With a new director, a revitalized marching band at Bowling Green State University has students drilled in on shows with new and exciting movements.
Mid-way through his first football season as the BGSU Marching Band director, Jon Waters was the guest speaker last week at the Rotary Club of Bowling Green.
Waters is most well known for the dynamic halftime shows he designed while directing at Ohio State University, one of which was featured in an advertisement for the Apple iPad. Following his time at OSU, he started a new marching band program at Heidelberg University.
“What I know I inherited is a great Bowling Green band tradition and a lot of enthusiastic alumni and a lot of potential,” Waters said. “That is the thing I saw the potential in, on day one, when I started, and what we could have here, in terms of size, quality, community engagement. That is what we are focused on.
“We just put forth a big recruiting effort and I tried to create some buzz on my own. The College of Musical Arts also put out some media on my hire,” Waters said. “We recruit just through the student experience, the camaraderie of being in the band and the opportunity to play and perform with a great band.”
“The family concept is so important. When a student feels connected to our band they feel like they own it. They feel like they’re invested in it and they have a real sense of belonging. I try to push a real sense of band family, and that was here before I got here and I try to foster that,” Waters said. “I do call it the band family.”
Upon starting at BGSU in August, he was able to immediately expand the program up to 230 students, from a pandemic low of about 100.
“That was cause for some concern, when I saw those initial numbers,” Waters said. “We made a big effort in the band fraternity and sorority to recruit incoming freshmen.”
The band composition is about 50% freshmen this year, which he claims to have caused some of his gray hair.
Waters pioneered the complex shows that he is known for.
In addition to the members needing to memorize the music, they also have to spend about 10 hours per week on the field, working together at the drills that turn into the patterns of movement that might spell out the block BGSU school letters, which might then morph into an image.
Some of those past shows, and there is a new one for every home game, have had themes as wide ranging as “Star Wars,” “Top Gun” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” In the old days, the drill would have been laid out on graph paper, with each of the 230 student musicians noted, on as many as 800 sheets.
Today, that is done by computer. Trumpet player number 14 can watch a digital simulation of where they are supposed to be, relative to every other player, and specifically where trumpet player 13 and 15 are positioned, and what instruments are in front and behind.
The pictures they create on the field might be Yoda’s face, spelling out the letters “TOP GUN” or a detailed pirate ship with sails and cannons.
Waters believes the band was at its largest size about 10 years ago, when there were about 270 members.
“Every band around the country, whether it’s a high school band or a college band, has suffered, I think, to some extent because of COVID,” Waters said.
He said they are starting to see the effects of students not being able to practice together in the time leading up to college.
“We’re starting to see that now at the college level, with less marching experience,” Waters said.
He has studied show forms that he also inherited, and kept some of the concepts, to retain the tradition, but has expanded on them by using technology.
As much as Waters knows his complicated shows are a thrill for the audience, he also realizes that it won’t work without the music.
“My baton makes no sound. I can wave it all I want. I can point it at someone, I can look cool doing it, but it makes no sound. It is the students who march the drills and create the music and create the sound, so that is the most important aspect, the teaching and learning,” Waters said.