What is your experience with marching band, how did you get involved, and with which groups do you primarily work?
Raquel Rodriquez: My experience began with marching Drum Corps with Star of Indiana in 1992 when I started college. I did not “age-out” and never had the opportunity to go back because Star evolved into an indoor brass ensemble. I rejoined the group in 1995-96 & 1998 when the group was renamed Brass Theater. I had the opportunity to perform and record with the Canadian Brass as a member of Brass Theater. In 1999, the group went through another phase, and evolved into a show called “Blast!” I was a member in the Original London Cast.
Fast forward to 2009 and I rejoined a mini-corps group called “Star United” that was mainly comprised of Star of Indiana alumni. I had just begun my position at Northern Kentucky University as the trumpet professor and decided to play with this group to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. Star United competed in the DCA Championships and with this group, we won the mini-corps championships the four years (2009-2012) - I was a member. One of the highlights of this time was participating in the 2010 Star of Indiana alumni corps that performed at the 2010 DCI Championships weekend.
I have been on the brass staff of the 2010 Blue Stars and I assisted in a Glassmen camp in 2012. I got called to go to local schools in Kentucky and Ohio to assist with their shows and I adjudicate marching band festivals in the Northern Kentucky area.
When you adjudicate, what are some of your reoccurring critiques? What do most groups need help in developing?
RR: Matching articulation styles and dynamic contrasts are always issues with marching bands. In general, groups should include technical work and practice dynamics as part of the warm-up. Having a system and defining everything in the show will help.
What is your focus when working with a marching group?
RR: I believe focusing on brass fundamentals to achieve a homogeneous sound is paramount. Some of these fundamentals include how one takes a breath, begins a sound, ends a sound, and articulates. The timing with feet is also critical and should be included with all of the fundamental exercises.
Are there any exercises or drills that you use to achieve a homogeneous sound?
RR: Teaching how to take a breath together to come in together. I also think moving long tones (i.e. Stamp and Cichowicz) are more beneficial than “traditional” long tone studies like the Remington long tones. Having students play these moving long notes and having them think that the air stream should resemble one long arch, could prove to be beneficial.
Sometimes you get a few students that seem to always have a difficult time maintaining focus. How do you help them succeed?
RR: I think sometimes students lose focus when they don’t experience success or have transformational experiences (great concerts, etc.). I think finding something that a student can do well is good as it helps with morale. For example, if a student has a good sound build on this strength and make it a big focus. The student has to practice their weaknesses as well (range, technique, etc), but when they focus on a positive attribute in their playing this can really help with morale. This in turn can provide the determination and willingness to continue to work despite obstacles.
What advice do you have for someone interested in auditioning for a drum and bugle corps?
RR: Play something that you can perform really well in the audition. Don’t pick the hardest thing, but rather something you can play really well. Sometimes the auditions are during a hard playing day and you will need to sound good despite how your chops feel. In addition, the movement component is just as important. One must be in good physical condition and be able to march at a level that can show competence or at the very least, potential.
What are your tips for competitive groups from the high school to the corps level?
RR: I think in general having a system that helps develop individual musicianship will have a positive impact on the ensemble. Students should have a packet of things to work on including exercises to work on tone, flexibility, articulation, range and lyrical exercises.
Do you feel that being a member of Star of Indiana prepared you for your solo, brass band, and small ensemble career?
RR: I very much believe my experiences with Star made me a better performer. I think the confidence I attained was the driving force for my success. The other attribute was the “never give up” philosophy that was prevalent in Star.
What is your favorite memory from your time in corps?
RR: The show in 1992 was a patriotic show and consisted of “Americana” music. One of the pieces was “Amber Waves” and it was our ballad of sorts. The corps moved into an arc at the climatic moment of the piece and we really cranked out the sound back then (especially as we were still playing on G bugles). There was one show in particular that I happened to see a gentlemen in a yellow sweater stand up and put his hands on his head as he was obviously moved by the climatic moment. I had never moved someone like that in my life, and I realized at that moment the power music could have on people. It was an incredible feeling and one I still try to encapsulate as a performer.