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In the 10 minutes or so they spend on the field during a football game (pre-game and halftime shows combined), the 174 members of the Boston College Screaming Eagles Marching Band arrange themselves into some 80 formations. They create geometric designs, for instance, that morph into Eagles (spelled out or in flying silhouette), form the letters “BC” (regular or italic), and assume the image, above, of a charging bull (red cape courtesy of the color guard’s flags).
This diagram appears in the “dot book” assembled by band director David Healey ’90, and it lays out a portion of the choreography set to music from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. Some of the band’s formations are charted digitally, but Healey plotted Carmen by hand. The page shows the football field from the home sideline, with the yard lines marked across the bottom. Dots with a C represent the 15 members of the color guard. D’s denote the band’s 18 Golden Eagle dancers. Instrumentalists are designated according to the order in which they appear on a conductor’s score—high pitch to low—with numbers 1 to 30 in this instance being woodwinds (piccolo to tenor sax), followed by brass (trumpet to sousaphone) and percussion.
This page represents step 7 of 39 in the Bizet performance. Here, musician number 40, a trumpeter at the bottom of the bull’s front hoof, is just inside the 40-yard line and six paces in from the sideline. (In the schematic on the previous page, the bull stood on all fours, and the trumpeter was positioned squarely on the sideline.) After reaching step 7, the color guard, which above surrounds the percussion section (P), will sweep to the right and toward the center of the field (following the arc); the dancers will sweep both left and right; and the musicians will form a broad chevron between them, with the color guard arrayed along the field’s far hash marks. Fluidity is the goal. If an individual slows or speeds up, the line “is torn,” says Healey.
With more than half of this year’s 70 incoming members new to a marching band, the first task for Healey and his 17 student assistants at the ensemble’s two-week camp in late August was to introduce the basic marching style—an exaggerated rolling of the foot from heel to toe (vice versa, when backing up). This technique not only lends a smooth appearance but also allows steady breath control as the musicians march and play.
After six hours a week of practice over four weeks, Carmen had a successful premiere on September 29, during halftime of the Clemson game.
Read more by Thomas Cooper