No matter how hard we try, no matter the amount of meticulous communication, no matter the number of confirmations, our bands will always have students who do not complete the season. College I-A marching bands have had alternate programs in place for years, as do many division I-AA schools. Most others, however, are in the same boat as most high school marching bands: every single person who can play and march is on the field – they have a dot written for them even before they arrive for band camp. Unfortunately, students sometimes quit band right after band camp. Although many of these reasons are perfectly acceptable and understandable, directors can suddenly find themselves with holes in their drill.
There are several factors that will determine the best approach to fixing the problem, including the location of the holes, how much time there to rehearse now that band camp is over, and how much time there is before the first performance.
Holes in the drill would be easy to fix if the individuals who left your program were the last people on the outside of open-ended, unconnected forms, but this is rarely the case. Using computer software to remove performers sounds easy, but it takes time to adjust each and every form. Simply removing a performer and telling the computer to equalize intervals for the entire show will actually create more problems then leaving the empty space. The computer will equalize the interval between adjacent performers with complete disregard to the integrity of a dense form. For example, if the trumpet section is in a dense four by four block and you allow the computer to equalize intervals, it will place the performers evenly but not maintain the block formation. At that point you need to go back and manually adjust things. It is easier and less time consuming to make position adjustments one page at a time.
Open Ended Forms. It is virtually impossible to have a complete show with every formation having nonconnected ends. However, on the pages of drill with open-ended formations, one possible solution is to have people move over one position to the left or right thereby filling the hole. Although this negates hours of teaching drill spots in band camp, with encouragement and hard work students will learn their new spots quickly. They will also be more accepting of learning new drill positions then they are of marching with a hole next to them for an entire show.
Block and/or Dense Formations. Equalization of this type of formation is not the best option – it is ideal to maintain a dense block as much as possible. This may mean choosing to leave the open hole in the form. The audience, and if you compete, the judges, will understand and accept this choice; holes happen for all sorts of reasons. Another option is to move people over one position to fill the hole in the center of the block and leave the hole on the outside edge, similar to an open-ended formation.
Curved Formations. This is where equalization of the form is the easiest solution. If it is an isolated circle or arc (not connected to another part of the formation) then only those individuals in the circle or arc will have new dots to learn. If, however, it is a completely connected formation for the entire band, all performers will have to learn new drill positions for that formation.
In addition to learning new drill positions, students will have to learn new pathways between formations. This takes time. Most, if not all, have already started developing muscle memory of step sizes, direction changes, and body visuals. A research study documented that it takes 29 consecutive days of doing something new to change a habit, but no director has that much time between band camp and the first show.
Changing everything in one re-hearsal is a recipe for certain disaster. Given how much time was spent teaching drill the first time, asking students to forget what they were taught, change their muscle memory of step size and direction changes and perform the same move slightly differently will cause their brains will go into overload quickly, and the show will decline in quality at a similar rate.
It’s better to start with the two or three easiest fixes. At the next rehearsal review those changes and add in one or two more. Continue in this manner until all the adjustments have been made – and keep reviewing. This will probably mean that at the first performance there will still be some holes appearing here and there throughout the show but in the long run, gradual changes will lead to a stronger show at the end of the season.