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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Everything Old is New Again

What if I told you that the new and exciting shows the Ohio State Marching Band has put on recently aren't actually that new at all.

Exciting? Absolutely, and I think few would disagree that TBDBITL is executing this particular style possibly better than has been done before. As for new, however, it may be the veritable three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust to what some in the marching arts are putting out these days. So while Urban Meyer may have brought the spread offense to Columbus, its marching band is as traditional as ever.

Traditional here is not a value judgment (or if it is, it's a positive one) but simply a declarative statement. In oversimplified terms, corps style incorporates the roll stepping and often abstract drill embodied by the corps of DCI and a majority of high school marching bands, while traditional style involved high stepping and typically more straight lines and concrete drill. The show style, represented by HBCUs and many historically black high schools, dovetails most closely with traditional style. I know that during Ohio State's current 15 minutes, many HBCU bandheads have pointed out that HBCU bands have been animating drill for years, and they're right. But this isn't a matter of someone getting their first; rather, it's a matter of those who remain there.

As far as the marching arts are concerned, corps style folks will tell you they have innovated, and in a lot of ways, they're right. A friend of mine, a corps alumnus and color guard instructor, had the recent Ohio State video shared with him on Facebook, as many of us in the band world did. A friend of his, presumably also a band insider, quipped derisively: "Boy, I bet this was a bit hit back in 1965 when this kind of thing was still innovative." I think this shows a couple of things: One, with all due respect to this gentleman, there's more than one way to innovate. And while many of us believed that what Ohio State did was amazing, it is by no means a universal truth. This also illustrated a philosophical divide: For some, if you're not at the forefront of a specific type of innovation, moving in the direction the activity seems to be headed collectively, you're in the dark ages. But the millions of hits on the recent YouTube videos from TBDBITL would seem to tell a different story: When appealing to the masses, sometimes the principle of parsimony prevails.
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