Crescendo through it!

Based on the flood of email in my inbox and my full voicemail box, it is THAT time of year.

October is the hardest part of the marching band season! It’s when most groups plateau and cease to improve. Sure, they may learn more drill and music but it rarely is cleaner or better executed than it was in September. Keep in mind, more does not necessarily mean better.
The problem is not the music or drill, it’s the rehearsal behaviors used to learn them. By now, many groups have settled into rehearsal attitudes that place comfort and convenience ahead of commitment and character. The students are present each and every day but not FULLY engaged or committed to the rehearsal process. The rehearsals are more of a “walk-through” than a “run-through.”

You can’t really blame the kids. After almost four months of grinding it out, the magic is gone.
To that end, I would always talk to my students about the October plateau and "crescendoing" through whatever they do. I explained that with each and every passing minute we needed to raise our expectations for excellence and match it with our level of effort and energy. We called October our crescendo month in which we would:

  • Expect to work harder at the end of the rehearsal rather than the beginning
  • Expect to work harder on Wednesday than on Tuesday
  • Expect to work harder in the second week of the month than the first
  • Expect to work harder in November than they did in October

The process of teaching students to push through discomfort and fatigue is not an easy one.  May I suggest breaking rehearsals into thirds and take just a few seconds at the end of each third to ask them to rate their individual/ensemble rehearsal work ethic? Ask them to set a goal for the next third. Repeat this activity at the end of each third of rehearsal. Slowly but surely they will come to understand that the greatest opportunity for growth comes when it is least convenient. This is a lesson that does not end on the practice field and will continue to serve them throughout life.

Many of my former students still remind me that they are "crescendoing" through life.