As you may have noticed, the last few marching band shows have been down right amazing. Perhaps you aren’t quite the band enthusiast, but you can still appreciate what Nathan Stark, the Spirit of the West marching band director, manages to create year after year.
The marching band’s most recent show, “Dragons,” featured music from “Game of Thrones” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” To create this show, band members marched into the shape of a dragon growing from an egg to an adult before the grand finale — fighting a human knight. The wonderful dragon that the band creates then defeats the human opponent in battle.
Their next show for the rest of this season is titled Space Music. This show includes music from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Final Countdown,” Flash Gordon and even a little “Star Wars,” which was the basis of the show to begin with.
Stark has a fascinating method for choosing and choreographing shows. His first show is always chosen by himself and Assistant Director Stephen Versaevel. The second show is at least partially chosen by the members of the band. The directors still have veto power, but Stark says he does his best to “meet the needs and desires of the members of the band” — a welcome change from many directors who prefer to do it all themselves.
Several band members said that they like this system and that it is always fun to work with the directors and find common ground. It is especially important to work together as a team, because the band has a very short time within which to rehearse both their music and their shows. Despite the limited time span, however, Stark is adamant that the Spirit of the West’s quality is on par with other universities in the U.S. — even bigger schools with larger bands. In fact, some say they are better than a fair few of those bands.
Stark has been writing drills (the show is commonly referred to as a drill by those in the band) since he was in college. He spent a summer learning the software choreographers use called Pyware, then began to write drills for rural high school bands. Stark eventually became skilled enough at creating these drills to write for his own college band. He has been writing ever since and frequently takes inspiration from drum and bugle corps.
Creating these shows and writing the drills for them is very complex, Stark said. The directors have both a lot and little artistic freedom. They are free because no one has ever told them that they cannot do something or that they have to do something else. However, they also have restrictions on that freedom because of limitations in what the band can actually pull off.
Audience members occasionally can be heard criticizing the band for not having more elaborate drills or moving faster. These people forget, however that the band has the task of playing their instruments, making sure the music sounds good as well as remembering the drill and where and when they need to move. They essentially have to be perfect where perfection cannot exist.
After having seen The Spirit of the West’s shows last year and “Dragons” this year, many students and community members alike are eagerly awaiting “Space Music,” which premieres at the home game on Saturday, Oct. 24.