Small Guard vs. Large Guard

Question: When you have two guards . . . one with 3 members and one with 25 . . . do you look at numbers? What do you look for that sets the smaller guard apart from the larger guard?

Answer: Personally, I NEVER come to a decision based on the number alone. There are 3 key points to consider when either designing or evaluating the guard: 

#1 – Are they fully integrated into the program?

I’ve seen smaller groups that have been brilliantly written into an overall program. They are sometimes utilized as almost an additional wind section and always kept together. One design error I frequently see is writers who will split a guard of 4 or 5 into two entities separated by quite a bit of football field. You simply loose impact if your group is that small (in additional to causing focus issues). On the other hand, a guard of 24 doesn’t always have to function as the ‘backdrop’ for the winds and percussion. Move them into and out of forms throughout the program to get the maximum variety.  

#2 – Is the design of the work providing visual support to the musical program?

Every aspect of the visual program (including the guard) should act as a vehicle for enhancing the musical selections being presented. If the music is fast and aggressive, you would expect to see those same contributions from the guard. Conversely, if the music is very lyrical and expressive, you would expect to see that type of work being presented. I’ve often cautioned designers who subscribe to the fact that “more is better”. Just because something is harder to perform doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s more effective from a visual musicality standpoint. A more simplistic approach sometimes provides a much better vehicle to get the point across.

#3 – Do the performers have the necessary training level to support the written book?

I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase “you need to walk before you can run”. This can also be applied to the level of training from today’s guards. There may be some absolutely phenomenal writing in a program. But if your group has problems doing simple spins together in a block, then it’s unlikely that the one-handed inverted wrist work while split leaping through the saxophones is going to achieve much success. And while I’m sure this is frustrating for the performers, it’s also frustrating for the adjudicators. We WANT to be able to credit success . . . at all levels. I’ve many times seen groups early in the season who are struggling with a program, but you can see that their training level will eventually lead to success. However, there are probably an equal number of units who “overwrite” their books in hopes of simply receiving more credit from a repertoire standpoint. One of the hardest things I have to do each year is to sometimes convince some of those staff members that they need to focus more on training vs. an advanced book. Eventually, those groups will have the tools need to start advancing to the next level of both skill and achievement. 

If the smaller guard is matching or exceeding the achievements of the larger guard on these 3 points, then they MUST be compared and scored accordingly and you’ll find that they can be VERY competitive with groups twice their size or even larger.

– Mark Culp