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The Art of the Marching Band

Oct 20, 2011

In towns across South Dakota, chilly autumn sunrises are often heralded by the beat of distant drums and random bellows and toots. The sounds of the middle and high school marching bands beginning to warm up bring smiles to the faces around the tables at the café. The bands are playing, the coffee is hot, and life is good. 

As they near the end of this season of games, parades and competitions, let’s give the bands a last appreciative ovation before they head indoors to take their seats in the orchestra. Consider the phenomenon of this traditional art form -- what it means to us, and what it takes to make it work in every community lucky enough to have a band marching up Main Street for homecoming.

Marching bands invigorate their communities, stirring up loyalties, patriotism, pride, and the all-important team spirit. The team might be having a bad year or a great one, but the band strikes up with enthusiastic optimism at the start of every contest. They will be there in gleeful encouragement, regardless of the odds of winning the game. Their parents will be there too. The crowd in the bleachers spans several generations.

It is not unusual to see band members wearing their football or cheerleader uniforms instead of the regulation band uniform at halftime. Like most citizens of South Dakota, a number of the players wear more than one hat. What must be confusing to the football player/band members is to switch to a team where the object is definitely not to run into each other and knock each other down.

All hats off to the bandmasters, who not only teach teenagers to play music together, but to play while marching and swinging their instruments in unison and making recognizable shapes and patterns covering the field. After all those morning practices, each member knows how to be a moving part of the whole design. They count on each other to know that part and get it right every time. Their discipline hitches tradition to new moves, our heritage to our future.

Looks like a miracle to me, this work of art.

Pat Boyd is Executive Director of South Dakotans for the Arts, a statewide nonprofit membership organization dedicated to advancing the arts through service, education and advocacy. Pat and her husband, artist George Prisbe, live at Hanna Creek in the northern Black Hills.


06:35 am - Fri, October 21 2011
Rebecca said:
I really do admire the discipline it takes to make a high school marching band work. It's impressive when you realize how much practice time and work it takes.
09:23 am - Fri, October 21 2011
John Andrews said:
I spent four years in the marching band at South Dakota State, and it really was one of the best experiences of my college years.
03:58 pm - Mon, October 24 2011
Tom Thorson said:
I knew early that I wanted to be an artist. I also longed to be in choir and in band. but 'art' classes were always scheduled at the same time as band and choir so I had to choose. To this day I miss the camaraderie around the making of music that I had to forego. I still am thrilled by marching bands marching down main street with the drum cadences and formations spelling words and making pictures and blasting air from lungs into the atmosphere carrying notes.
01:34 pm - Tue, October 25 2011
Ruth Williams said:
Gosh it makes me yearn for the days of teaching marching band in a small high school in SD. Loved the fresh air and exercise as well as the artistic endeavor of making music and design..Retired for 11 years and missing it.
10:58 am - Sun, October 30 2011
Christine Leichtnam said:
There's nothing like watching or being in a great marching band. Thanks for recognizing all the work that goes into a marching band performance, Pat.
01:32 pm - Mon, October 31 2011
It was good to see HS & Middle School marching in Lead for Digger Day. With, I might add, brand new uniforms. Being in marching band is a fond memory for me. Thanks Pat!

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