2013 was a big year for the Rosemount (Minn.) Marching Band. Not only did it get selected as the “Best Band in Minnesota,” but it also prepared to march in its first Tournament of Roses Parade. Find out the philosophies straight from band director Steve Olsen.
Photos By Ken Martinson/Marching.com
On Jan. 1, 2014, the “best band in Minnesota” marched down Colorado Boulevard for its first appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade. At Rosemount (Minn.) High School, three full-time directors use a team-teaching method to help their program reach a level of excellence unmatched by many other bands in their region. Steve Olsen leads the Rosemount Band along with Leon Sieve and Bo Hoover. Olsen talks about the program’s unique approach to success and walks us through the inner workings of his band program.
Halftime: What is your marching background?
Olsen: Well, we have three full-time band directors. Leon Sieve marched color guard with the Madison Scouts, Bo Hoover marched with the Cavaliers as a member of the pit front ensemble, and I actually don’t have any marching experience, but I’ve been a high school band director for 33 years.
Halftime: How is the band program structured?
Olsen: We are fortunate to have three full-time band directors at our school, so we team-teach the marching band. Leon Sieve oversees all of the visual and color guard aspects of our program, Bo Hoover oversees all percussion components, and I oversee the winds—brass and woodwinds. All three of us collaborate on show design for marching band. Overall, we have about 400 students in the program, and about 200 of those are in marching band.
Halftime: What was the process for getting selected for the Best Band in Minnesota award and the Rose Parade?
Olsen: The local CBS television affiliate [WCCO-TV] in Minneapolis-St. Paul promoted a contest to select the best high school marching band in Minnesota. We received the most votes on its website, and they told us that it was actually the largest amount of voting ever for any contest they had ever run.
We applied for the Rose Parade 18 months ago. The application process included videos of performances and a fundraising plan. We found out in October 2012 that we were invited to perform in the 2014 Rose Parade. We did not inform any of our students or parents until our marching band banquet in early November. By then they had forgotten that we had even applied for the Rose Parade. Bo Hoover made a short video that announced our Rose Parade performance invitation that we presented at the end of our marching band banquet. Nobody had a clue that this video involved a Rose Parade announcement, so the shocking surprise by all was quite special—one of those priceless moments in the lives of teachers! We three band directors travelled to Pasadena and “shadowed” the 2013 performing bands, so that we were informed about the experience and knew what we needed to do to prepare our students for a successful and memorable Rose Parade trip.
Halftime: What has been your favorite experience with the band?
Olsen: In March 2007, we took a 120-student member concert band on a performance tour to Beijing and Shanghai, China. It was an incredibly positive and eye-opening experience for all of us. The culture, food—everything—was so exotic and unlike any other travel experience we had ever encountered. Our concerts were really well attended, and the Chinese audiences treated our student performers like “rock stars.” There was such high esteem and respect shown and given to our students and their performances—unlike anything we had ever experienced before. It was an overwhelmingly educational and highly memorable trip—my personal favorite band trip ever!
Halftime: What kind of booster club or fundraising group do you have?
Olsen: We do not have a formal booster club. Instead, we have a network of parent volunteers who assist us with anything we need help with. We have an extensive list of activities and projects requiring parent help, and the parents register their interest in helping with what works for their schedule. We do this all online with the Charms [Office Assistant] program— highly recommended software!
We are also fortunate to teach in a school district that has a core philosophy entitled “Triple A Philosophy.” Academics, Arts and Athletics are all important, and every child must be given opportunities to develop their potential in all three of these areas. Our school district is very supportive of the arts, in how they staff arts classes, how they schedule them— avoiding schedule conflicts that allow all to participate in arts classes—and in providing generous funding for the arts.
Halftime: Do you have any advice for aspiring band directors?
Olsen: I believe that the most important question that all band directors have to answer for themselves and their programs is: “What is your philosophy on music education?”
When your kids leave your program, hopefully upon graduation and not before, what do you want them to take with them? What have they learned? What do they value?
For me, I want my students to have had opportunities to participate in concert band, marching band, jazz ensemble, chamber music and solo performing. Hopefully, they have learned to love music and making music and [gained] an open-minded valuing of many varied arts experiences that provide vehicles for artistic expression that they can pursue for the rest of their lives and support with their own children’s involvement someday. Also, [I hope they have learned] the teamwork concept of working well with others in a positive and respectful environment focused on excellence and the fun of achievement.
About the Author
Mitchell King is a junior majoring in communication at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched alto saxophone for two years before becoming drum major for two years at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga. He currently marches alto saxophone for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day open his own public relations firm in Atlanta.