Collaboration. What does that mean in the marching arts? We all know that in order to be successful in any capacity the organization and each of its moving parts need to operate like a well oiled machine. Administration. Logistics. Design. Teaching staff. Leadership. Membership. Because this is a medium specifically for cymbal players, teachers, and enthusiasts alike I wanted to take a moment to shed some light on what collaboration looks like in the dynamics of fielding, teaching, and marching a cymbal line.
Let’s start with designing and arranging for a cymbal line. As a battery percussion arranger/composer your job by definition is to write the music. As it relates to cymbals you choose the rhythms and the sound techniques and put them on the paper. Essentially your job stops there and you pass the baton on to the cymbal technician.
You’re up cymbal tech! What do you see when you look down at a new sheet of music for your line? A skeleton. Opportunity. Notes to be sung from pairs of circular metal strapped or not to the hands of your performers. Visual movement that hasn’t been dreamed of yet.
What does a cymbal player see when they are handed a new piece of music? A skeleton. Opportunity. Notes to be sung from their pair of circular metal strapped or not to their hands. Visual movement that hasn’t been dreamed of yet.
You’re smart so you realize that what a cymbal technician sees and what a performer sees is one and the same. This is one of the unique and beautiful aspects of marching cymbals. As a member and staff member you have the opportunity to collaborate on a product that has the ability to be trend setting and seen by thousands. Every note needs definition. Every space has the possibility to turn into, simply put, a cool moment. In the cymbal lines I teach we make sure that how the notes are played and the visuals we write complement and embellish the rest of the music score. What was new vocabulary last season is now a standard and needs to be topped. It’s this fire as staff and members that has to be fed to innovate our instrument. We work together to make the best product we can.
Now this isn't to say that in other sections there isn’t collaboration between members and staff with the product, but I would argue that the degree a cymbal player and their cymbal tech must work together to make the book what everyone involved wants it to be is substantially higher than other sub sections. Cymbals and their vocabulary are changing at a rapid pace. Once a member is aged out one or two years they find that the next generation has dreamed up something they never did and ultimately something that they can’t do themselves. From a sheer physical standpoint a tech can’t throw the plates around the way the members can. I’ve rarely seen a cymbal tech be able to outplay a world class cymbal line after being aged out more than two years. And you know what? They don’t have to.
As a cymbal technician your job is to be a facilitator. You need to provide vision for the cymbal line and as they say, help the creative juices flow. And once you have a visual or musical phrase in place you must clean it. You also need to be the voice of reason and make the final call when the balance of innovation starts to outweigh consistency and cleanliness. And this is where the lines get blurry between staff and members. From one side you need each other for the show to meet its full potential. On the other hand as the tech you have the final word and difficult task of deciding where the bar should be set in order to be achievable and innovative. It takes a lot of maturity from the membership to accept that the decision that you make is for the best, not to stunt their growth but to set them up for success. I remember very vividly as a member performing visuals that I didn’t think were cool enough. I had to trust my teacher and trust the process almost blindly to keep the peace and momentum moving forward. When you don’t it can get toxic very quickly.
Collaboration- to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor. The creative process is unique in cymbal world. It can be equal parts frustrating and fulfilling. Keep pushing the envelope. Keep working together. Don’t lose sight of the common goal. It’s an amazing process to be a part of. Enjoy it.