Be Our Guest

If you or your band has ever dreamed of hosting a competition—or would like to improve your existing one—prepare and serve with flair.

Photo of Appoquinimink High School’s marching event by Scott Christian

Be our guest, be our guest! Put our hosting to the test! Bands love to go to competitions, but those shows and events don’t just organize themselves. Months of planning and preparation happen behind the scenes, and committees of volunteers work hard to ensure that the event is a beauty and not a beast.

Organizing a marching band competition is much more than just telling everybody when and where to show up. Where will the buses park? What concessions will be sold? Who will manage the traffic fl ow of bands? Sometimes these events can be great fundraisers for the host school, and other times the hosts do it just for the love of supplying local groups with a performance opportunity.

Our Command is Your Request

Competition planning varies greatly depending on what, if any, competition circuit you partner with. Burleson (Texas) High School hosts the U.S. Scholastic Band Association (USSBA) North Texas Regional as well as a Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL) Region 7 marching contest.

“USSBA handles almost all of the show planning other than the solicitation of workers for the contest,” says Joe McGee, director at Burleson. “Their staff comes down, and it’s a package deal. We just line up our people and make sure we have badges ready.”

As a result, Burleson’s top booster parents only plan a few months in advance for the events, with a more general workers’ meeting two to three weeks prior in order to familiarize all the adult and student volunteers with the event protocol.

Band traffic flow is one of the school’s biggest priorities. “We have flow maps drawn—a map of the site and how we route the bands through it, “McGee says.

In Southeastern Washington’s Columbia Basin region, things are much different for Pasco High School. Pasco teams up with Kennewick High School to host the independent event Cavalcade of Bands—unrelated to the East Coast circuit of the same name. It has also partnered with three other schools to host the Drum Corps International (DCI) show Drums Along the Columbia. Planning for these two events goes almost year round with monthly meetings and then weekly meetings leading up to the big day. Pasco and Kennewick take turns fielding the Cavalcade of Bands in alternate years.

“In our monthly meetings, we have committee chairs: publicity, housing, concessions; it’s a check-in time every month,” says Russ Newbury, visual and performing arts coordinator for the Pasco School District.

Director Ryan Moseley from Appoquinimink High School in Middletown, Del., starts assembling his team of boosters four months in advance of the Tournament of Bands show that the school has been hosting for three years. This year the group will also host the chapter championship.

“It’s never too early to start planning in terms of doing research and finding out what other schools are doing,” Moseley says. “Start planning the event out, so that when the day comes, things run a lot more smoothly.”

Live to Serve

Recruiting volunteers for the planning committee and day-of event staffing is one of the biggest challenges faced by host bands. According to Newbury, bringing in parents starts with the kids.

“You have to develop a relationship with the student, then connect with the parents, then convince the parents that it’s in their best interest to help everyone’s kids and not just their own,” he says.

“People who buy that vision are the ones who end up coming in and doing more and sticking around after their kids graduate.” Now celebrating its 30th year, Cavalcade of Bands has tradition on its side. Many board members and volunteers have been involved for years, including one woman who marched in the first event as a high school student. Newbury also offers incentives: Part of the event profi t is distributed to the students at a modest hourly wage for themselves and their volunteers. “We offer a kickback to the kids in their band accounts for participation,” Newbury says. “It encouraged families to be part of the deal.”

At Appoquinimink one parent assumes the responsibility of volunteer coordinator, sending emails and making phone calls until every position and time slot is fi lled. “Students and teachers come out and volunteer at different times throughout the day; friends of friends all come out to help,” Moseley says. “I usually tell [the] parents to go cash in favors.”

McGee keeps volunteers coming back year after year by appealing to their pride in their previous work, their city and their school. “You motivate them by saying that everyone has elected to have their event here because of how we treat the people—that people feel at home here and like to return,” McGee says. “Most of those parents really light up when you tell them we’ve been good hosts.”

We Want the Company Impressed

Depending on the event, ticket sales can be a major or minimal component of your potential revenue. For Burleson’s USSBA and UIL events, most of the money is made on concessions, not attendance. “We don’t do it for the money, but it is nice to have a little bit of money left in the till,” McGee says. “The main thing for us is that all the students and directors have a great experience, and we have the crowd revved up to them. Plus our kids see how the process works, and when they see how bands are adjudicated, they perform better.”

For Cavalcade, the audience is built in: parents of the performers, all who are local. Since the event has been going for 30 years, everyone in the area knows about it and makes it an annual tradition.

Filling the DCI event is a much greater challenge that requires extensive marketing. While the families and fans of the Spokane Thunder and Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps do go to the event, the rest of the attendance is based on which corps perform and how big of a draw they have, so the committee sends out posters, flyers and postcards as well as produces radio and television commercials with donated or discounted airtime for publicity.

“Our volunteers go to the local town music stores and big businesses and hand out flyers,” Moseley says. “And the school district public relations person puts a press release out to the community and local town newspaper, which sometimes writes articles about the competition.”

In 2010, DCI scheduled the Drums Along the Columbia for the 4th of July weekend, resulting in an increased facilities fee charged by the stadium. Unfortunately the schools lost money on the DCI event and did not host one in 2011.

Each competitive circuit varies on the economics of hosting. Some, such as the Tournament of Bands, charge a small registration fee and then allow the schools to keep all the profits. Some, like DCI, have larger contract fees. For Cavalcade of Bands, the schools keep all the money because it is an independent event.

We Aim to Please

So with all that work and a shaky return on investment, why host? As always, it’s about giving the hard-working students a chance to shine and perform in front of an audience. “It’s a great showcase for kids to come and perform, especially in Delaware; we don’t have too many competitions,” Moseley says.

Also, a little “thank you” can go a long way! “The best part is just seeing that look of achievement in the eyes of all the kids as well as the emails and phone calls after the event,” McGee says.

Newbury plans to keep up the thriving Cavalcade of Bands event and hopes to bring back the DCI show. “As a father of two kids, I know the importance of how big a deal competitions were for them,” Newbury says. “These ongoing activities create character. When you can provide something that helps with self-motivation, it’s something very worth providing—it’s the stage to show the hard work that they’ve done, regardless of the bottom line.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor and web editor for Halftime Magazine and a freelance journalist and communications professional. She marched flute at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band, where she now works as a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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