INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14, 2009)—Continuing a tradition that includes 16 state marching band titles since 1981, the Pride of Broken Arrow marching band from Broken Arrow, Okla., comes once again to the Bands of America Grand National Championships, where they have been in the finals seven times before.
Their field show is entitled “The Rite of Raptor” and is based on the music in Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps). The original choreography for this ballet that shook the music world was done by Vaslav Nijinsky.
Broken Arrow opens their show in a primitive world, one where there is nothing but a sea of blackness before creatures start to emerge and dance in a manner that would hypnotize the beasts:
When the world first heard Stravinsky’s ballet at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on May 29, 1913, it was not well received. In fact, French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, whose music we have also heard today, reportedly walked out during the performance because of Stravinsky’s “misuse” of the bassoon’s extreme upper register to state the ballet’s head motif in the opening bars.
For this section of the Introduction, Broken Arrow relies on a soprano sax, but the complex polyrhythms Stravinsky put into Le Sacre take the whole band. Time signatures change from measure to measure—in one stretch of music, from 3/16 to 5/16 to 3/16 to 4/16 to 5/16—as Stravinsky evokes a primitive, west-African mood in both harmony and rhythm.
The dancers, likewise, incorporate Stravinsky’s use of polytonality and polyrhythm by simulating the titular dinosaurs from prehistory:
I think they’re swooping in, sometimes two-by-two but mostly at will, each one in her own tonality, kind of how gulls might fly in to eat food left by humans on a beach: They all participate in the same activity or same piece of music, but each has a distinctly individual character in this “every raptor for herself” world. Stravinsky’s ballet had no raptors, as such, but it did have everything else.
Conductor Leonard Bernstein said of the ballet in his Six Talks at Harvard, “It’s … got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name.”
In Broken Arrow’s choreographed version, the raptors grow tails, which they use to beat the Earth, instilling fear in their prey. Then a few of the band members grow tails as well and join the dance, sometimes swaying on their knees.
The Pride of Broken Arrow marching band is directed by Darrin Davis and led on the field by drum majors Zac Cockrell, Justin Anderson, and Manessal Miller. The high school, established in 1904, sent this band to Washington earlier this year to represent the state of Oklahoma in the inaugural parade for President Obama. They also marched in the 1993 inaugural parade for President Clinton.
This year, the Bands of America organization set up a cellphone voting system in which fans could vote for their favorite band by texting its code to a special receiving line. In this voting, fans selected the Broken Arrow marching band as their favorite.
As Broken Arrow prides itself in “exploring the latest trends in competitive marching band,” fans from schools around the country took pride in using new technology to vote for their well-conceived and well-executed performance. I am delighted to report that these “new” ideas—including both the cellphone voting and Broken Arrow’s exploration of marching band trends, such as their pre-show ballet, which was sung—were received much better than the ballet on which the band’s show is based.