m having a great week,” Mitchell said. “We’re working on the loop pattern and slide pattern.”
I looked at the time, and I realized I needed to head over right away to the Concert Band Honors Recital. I made it just in time as the first student ensemble took the stage.
Students had the opportunity to form small chamber ensembles – and choose the names for their ensembles as well. First, the Clarinet Choir named “TENIRALC01” took the stage. They performed Chorale: “Awake, Awake, The Voice is Calling” by Johann Sebastian Bach, arr. Lucien Calliet. The ensemble was conducted by Elizabeth Crawford, Assistant Professor of Clarinet at Ball State University, and included 10 students. I especially enjoyed the singing high notes that soared as the ensemble performed this piece.
Next up was the “Brassters Brass Ensemble,” a group of 17 students led by Tom Bough, Associate Professor at the Northern Illinois University School of Music. They performed a beautiful version of Ave Maria by Friedrich Burgmuller, arr. Pelz. The music was extremely lyrical and had a singing quality that was beautiful to listen to.
The “Michigan Wind Quintet” performed Presto by Franz Joseph Haydn. Keith Sweger, Professor of Bassoon at Ball State University, led this ensemble. This woodwind quintet had such a mature sound, especially for such young musicians! View a short video excerpt here.
The “Texas Brass Quintet” was up next and performed two pieces: O Canada and Bossa Nova. Both pieces were lovely and showed musical maturity (and as a horn player myself, I especially enjoyed the melodic horn line in Bossa Nova!) John Ellis, Professor of Music at The Crane School of Music, State University of New York at Potsdam, coached this ensemble.
I took a look out at the crowd, and I noticed Dr. Thomas Caneva (Concert Band Division Head and Director of Bands, Professor of Music and Coordinator of Ensembles and Conducting at Ball State University) smiling and nodding as students performed. It was obvious he had a great deal of pride for the ensembles and the students’ hard work this week.
The next ensemble was a flute choir, coached by Mihoko Watanabe, Assistant Professor of flute at Ball State University. This ensemble chose the name “Gelatina de Morra,” which we were informed means raspberry gelatin. It’s a mystery why students chose this name, but it was interesting to learn the meaning! I’m sure it means something to the students who chose it. I had not heard a flute choir in quite some time, and their airy, tranquil and light melodies were lovely and seemed to float on air as the flute choir performed A la Relevée by Claude-Henry Joubert.
To close, the “Michigan Brass Ensemble,” coached by Gene Berger (Assistant Professor of Horn at Ball State University), performed Three Dances by Tilman Susato. This ensemble had a rich, singing sound as they performed the jaunty first movement of the piece. This piece featured three movements, and the third was a Pavane, or a piece with a slow tempo.
I enjoyed every piece on this afternoon’s recital; however, this last piece really moved me. Have you ever experienced a moment when you’re listening to music and the music itself is enough to evoke a mood or emotion? This movement was definitely very stirring, and it reminded me of all the wonderful, musical moments happening on the campus of Ball State University this week. And, it also reminded me that music really is powerful!
Graduates of the Drum Major Academy have gone on to become successful drum majors at the nation's top University Bands and Drum Corps. Take a look at drummajor.org.
The DMA at the Summer Symposium gives you the complete MFA camp experience, however, if you cannot attend the MFA camp, you can still join Tim at the DMAs at UMASS and in Texas.