Spotlight Q&A: Marching Band Performance

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6th Annual Harry Wenger Marching Band Festival.

Marching bands epitomize precision – synchronized movement coordinated with stirring music – and highlight many summer parades. Just as marching bands rely on cooperation and practice to achieve success, the process of hosting a marching band festival also demands teamwork.

Next Saturday, the streets of Owatonna, Minnesota, will echo with a dozen marching bands on parade, totaling almost 1,500 high school performers, competing in the 6th Annual Harry Wenger Marching Band Festival. We talked to festival director and board chair Kim Cosens to learn about this event and key factors in its success.

YPP: What is competitive street marching?

Cosens: It’s similar to elaborate half-time shows some marching bands perform on football fields, with tightly choreographed routines. Street routines involve comparable movements and pageantry; bands change formations and directions often. Routines are less than five minutes long and may include up to four different musical selections.

 YPP: How did you get involved?

Cosens: As a high school band director for 20 years, my students competed in many marching festivals. After I changed careers and moved to Owatonna, I remained active as a volunteer marching instructor and adjudicator. While this community really supports its music programs, they had never seen competitive street marching. I wanted to showcase these performers’ hard work and dedication.

Skye’s The Limit Photography

Skye’s The Limit Photography

YPP: How did the festival build momentum?

Cosens: I began promoting the idea to key business and community leaders, along with other people I felt would bring strong energy. We hammered out plans and budgets and committed to going ahead. The Wenger Foundation agreed to be the major sponsor, to support music and honor the legacy of Harry Wenger. He was a music director in Owatonna who founded the Wenger Corporation in 1946.

YPP: How does your festival support the performers?

Cosens: We aim to create a quality experience from the minute they arrive in town. I’ve experienced some festivals where check-in instructions are vague or confusing. Bands are subjected to difficult conditions, squeezed into staging areas without adequate space or facilities to dress, warm-up or prepare.

At our festival, each band’s bus is greeted by a host who escorts the band to its own private, two-block area of street, complete with porta-potties, where they can dress and fully rehearse in a comfortable environment.

During the parade, bands only play in three specified play zones, which are where spectators are concentrated. A band performs its routine three times – the final time for the judges. Directors and students appreciate this clean format. Overall, the compliments we receive are very gratifying and confirm we’re doing this festival the right way.

YPP: How are performances judged?

Cosens: The judging area is 100 yards long, with the judging platform centered 80 yards in. Each of the six judges is focused on different elements, including: musical balance, tone and dynamic contrast; visual impression such as uniformity, instrument carriage, foot placement and hat angle; and execution of color guard and percussion. Two judges focus on the overall musical and visual impact.

YPP: Any advice for hosting a festival?

Cosens: It’s a huge organizational task and we’re fortunate to have a wonderful, committed board who share a high level of trust. To create a historical record and training document for the future, we’ve asked members to document their activities. Creating a strong playbook will help this festival endure. We’re also fortunate that many volunteers return every year; they love being part of it.

Also, a good financial understanding is very important – the festival needs to be approached as a business venture if you hope for long-term success. We cultivate buy-in and a sense of ownership from the local community.

Click here for more information about the Harry Wenger Marching Band Festival. More than 4,000 spectators are expected to attend.

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