The Pride: Matching movement with music

The concert, symphony and ensemble bands in the YSU Dana School of Music all have a distinct advantage over the Marching Pride – they remain stationary.

As YSU director of athletics bands, Brandt Payne’s job is to make sense out of the interesting mix of movement and music that is unique to a marching band. In fact, he’s become an expert.

Earlier this year, Payne shared his creative ideas on the fine art of drillwriting in an article in The Instrumentalist, an influential magazine circulated to band directors across the nation.

“The drillwriting process is really exhaustive with lots of elements in it,” said Payne, who came to YSU in 2010 after stints directing marching bands at the University of Hawaii and the University of Wyoming. “A big driving force is making sure that what we are performing and executing on the field is visually reinforcing what we do musically.”

For the marching band’s 2012 season, Brandt started designing drills in June, listening to recordings and thinking in terms of shapes and motion. “Everything that you see on the field in terms of formations and different designs is all driven by what’s happening musically,” he said after a recent practice at Stambaugh Stadium. “So the music really drives everything.”

While audiences see only the polished performance, each step is learned, the music is practiced, and then both elements combined during the practices. “We try to pace the learning of music but also the drills and to make sure those two don’t fight against each other when we put them together,” he said.

Each of the band’s 130 members is given a drill chart with the formations and their assignment. Drillwriting computer programs are also available. Once the band is choreographed, the flag line and Penguinette dancers are also factored into the routine.

“There are lots of different ways to include them and they really bring an added layer of visual presence in terms of their maneuvers,” he said. “In the case of the color guard, they have flags of different colors that they use to reinforce what’s happening musically. The dancers are another part of the animation and motion that you see, really contributing to the overall performance.”

The YSU Marching Pride with director Brandt Payne.

Brandt Payne with the Marching Pride in Pittsburgh.

Brandt said that early in his career, drillwriting wasn’t something that he was as proficient in, but it was something he wanted to excel in and to improve upon. “That happened over the summers in between academic years, spending time with drillwriters, learning from them and becoming more proficient in my own craft,” he said.

Born and raised in central Iowa, Payne grew up in a family of musicians, earned a bachelor of music degree in trombone performance from the University of Iowa and a master of music and doctor of musical arts from Arizona State University.