Dealing with a young battery writer

I'm writing this here as I trust in you guys long term experience.

So I've made the plunge from being a drum line guy to a full band director of a small and fledgling program. I've hired a great guy to teach and write for my outdoor and indoor line. Trouble is he tends to overwrite 85% of the time. He's been with me for 3 years and every season I say ";we need to dial it back, we've got young players, it needs to be simple and readable, etc..."; and he will agree with me pre-season, but then when the players get the book, it's way above their heads. They spend the entire season learning it and cross our fingers the kids have it by the end.

He's a very great player, has a few years marching experience, a very intelligent and confident writer, but it's like he has something to prove with his writing, it needs to be new and different, and just can't ";keep it simple."; He writes for the Bluecoats when we have an A class ensemble. It's stuff that is sometimes challenging for even a veteran player like myself to read. For example in the fall he had 5-lets, bass shots, split 3s,...and for the indoor now it's a bunch of 4-lets over three beats, isolated left hand shots, hemiolas, moeller threes, and stuff that takes years to develop when we have kids in the line that have never played 8 on a hand before.

Last indoor season we got railed for clarity and overwriting, (everything A class shouldn't do) but now it's repeating itself again. I don't want to micro-manage everything he does (I've been in his shoes), but short of firing the guy, how do I get across to him that the writing is too challenging? It's often unreadable to anyone but a dci guy and we need to focus on quality of sound, cleanliness, playing in time (he often rehearses without a met, cause he says they need to ";feel the groove";) and taking baby steps to build a program longterm?

Thanks for your thoughts.
[quote author=ChampPerc link=topic=4916.msg25021#msg25021 date=1455829432]
It's stuff that is sometimes challenging for even a veteran player like myself to read. For example in the fall he had 5-lets, bass shots, split 3s,...and for the indoor now it's a bunch of 4-lets over three beats, isolated left hand shots, hemiolas, moeller threes, and stuff that takes years to develop when we have kids in the line that have never played 8 on a hand before.[/quote]
My marching band won the A class state championship in NJ last year in a competitive size grouping. I would never write anything like that stuff for my band unless it is for isolated players (for example a solo or small ensemble of advanced players). You can't clean that stuff in a high school band in a full battery setting. It shouldn't be written.

[quote]we have kids in the line that have never played 8 on a hand before[/quote]It's high school. Every year kids come from middle school, every year kids graduate. Every year there will be people who have never played 8s before. Don't let that be an excuse or a barrier to achievement. But yeah, don't play 5-lets, either.

[quote]he often rehearses without a met, cause he says they need to ";feel the groove";[/quote]This to me is a more egregious problem than the over-writing. It shows a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of marching percussion.

Overall I agree with Murray. The band director is the boss. I know mine is, and I don't agree with him 100% of the time, but that's how being the boss goes.
Well said, Murray, well said!
I'm sure a lot of us on here can relate to this predicament. I know I almost always come to the conclusion that I've overwritten, at least in hindsight. It's a tough thing for a lot of writers to grapple with, because most of us, at least when we're young, DO have something to prove. It takes a level of maturity to realize that sometimes proving oneself shouldn't really supersede the success of the students. They should come first.

If you do indeed think that this person's writing is jeopardizing the success of the students in a serious way, then my advice would be to have a sit-down where you lay out clear expectations that this needs to be improved ��_ or else. At the end of the day, it's a job. You're the boss, and he's the employee. In the real world, if someone doesn't rise to the level of expectation in job performance, or at least make serious committed attempts to do so, then you're well within your rights to find someone else.

It's pretty clear you'd probably rather not have it come to that, and obviously you have respect for him. So hopefully the situation is fixable. But from what you're describing, that is entirely up to him. My guess is that he's too in his own head when concocting the shows and losing sight of the bigger picture ��_ the kids.

These days anyone can write stuff that few can actually play. The activity has evolved enough so that rhythmic and technical complexity can be achieved at extreme levels by people who really know what they're doing and have the time and maturity of players to do it. But relatively few can write well for less experienced groups, in my opinion. I'm not even really sure that I'm one of them.

Maybe your friend can learn to accept a new challenge ��_ make the kids sound great. Put them first, and give them something that they can really take ownership of. Pick and choose the battles by having a couple licks above their head so the challenge is there, but keep the bulk of their show within their range so they can sound good sooner. I can pretty much guarantee he'll be happier about that result then the stress of always having to bite your nails to see if they can make it through a show without a meltdown.

My two cents ��_ good luck!

Murray Gusseck

Login or Signup to post a comment