INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14, 2009)—Opening their pre-show with music from the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the marching band from Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas, takes the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for semi-final and final competition at the Bands of America Grand National Championships.
Their show is based on William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream and has six movements and a curtain call segment after the pre-show. The first act, “Overture,” uses music from the “Overture” that Felix Mendelssohn wrote for the play.
The overture seems to have been written in about 1826, long before the remaining incidental music was composed (probably around 1841), including the “March of the Fairies,” which Marcus draws on to provide incidental music for their show’s second movement, entitled “Quick Bright Things”:
Marching maneuvers get a little rapid at this point, following the title of the movement. Then, Act III is entitled “Where the Nodding Violet Grows” and includes music from Claude Debussy’s “Beau Soir” (“Beautiful Evening”).
For this soprano solo with piano accompaniment, Debussy used Paul Bourget’s poetry collection titled Les aveux (Confessions). The poem is about our desire to be happy and enjoy life on a great evening, although death, being inevitable, is coming soon. Throughout the show, Marcus integrates the idea of love (or friendship) with death. We’ll see more examples later in the show, but this level of tight integration of thematic material with music selection is one trademark of this Texas band.
A rather uncommon woodwind trio, made up of an English horn, bassoon, and contrabassoon, provides a segue to Act IV, “What Fools These Mortals Be.” Music is from the “Gallop” in Shostakovich’s Ballet Suite No. 6. The English horn solo, in particular, with its reedy, alto voice, gives a mysterious air to this segment, bringing us to the subject of love.
The fifth movement, “The Course of True Love,” makes use of Wagner’s “Liebestod” (love-death) from his opera Tristan und Isolde, as well as the “Wedding March,” again from Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. By combining these two works about love, Marcus adds significant thematic material to their version of the play Shakespeare wrote more than 400 years ago:
Being in love is such that we fall helpless every time we encounter it. Only the presence of our friends and loved ones in our lives keeps us going, and our trust in them is blind and all-encompassing.
The ensemble sound is impressive throughout, but especially here, where the volume is mostly soft and where support from the midrange is strong and in perfect balance with both bass and treble. This subtle touch in the winds sets Marcus apart musically and produces some of the smoothest cadences heard all day.
In the drill, this leads to the eventual, hoped-for outcome of true love: lovers get together and have a happy life together.
Finally, Act VI, “The Beginning of Our End,” draws upon music from the third movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony.
The curtain call segment, based on the “Finale” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, includes the wedding ceremony itself and gives the band’s brass musicians one more chance this year to show off the virtuosity with crystal clear double tonguing.
Marcus High School was established in 1986, and the band has been honored as a Texas University Interscholastic League state champion and the caption award winner for best music at the Bands of America Grand National Championships. The band’s director is Amanda Drinkwater, and drum majors are Tim Fitzgerald and Lauren Koath.
16 lines at the curtain call
It has been said that “the music is in the details.” For example, musicians in the Marcus band decide how much to crescendo as they perform a phrase so the shape of the melody is conveyed to listeners, they decide how to balance harmony so it supports the melody rather than drowning it out, and so on.
But if there is a “big picture” for Bands of America and high school marching bands in general, I suppose William Shakespeare summed it up as well as anyone in Puck’s epilogue to A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
By “your hands,” Shakespeare didn’t mean help with his chores; rather, it means “a hand” as in “applause.” Yes, the Bands of America system has flaws, and we’ll try to work as hard as we can to help ensure fairness—as much as possible—for all bands, all students, and all contributors. But we do it as a friend of marching bands and, more importantly, as a friend of music and education.
William Shakespeare had it right: our main purpose as fans and supporters of these student-musicians is to clap and cheer. The details of the music and the marching are in their capable hands. After they have played their eight minutes, after they have worked for several months on those same eight minutes, and even though they still have amends to restore, we stand and cheer for the effort that has moved us, for the beauty that has touched our very soul.
It is a tradition—a darn good one, too—at the finals competition at the Grand Nationals to give every single band a standing ovation as they exit the field. Imagine that: 20,000 people standing and cheering as you give your final performance of the season. And if you’re a senior, it may be the last time you participate in a marching band.