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Priorities in Percussion Staffing for High School Marching Band by Jim Whitfill

Jun 25, 2021, 08:17 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Take a deep breath: marching season is just around the corner. The struggles of last year’s COVID season are now a thing of the past, and hopefully new opportunities await directors and students in high school marching band programs. Directors are well into contest show planning and all the many elements that accompany it, including guard colors, uniforms, instruments, and, most of all, adjunct staffing.

Shows are beautifully elaborate and require contributions from many talented individuals towards the ultimate result of outstanding performances. For many directors, selecting the best possible instructors for their students is a priority this time of year. Directors want a staff that is well acquainted with the contemporary world of show design, color guard, and percussion, and they will search the rosters of DCI and WGI to fulfill this need because they feel doing so elevates their programs and brings that “winning edge.”

But take a very careful look at the kind of adjunct staff that is often hired. Many of these individuals are just barely over 21, are still in a university setting, and have no teaching experience. These youths may have had some remarkable performance experiences, but with limited or no practical teaching experience, they may not have a clue as to how a complex musical passage is to be presented to novice high school students. Furthermore, especially relative to percussion staffing, almost all past drum corps percussionists play a score that is rhythmically complex, presenting and combining numerous rhythmic groupings. These novice instructors often attempt to write for young percussionists in the same manner, believing that it should be easily playable. Many bands have struggled in competition for this reason, costing student success that would be otherwise attainable.

In searching for excellent adjunct percussion faculty in high school marching band programs, consider instead these questions:

  1. What high school program did they come from?
  2. What successes were synonymous with their high school programs?
  3. How did they contribute to the success of their high school percussion section?
  4. How did they aid their high school director(s) in attaining desired goals? 
  5. What accolades did they achieve in high school as an individual? 
  6. What college did they attend, and what was their primary field instrument? Request that these applicants play solo on snare drum, tenors, and mallets. This will indicate their competence. If these individuals are to be in charge of your section, they must also be musically competent to teach, so consider these additional questions: 
  7. What form or role of leadership were they responsible for? 
  8. Did they learn music notation software, and did they compose any of the marching band or drumline charts? Ask for samples of their writing. 
  9. Did they design backfield percussion drill? 
  10. How did they aid their college marching band director in attaining program success? 
  11. What experiences does this individual have in working with students of physical and mental deficiencies? 
  12. Why does this individual want to be associated with your program?

Remember, this is your budget. Spend it wisely and to the program’s (and your) long-term benefit. Take time to call references, and not only recommendations given, but people who might have been a part of their high school and college experiences including principals, counselors, college directors, applied faculty, student teaching mentors, etc. These are the people that you will entrust with your students; be careful and thorough.

Notice that throughout this screening process, no discussion of drum corps was ever mentioned. Just by soliciting their past high school and college marching experiences, and where these experiences were achieved, you should be able to determine if the person seeking to work with your students would be able to contribute towards your program’s ultimate goals.

Jim WhitfillJim Whitfill is a 38-year veteran in teaching wind band and percussion in Texas. He has taught public school grades 6–12, as well as being adjunct college faculty. He has also served as a percussion consultant for several North Texas percussion programs and has designed marching percussion curriculum for several private schools in the Frisco/Prosper area. Whitfill continues to teach privately in the Red River area of Texas. 

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