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Balancing the Sound In the Parade Block

Ted Aarrestad | August 2016

    Performing music on parade is a strange phenomenon. Unlike any other performance, we present the music one section of the band at a time while marching past our audience. Although there is a degree of blending as drums and brass drive their sounds through rows of woodwinds, the audience hears a distinct presentation of sections as the band passes. Careful work on balancing melody, countermelody, ostinato, bass line, harmonic supporting lines, and percussion during rehearsals is lost on the street. There is a better way to present the balance established in the rehearsal room while on parade, although it breaks a long-standing parade block tradition.
    We line up sections in files from the front to the back instead of in ranks across the band. Flutes and clarinets are alternated down the outside files. These instruments do not project as well as the saxophones and brass, so placing them closer to the edge of the band makes it easier to hear these parts. Usually we have enough flutes and piccolos to also fill the front rank for a uniform look coming down the street. The trumpet section fills the center file. They balance equally on each side playing through the other winds. Saxes, mellophones, and remaining clarinets take up the second file on one side and trombones, baritones, and tenor saxes are assigned to the second file on the other side.
    The drumline balances in the traditional formation two thirds of the way back in ranks across the block. They communicate better that way within their section, and at the two thirds mark they balance forward to the majority while still being heard (or felt) by the ranks behind them. Tuba players are spaced through the center trumpet file from the back to around mid-way toward the front depending on the length of your group.
    I stagger my strongest players, preferring to place them behind the weaker ones. This models the sound for less experienced players. There is great flexibility filling in files based on instrumentation. You may have trouble hiding the flute or clarinet player who struggles to stay in step, but you can always put them in file two to observe an experienced leader.
    The diagram below demonstrates rank balance and can be adjusted for any instrumentation. If a band is not as well populated with flute players, use a different instrument in the front row. This example includes instrumentation that doesn’t add up to perfect symmetry, which is almost always the case. (FL = flute, CL = clarinet, AS = alto sax, TS = tenor sax, TR = trumpet, ME = mellophone, TB = trombone, BT = baritone, TU = tuba, DL = drumline.)

    Our unconventional line-up has multiple advantages. A parade block arranged this way delivers a much more balanced performance to the audience without sacrificing uniformity of your visual presentation.