Monday, November 14, 2011

Movement on the Field, 10 Bonus Points...First Song!

By Mark T. Burke

Imagine, a towel is thrown, a whistle blows and a referee walks onto the field.  He clicks on his microphone and announces, "Movement on the field, 10 bonus points, first song."  The crowd cheers and the band plays on.  The band of course is not in the audience, they are on the field and the official is not a referee, he is a marching band competition judge. Sounds silly, but I was imagining this scene while I was watching a band perform this weekend at a season-ending marching band competition. I wished for a brief moment that one of the key components of creating great music could be recognized, appreciated by the crowd in a new way, a way that immediately pointed out..."This is good...good for the band...this is why you are enjoying their performance."

The band I was watching and listening too was enjoying their own performance so much that their inner musician was coming out.  The mallet percussion section was just so much fun to watch.  They were looking at each other, connecting, smiling, MOVING to the music, sharing the moment among themselves to such a high degree that great music was inevitable.  Their actions weren't written into the drill, performed on cue and unnatural.  They just happened and oh boy, it was fantastic.  Even if I wouldn't have been able hear the music, I would have known when they were playing softly, crescendoing, playing short and lyrically just by watching.  But, this band was a bit unique. Of all the bands that performed, they were the only ones that reached this level of engagement with their musical performance.  That engagement level is what I like to call, musical movement.

What is musical movement?  When the music we perform elicits our instinct to move with it, to engage visually with other performers and share additional non-verbal, non-musical communications, musical movement is occurring.  If we tell two marimba players to make sure they always crescendo a roll together, how can that actually happen?  It could happen if we just point to them and conduct their every action.  But, wouldn't it be better if the two players connected at a much deeper level than just following a guide together? Yes it would....and that is exactly my point.  Somehow, we have to provide the guidance in our ensembles that when we experience the power of musical movement, we not only raise our own connection with the music through multiple senses, but also make incredibly better music.

What keeps musical movement from happening is fear.  Fear that musical movement will somehow be viewed as non-essential movement, rule breaking movement, embarrassing movement causes us to "put a lid" on the inner force that can create the very thing we seek.  Please don't get me wrong, I am not advocating a "dancing on the ceiling" approach in all ensembles in all moments.  In fact, we've all experienced the over jittery performer who's movements are out of character for the musical moment.  Musical movement is not random, out of control, tick related, spasmodic movement.  Musical movement is essential, innate, primal movement that adds power to our musical performance.  It is a form of communication in and of itself.  I do believe that very force is what we must foster in our musical training programs, in our own groups, both for personal and professional endeavors.

Hats off the the marching band this weekend that reminded me and the many audience members that music is more than just sound.  Even in the absence of sight, I believe we would have still heard your musical movements.  Never change, continue the quest to communicate your musical story in just the way you did this weekend.  If you don't know if this was your group or not, then it's time to think about how you foster musical movement.

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Mark Burke is the founder of viaAcademies, one of the nation's first online music academies.  viaAcademies is a division of viaEdTechnologies, LLC.  viaEdTechnologies helps organizations "Illuminate Educational Horizons" through educational innovation planning, professional development, curriculum development and educational technology development.   



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