To see how a drum major should work with their band director — you need to watch Star Trek TNG
by Rick Wilson

The better the coordination between the drum major and band director, the more effective rehearsals become. That means a more successful marching band.

But, very few directors and drum majors achieve a highly productive working relationship. After observing many programs over a number of decades, I’ve discovered that most directors and drum majors don’t have a clear idea of how the two should work together.

There is a simple solution. Watch some of the reruns of the television show, Star Trek, The Next Generation. (You can find full episodes on YouTube.)

Now, before you write me off a lunatic, hear me out. The command model used in the show provides an excellent model for a marching band.

Let me set-up the characters: In charge of the Starship Enterprise, is the intelligent, dashing, heroic, Captain Picard. Our parallel is of course, the band director.

The next in command, is the First Officer, Commander Riker. In our parallel, this is the drum major.

Commander Riker is in charge of running things when the captain is not around. He is also the one who leads the away teams on special missions — not unlike how the drum major leads the band in performance.

What is interesting to watch is how the two work together to keep the ship running smoothly. Here is a typical scene you’ll see in just about any Star Trek episode:

The scene is the bridge is the Starship Enterprise. We see a set of three large chairs in the center. Around them are other members of the crew at various stations. Commander Riker sits in the Command Chair, running the ship.

Captain Picard enters from his “Ready Room” on the right. As he comes on to the bridge, Commander Riker immediately turns the command chair over to the Captain. He either moves over to the next chair or goes up and hangs out with the Security Officer. (The security Officer is a big Klingon named Worf, who is similar to some drum instructors I’ve known…but that isn’t important in this example. 🙂

At the end of the scene, Captain Picard usually leaves the bridge. As he does, Commander Riker immediately resumes command and returns to the Command Chair.

It is always smooth and immediate. You never hear Commander Riker say anything like: “Oh Captain Picard, do you want me to watch things while you go in your office and chat?” Everyone understands that the ship always needs someone running things. So the transitions are smooth and immediate.

A good marching band or drum corps works the same way.

Putting this to work with you band
The first step is to get some basic agreements in place. Number one is that the band director has the role of Captain. The Drum Major is the next in command. (You may need to add some other people to this line-up if you have an instructional staff.)

Number two is that the band always needs someone “running the ship” so there is no question. If the Director is not there, then the next in command keeps things moving forward.

Here’s an example: At the start of a typical rehearsal, the last person out of the band room is often the director. They have to handle a number of details at the start of rehearsal, and if nothing else, they are the one who locks the door before going out to the rehearsal area.

Most drum majors do not take command of the rehearsal to get things started and instead wait for the director to show up.

Suppose instead, the drum major were to begin setting the band in formation and had them in their warm-ups by the time the director arrived? How much time would this save? About 5 – 10 minutes? This may not seem like much, but multiply this every rehearsal over the course of an entire season.

This becomes many additional hours of rehearsal time.

Often, by the end of the season the difference between placing and not placing — or placing and winning — is a fraction of a point.

Could your band be a half point better by season’s end if you had an additional 5 – 10 hours of rehearsal time?

The secret is having the drum major take responsibility for the forward motion of rehearsals and take command of the group when the director is not there.

Go ahead. Watch Star Trek, The Next Generation.  and then see how you can apply it to your marching program.