Before you read anything watch the linked youtube video below.

LA Phil Rehearsal Video

There is something that happens in the first three seconds of this rehearsal video that is incredible.

Did you catch it?

The orchestra goes from laughing to serious in less than a second and an amazing sound erupts from the orchestra as soon as Dudamel drops his baton. This orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic) has a unique skill. They can “flip the switch.”

“Flipping the switch” is the ability to change from focused to relaxed and back to focused again with no loss of productivity or excellence. It is not an easy thing to do and it requires that every member of a group makes the decision to “flip the switch” every single time. However, when your group is able to do this rehearsals become not only productive but also fun.

Think of it this way. If a director can not trust their group to get back on task after he or she tells a joke then why would they tell it? The potential loss of time is too big of a risk to take. When a group is unable to “flip the switch”, directors often feel like they have to rule the group with an iron fist in order to keep the rehearsal on track. This means no jokes, breaks, or any other distractions. In contrast, if a director knows that the group will “flip the switch” every time then they can use jokes and other potential distractions as a way of getting what they want out of the group (much like Dudamel did in the video).

How do you get a group to be better at this? Great question. I don’t have all the answers but I have found that if I explain the concept of “flipping the switch” (and the benefits) to the groups that I work with they start to do it automatically. Having a specific name for the phenomenon rather than just a general label like “discipline” seems to plant the idea into their minds. If they start to trip up a quick reminder of the concept goes a long way to restoring order.

Have any ideas on this topic? Let me know in the comments.

– Troy

It’s your first year in high school or maybe it’s just your first year in a marching band and you’ve been told that you have to attend band camp. Maybe you are a returning member and you are excited for the new season. Either way, there are some important things to keep in mind when you are attending band camp that will help your program improve as fast as possible and will help you have the most fun. Hopefully this article helps your camp be a little different than the image below.

For the brand new:

What is band camp?

Band camp is a one to three week camp that takes place at your school before your school year starts. Camp days are generally long (somewhere between 6-12 hours) and will typically have a lunch (or dinner) break in the middle depending on length. Camp generally consists of visual and musical rehearsals with the goal of preparing your show for the upcoming season.

Why do we have band camp?

In general, Band camps have several purposes:

1. Introduce new members to the staff and returning members

2. Introduce new members to the culture of the group and make sure that everyone is on the same page of how things are run.

3. Teach everyone marching technique

4. Work on the overall instrumental ability of the group

5. Begin to learn the show

  • Generally including both the show music and the show drill (your positions on the football field)

Essentially, the overarching purpose for band camp is to get the group ready for the upcoming year. Band camp typically comprises the vast majority of the technique teaching time that a group will get in a given year and is vital to setting the tone and trajectory for the upcoming season. Make sure that you attend EVERY day. There is no (non emergency) reason to miss a day of band camp. Schedule appointments, vacations, and other things around band camp. Remember that every other member of your organization is counting on you to be there and to do your best. Do not let them down.

What should I expect?

Every band camp is different so ask your directors or older members for specifics. However, there are some general expectations you can have for any band camp

1. A lot of information.

  • First and foremost band camp is about getting you the information you need to succeed in the marching activity. I tell my students you will get more in a week of band camp than you will in a year of middle school band. Plan for a bit of overwhelm and do your best when it comes. The staff and student leadership are there to help you. If needed, ask them questions or for extra help.

2. Lots of time outside

  • Indoor rehearsal space is often limited or inapropriate (like for marching).
  • This is an outdoor activity so plan to spend the vast majority of your band camp hours outside. (advice on how to prepare for this later in this post. Keep reading!)

3. Lots of time on your feet.

4. A lot of fun.

  • While this activity is highly demanding it is also a lot of fun. You will make lots of good friends and will have a great time as long as you are properly prepared.

For everyone:

How can I prepare beforehand?

  1. Practice your instrument through the summer to keep your ability improving through the break
  2. Get used to the sun early in the summer (if possible) by getting into the sun for a few minutes everyday
  3. Get lots of sleep (especially the week or two before camp)
  4. Drink water long before rehearsal to start rehearsal hydrated

What should I bring?

1. Sunscreen

  • Sunburn during band camp is miserable. I have done it so you don’t have to. Bring strong sunscreen (I bring SPF 30+ when I teach) and reapply it thought the day. I like spray sunscreen because it allows me to reapply quickly as needed without interrupting.

2. Lip Balm

  • With sunscreen in it!
  • Sun or wind damaged lips make playing any wind instrument (much less a brass instrument) much more difficult and often painful. Protect those lips!
  • I personally use DCT by Blistex and can recommend Chopsaver or Burts Bees as well. (I seem to be allergic to beeswax so I can’t use those personally)
3. Half a gallon or more of water
  • I highly recommend a gallon as you will likely find yourself refilling with a 1/2 gallon bottle.
  • You need to be responsible for your own water. Do not plan on sharing water with anyone else (although please help your friends if needed).
4. Hat and Sunglasses
  • Hats are absolutely mandatory sun protection at any band camp. A baseball cap is a “C-“. You should try and find a true “floppy hat.” Straw hats work great for this purpose. Remember you are looking for sun protection not to look cool.
  • Sunglasses are highly recommended but not required
5. Activity appropriate clothing (see below for more detailed info) 6. Instrument 7. Printed music
  • In a binder so the wind doesn’t blow it away.
8. Pencils
  • Mechanical pencils are highly recommended so you don’t have to worry about sharpening.
  • Don’t forget an eraser as well

9. Tuner and Metronome

What should I leave at home?

1. Sugary drinks
  • Something for lunch is fine. However, drinking sugary drinks (soda, fruit juice, Gadorade, etc.) while playing your instrument will damage your instrument and can cause the insttrument to rot from the inside out. Water only during rehearsals.

2. Extra electronics or expensive materials

What should I wear?

1. Athletic Shirts

  • No button down shirts
  • Ideal shirts are sports jersey like materials in light colors. However, long sleeved ATHLETIC ONLY shirts may be appropriate if you are sunburned and need to cover up.

2. Athletic Pants

  • No jeans / chinos / slacks
    • Yes this really does happen. You are going to get hot and possibly pass out.
  • Ideal pants are shorts in an athletic material. Think basketball shorts or workout shorts. However, long ATHLETIC ONLY pants may be appropriate if you are sunburned and need to cover up.

3. Athletic Shoes

The general trend here is athletic. Remember this is a movement based activity where you are spending time in the sun. Wear clothing that will let you move and will keep you cool.

Anything else?

1. Be on time!

  • There is a saying in the music world: 15 minutes early is on time, on time is late, and to be late is to be fired. This applies for band camp and any future rehearsals as well. Plus it’s just a good professional habit to be in.
  • If you are late: you should be RUNNING (safely) to wherever you need to be.

2. Be welcoming to everyone around you.

  • The people around you are your collegues. Get to know everyone and become friends. You are going to be around them a LOT. I still have great friends from high school. (all from band)

3. After a break get refocused immediately

4. If an instructor or student leader is talking you should not be.

  • As I say: “there are many of you and one of me” instuctions or information that is necessary for your success is going to be missed or ignored if you are talking over it. Keep your attention at the task at hand, I promise you will get a break regularly so you can relax.

5. Remember that you are a part of something larger than yourself and the people around you are counting on you. Do not let them down.

I hope this guide to band camp helps. Returning members (or staff), did I miss anything? Let me know so I can add it in! If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask in the comments.

– Troy