A TRADITION OF INNOVATION: The Traditional Style

Try to imagine a time when all bands marched the same style of march. From large public school bands like Wisconsin University to small private school ensembles like Morehouse College. In the year 1960, nearly every band was strutting to the hottest and newest trend in marching band drill maneuvers called Patterns Of Motion. Patterns Of Motion, was based on a constant-motion system using four-player squads marching 8 steps to every 5 yards, utilizing 22 and a half inch steps, at a 2 step interval. This should all sound familiar to you if you’ve ever marched in, or seen, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) Band.

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Bill Moffit Directing the Purdue University Band

The creator was Mr William C. “Bill” Moffit. Bill Moffit was the band director at Michigan State University at that time. He would later go on to direct bands at The University of Houston and Purdue University. Mr. Moffit’s approach, which was in stark contrast to the military style of marching in ranks doing TTR’s, flanks, and column movements, revolutionized college and high school marching band shows across the country from the 1960’s until the early 1990’s when DCI/Corps Style became more popular.

Transcribed By Mr. Adrian Wright

Today, most college and high school band programs have moved well beyond the slants, pinwheels, and step 2’s of Patterns Of Motion. They have adopted the Drum Corp style of march which utilizes a “picture drill” format done with sets and transitions that incorporates a “heel to toe” marching step as opposed to the 22 and a 1/2 inch steps facilitated by a knee lift. Most of today’s bands also include electronic equipment with pre recorded sounds, dramatic narration, and full sideline battery that sometimes includes string instruments. The “traditional” style of marching is primarily reserved for pre-game activities.

However, while the rest of the country was moving with the latest trend of corp style marching and drill design, HBCU bands chose to hold to the traditional style and drills made popular by Bill Moffit. During this time, band leaders began to form their own take on the traditional style. Dr William P. Foster and his Florida A&M Band created something even more exciting than the typical “Moffitt band” of the times. He successfully bridged the squad based drills of Patterns Of Motion with what he called Band Pageantry and created something “new” and unique.

 

“Our first dance routine, I don’t know how or why it came about,” says Dr. William Foster, FAMU’s band director emeritus, widely acknowledged as the precipitator of black college band showmanship and author of “Band Pageantry, A Guide for the Marching Band.” “It was to the tune of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band.’ We were just doing steps and high-knee lifts, and people thought that was the greatest thing on earth. Later, I had a physical education teacher (Beverly Barber) to help with the choreography, putting the steps to music. I didn’t know what I was doing, but it drew in the audience. The band members hadn’t seen anything like it before and they thought highly of me, so they thought it was all right. And very shortly afterwards, other bands started doing it.”

– (Excerpted from A Different Drummer, originally published in BVQ Magazine Winter 2000 issue.)

-The Band Plays On
By Michael Hurd

Other directors began experimenting and innovating and even more styles were created. Today, Grambling, Southern, Florida A&M, Jackson State, South Carolina State, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M, etc… all have their own style and uniqueness that sets them apart from corp style bands and each other. It is exciting to watch each band’s take on the “traditional” principles founded in the 60’s. However, after more than 50 years, has there been significant innovation within the traditional style?… And Should there be?

“Would a move like that significantly damage the brand?”

I , for one, don’t believe HBCU bands should significantly change the way they perform. If the product is distinct and unique to a particular school or band, then it is their intellectual property and apart of their brand therefore should not be changed without careful consideration and planning. Think of it like this… There are many theme parks out there; Dollywood, Carowinds, Universal Studios, Disney World, Six Flags, Busch Gardens, etc… Disney arguably stands out as the best among them all. If Disney World decided to remove the Monorails, The Castle, Space Mountain, and It’s A Small World would it still be Disney?

 

Would a move like that significantly damage the brand? I think it would take a major hit. Likewise, bands should not change those traditional things audiences look forward to seeing and hearing. If I’m the director at Jackson State University I would not eliminate the tiger run-on and the floating of “JSU” down the field just to do a new innovative drill format. I would attempt to add the old and new formats together in a creative way. Disney wouldn’t tear down Space Mountain to make way for the Star Wars attraction. They would build the Star Wars Exhibit right beside it and tie the themes together to make an even bigger experience. The brand is protected while still innovating in a relevant way.

So what’s next?… I guess what traditional bands need now is maybe not another Patterns of Motion type scenario that replaces everything that came before it  with something new and different. I don’t think it’s necessary for a band to totally step away from the identity, reputation, and brand they have created. I believe HBCU bands, and the traditional style in general, needs another William Foster type of individual. Someone schooled in all aspects of marching bands but who also has the ability to bravely think outside of the box to facilitate growth within the style. Someone who will bring a fresh approach with new ideas and merge those concepts and thoughts with the long standing traditions in a way that makes it “new” again. If it happens in our lifetime, it will likely be the millennials that get it done.

6 thoughts on “A TRADITION OF INNOVATION: The Traditional Style

  1. Good read….but alot of facts were left out. A few more pioneers had the innovation down pat and never ever wanted to director college programs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for posting. Could you provide some more insight. I would love to hear about them… I’m a band history nerd, I love this stuff. 😊

      Like

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