I got an email the other day in which the writer had much to say about how the taxpayer and school districts were spending tens of thousands of dollars on halftime shows, thus rendering the band director basically useless. The writer thought the taxpayers were being ripped off-- all that money on a single halftime.
So let's talk a little about how bands get their shows. It IS true now that very few bands locally use a show written by their directors anymore. That's too bad, because we have some pretty good drill writers here. Bryan Andrade used to write the shows for the Eastwood Band, and Henry Vega did his own shows at Americas High School. Ron Pingor wrote for his band at Montwood. I believe, although I haven't confirmed it this year, that Mike Porras still writes his own shows at Burges. They may be one or two others, but directors writing their own drill is getting rarer.
Why? The desire and expectation that our bands will be competitive across the region and across the state. It's a bit of a shame as well that we had some very good, up and coming young drill writers here in El Paso that have now moved on to greener pastures, although several local bands are using drill by former El Pasoan Ivan De La Cruz.
It is true that some bands spend a large amount of money on drill/ visual writers/choreography. But I don't know of a single organization that has a school budget that would allow district funds (and thus, 'taxpayer money') to be spent on these very personalized and detailed shows. I used to use my school budget money on shows for my band, but I also bought massed produced show packages that cost a whooping $750 for drill, music, and a flag choreography tape thrown in. Actually quite a bargain. We got our first divisions here locally, advanced to Area every other year, and made the finals of Tournament of Bands with those little shows. But we were never truly competitive when we marched in contests with bands spending 10 to 20 times more on their shows. How could we be? That experience is one shared by every other local band, so at some point you grit up and go custom, or as custom as you can.
So how do most bands pay for the shows they perform?By tapping those heroes of the bandroom, the guardian angels of the music programs-- the boosters. The parent groups for many, many bands in El Paso spend the spring semester and the summer running concessions or whatever other events they find to raise funds to get the money needed to keep their groups competitive.
They'll spend more in an advancing year, and less on the off years. They build props and ramps and whatever special effects they can; hire marching techs, and flag directors and percussion instructors-- all important captions these days as band becomes a more and more disciplined and adjudicated activity. Is it right? Weren't things better in the old days?
That's a debatable question, and one we usually discuss here each year on the blog. But in reality it doesn't matter. The activity of marching band has evolved to it's current iteration, so it's a reality directors must face and deal with. And our local directors in El Paso and New Mexico have done an outstanding job of it. We are a pretty constant presence at the State Marching Band Contest each November, and other parts of Texas have started to notice.
But the school districts for the most part do not heavily finance band programs here. An even the most storied programs in Texas raise money outside of their school budgets. That's the way it is. Just as there are hopes and aspirations for our local athletic programs, so there are hopes and aspirations for our marching programs as well. And all these groups are growing more competitive each and every year, so what the directors and coaches are doing is working.
Let's all keep it up, and wish them well!