FROM SAND TO SOFTWARENOTES DA CAPO - By John L. Puffenbarger
When Charleston's Capital High School opened this fall displaying the latest in technology, educators were impressed as they observed state-of-the-art equipment throughout the school. They realized that education is changing to meet changes in our society.
Music education has shared in these changes over the years. For example, methods for developing half-time shows have changed from a task that once took weeks to finish to one that can be done in a day. About 1964, Owen West, then West Virginia Wesleyan College band director, remarked that he had a habit of sitting in the bleachers at Ross Field looking at the yard lines and trying to visualize how his next football half-time show would look. He would take drawings of the show, look at them and then at the field to see if the spacing and depth of the field would be correct.
During the 1950s through the mid-1970s band directors designed formations by penciling circles on a worksheet which had the outline of a football field. During the 1960s the Instrunientalist magazine advertised a magnetic board complete with magnetic objects representing bandsmen. These could be moved around and then circles drawn on a paper football field.
Prepared dittos with the outline of a football field could also be used to draw circles. These could be reproduced and given to squad leaders. Many hours were spent drawing several pages representing every six or eight steps of a show. One took much care that band members would not collide with each other. In order to gain proper perspective, band directors used ingenious methods such as standing on tall ladders, the roof of a car, the top row in the bleachers, or even the roof of a school!
During the 1970s music publishers designed and printed shows which were sold along with the musical selections. Sometimes these included entire shows and music designed for a 64 or 98-piece band. Most bands A'cre of different sizes, so the director still had to adapt the shows to his particular band--which meant rewriting the entire show in some cases.
Recently the use of computers has made the drudgery of designing a show almost fun. Software is available which allows information such as the size of the band or type of formation desired to be fed into the computer. Thus, a complete show can be designed in as little as 15 minutes. The computer will also check footstep by footstep to see whether any head-on collision is probable. It will check depth of field, angles, and spacing from several points of view. Band directors today may also choose to hire a computer specialist to design, write, and print a show for them.
In contrast, Bob Hill (Morgantown High School director in the 1950s and early 1960s) said once that before the school year was over he would begin drafting designs for the next half-time season. Even when he went on vacation he would find himself drawing formations in the sand. His summer would have been more enjoyable if he could have had the assistance of today's computers!