I hear from people who ask how I can be in a room with so many teens or why I would want to spend all that time with them. They inspire me with their youthful enthusiasm, but why rely on second-hand information? Volunteer with a local marching band organization and travel with the group to a marching band competition. There’s a lot of good stuff happening, academic, artsy and otherwise. Here are over 14 ways to volunteer for a marching band to appreciate and applaud what is good about teenage America.
Nearly all bands have a Band Parent Organization, but in some cities, or with smaller bands, finding enough help is a challenge. Most of the adults volunteering with a marching band have students in the band, but very few organizations would limit help to ONLY parents. Jump in. You’ll be accepted, appreciated, respected and even loved.
UNIFORMS. Are you good at measuring and sizing? All band students get sized for uniforms every year. That normally involves finding a coat, trousers and hat that fit. Someone has to keep track of who has what number of which piece of the uniform. Then there is distributing and collecting accessories like gauntlets, plumes, gloves, braids, sashes and other uniform add-ons. Marching Band uniforms can easily cost $400ea, so it would cost $40,000 to uniform a 100-piece band.
There is a need to manage and maintain those uniforms to increase the life expectancy and reduce the frequency of buying new sets. Older uniforms require dry cleaning, which is no small undertaking. Organizing them for pick up or delivery, removing the items that don’t go to the cleaner, then re-assembling and reorganizing upon their return. Some newer uniforms are machine washable – but also no easy task. Do you have a large front loaded washer you would be willing to use for your local band? That also helps with the savings from the dry cleaning bills of before.
COSTUME DESIGN/SEWING. The Color Guards (Flag Corps) generally have a separate, custom-designed outfit to go with the show theme and colors for that year. Drum Major(s) sometimes use a theme-oriented, custom uniform as well. Volunteers can save the band significant money by sewing, rather than purchasing flags and/or uniforms.
CONSTRUCTION / PROPS. You’ve seen the sets on a theater stage. The football field is the marching band’s stage. Bands want props to shrink the size of the stage or to enhance the theme of the show. Props can be decorative or functional (ramps, storage for equipment/uniform/costume changes). Maybe it is building and putting wheels on carts to haul all the extra percussion equipment (marimba, xylophone, timpani, gong, bass drum, keyboard, sound system, etc) in such a way that it can be moved easily.
Local props have included an analog clock painted on a full size trampoline, 10 foot hour glass, a ship complete with flag pole mast and sails that go up and down, tarps, tepees and more. If you’re not the construction type, share your design and creativity talents.
PIT / FIELD CREW. All that sideline ensemble equipment and any props must be put into place and then removed after the performance. Getting the band on and off the field is an operation that some competitions recognize with a “Best Pit Crew” trophy. The good news is that those on the pit crew generally get into the competition for free and get to hang out with the band students around the buses before and after a show. What a deal.
FOOD. Like to cook/fix foods for big events? Like to see smiles on teen faces? Want to serve? When bands travel to competitions and events, there are often times when it is necessary to feed them. The local band students get excited when they hear about “what’s for dinner”, especially things like potato or soup or taco bars, walking tacos, burgers, pizza and the like. Most of the meals served locally cost the band parent organization about $2 per person (does include both donated and purchased items). After a performance there is often a snack table with sweets, fruits and water. If you’re a food service professional, your skills could be especially helpful in planning, coordinating and calculating. Not only do you get into competitions for free and get to hang out with enthusiastic teens, but you also get to enjoy meals with them.
CHAPERONES. Unlike the general population of the school, band students understand the behavior expectations and how they are held to a higher standard. They understand that travel is a privilege that can be lost. Band students are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, and riding the bus with them, helping them get all their uniform parts together and such…. is really a fun job. Many chaperons are “Mama [insert name]” to the students. They understand chaperons are a reality and they do not make it a hard job. And yes, you get in free…..it is the least we can do.
DRIVERS. The bus drivers are school corporation employees, but most bands have trailers of various sizes, or even a semi to pull. Are you a professional truck driver? Have your own rig? One year our band borrowed a trailer from a local warehouse company that had their advertising on it — and used a truck donated by a local delivery company. A parent volunteer drove and the band parent organization paid for the fuel.
FUNDRAISING. In most high school music programs, both instrumental and vocal, the financial requirements involved in funding a competitive ensemble (show choir / marching band) can be staggering. A new uniform drive needs $40,000 the same year the band is going to Disney ($80,000). Throw in a new set of drumline percussion instruments ($10,000), another $10,000 for a sound system, $25,000 for five new tubas, $3,000 for drill design, $1500 for music, $5,000 for flags and guard uniforms, food for road trips, transportation costs, etc., and you can see that fundraising is a major part of a successful marching program.
Are you good at organizing events, making calls, creating publicity, motivating people? Your skills would be invaluable.
CONTEST/EVENT ORGANIZER. A marching band competition can involve over a dozen marching bands bringing a couple thousand teens, 50 school buses plus vans, trucks, trailers. The group is flying in judges from all over the country, housing and feeding them — as well as providing hospitality for directors and drivers, concessions, advertising, announcing, timers, people to help each group through their event schedule, score tabulators and so much more. Competitions are large fundraisers, but also massive undertakings. Can you help with parking, crowd control, first aid — or as a runner to take care of all the highly stressed and sometimes demanding band directors? Whatever you like to do, there is probably a job for you at a marching band, winter guard or indoor percussion competition.
GRANT WRITING. There is money out there, but the competition for it is great. Are you an experienced grant writer? They could certainly use your help.
BUSINESS MENTORING. Do you run a small business? Have a business degree? Band Directors are trained educators, not necessarily heavily trained in the business skills involved in running the “business” of a travelling competitive program. And the band parent volunteers are always well-meaning parents who want to help, but don’t always have the organizational or motivational skills that could make them more effective and successful contributors to the program.
Especially in programs organizing “competitions” as fundraisers….the organization requirements are huge — and most would accept constructive help from a local business professional.
MEDICAL. Students with asthma have prescription inhalers. Someone severely alergic to bee stings may have emergency medication. There are those on behavioral modification medicines (including narcotics) or with medically prescribed ankle or knee braces. An intensive performance in uniform with the added stress of competition and heat, students need real help when they come off the field. It is not unusual for students to get a variety of injuries (twisted ankles), bumps from flag poles, sun burn, dehydration and more…. The local show choir was fortunate for a number of years to have a parent who was a chiropractor who would transport a portable table to competitions to help dancers with injuries and stresses. If you are a medical professional, your advice services could be put to good use.
LEGAL. Increasingly, band and choir parent organizations are incorporating — and part of that process involves legal services. Can you help? Bands make contractual commitments to drill designers, instructional and expert staff, choreographers, and more. Perhaps they are building sponsorship relationships with local business. You could help them saying the right words the right way.
FINANCIAL. Bands often have an individual participant financial requirement that can be met from everything from parental checks to profit from a multitude of fundraising projects. So, in addition to the general fund expenses, there are individual student accounts. On a major trip year, responsibilities are magnified as families make scheduled payments into an account, or where the band treasurer must coordinate with the travel company on all those individual accounts. If you can’t be the day-to-day person, perhaps you could help set up the spreadsheet or recommend the program to use — and offer financial or bookkeeping advice.
A marching band should be run like a business, but that is hard to do when most of those in the operation are untrained and unpaid. If you can help, please do.
by JOHN GARNER