|Getting Maximum Energy From Your Group
by Rick Wilson
Photo: UCLA Drum Major Bryan Kreft. Here's his description of the moment:
"This photo was taken at the UCLA/USC game... at halftime... when we were playing One More Time Chick Corea...
These were the last couple of blastissimo chords at the end... in between some skyrocketing trumpets. The picture was taken on a full two-handed cue to the first loud chord...hence my yelling at the top of my lungs to play louder...
We had 10 lead trumpets no more than 5 yards in front of me, spread 20 yards from 40-40 screaming... it was incredible."
Note: This works with bands. It works with corps. It even works with a half dozen third graders playing kazoos. How well it works depends on how well you've developed your skills
The concept is called "Spark-plugging your group." To understand it, your need to understand energy flows.
Simply put, people are energy producing units. You can feel someone's energy when they perform. Some people are very bright, others are dim bulbs. Energy output level is the difference between an average and exceptional performer.
The first spark of energy for a performing group comes from the conductor. If you are flat and uninspired in your conducting, that is how your group will play. If you are dynamic and exciting, your group will rise to match your enthusiasm.
The secret is that the group will reflect what you do.
Here is how you spark-plug the group. Begin to push and drive the energy level of the performance. Outflow a great deal of energy towards the band. Each individual may not reflect back the exact same level of energy, but as a group the energy will be higher than it was. The magic is in the fact that the band or corps greatly outnumbers you. If you have 100 people in your group, and they only increase their energy to half of what you are putting out, the energy is still increased by 50 times!
If your band is larger, or the group has been trained to be a high-energy output group, the effect can be even greater.
It gets even better. The audience, (hopefully) is larger than the band. They individually won't reflect 100% of the excitement produced by the band, but because of their numbers the total energy in the stadium is increased again.
You increase the energy of the band, the band increases the energy of the audience.
Then magic starts to happen. The band starts to further feed off the energy of the crowd and their energy increases. This bounces off the crowd and the energy increases again. Back and forth it goes until you have one of those exceptional, standing ovation performances.
It all starts with you.
This isn't some theory. I have done it many times. I have taught many students to do the same and they have led their groups to historic performances.
There is one other factor to consider. That is that as the conductor you also have to maintain control of the music. Just like driving a car too fast and losing control, you can do the same conducting. Know your music cold. Practice with your group in rehearsal and slowly start getting everyone evolved to a high performance level.
The first step for the group is that they know their show. At first you may have to focus on getting them through their show successfully, before you can start turbo charging the performance.
There is a myth in some groups that the field conductor should merely provide the precise tempo of the show. This is as tragic as it is false. It is usually promoted by instructors who do not themselves know how to conduct a group beyond the simple mechanics. The tragedy is that with that mind set, the show is condemned to never be performed to its full potential.
Great musical performances go beyond mere mechanics.
Ask any professional musician who has played with one of the great, inspiring conductors — they will tell you without reservation that an inspired, motivating conductor makes all the difference. The same is true in a field performance.
Don't believe me. Try it for yourself.
During one of your rehearsal run throughs, go totally flat while you conduct. Keep your patterns and tempo technically correct — just do not put any energy or drive behind your motions. Do nothing to inspire the band. Simply provide precise tempo and cues.
Note how well the band performs.
Now try it the other way. Put some excitement behind your conducting. Have a fire in your eyes. As the music crescendos, demand from your band, "GIVE ME MORE!"
Then compare your results. I already know what you'll find. Once you have certainty in how to get more from your group's performances, start performing that way all the time.
This is how the great field conductors work their magic. Now you know how and can do it too.
Enjoy the ovations!