Ah yes, April…
Tax season.
Showers leading up to those proverbial May flowers.
Percussionists drumming on LITERALLY EVERY SURFACE EVER. STOP IT.

There are few certainties in life, but above all else, you can be sure that April is for WGI.

Being that April is the WGI month, we felt it would be appropriate to pester world-renowned designer Tim Fairbanks until he carved time out of his (arguably) busiest month to answer a few questions about that crazy life style these indoor winter guards, percussionists, and winds lead.

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND:

I marched in the Glassmen 1991,92,93 and Phantom Regiment 94,95,96 as a snare drummer. From 1992-1996, I attended Michigan State University, played snare drum in the Marching Band, and then moved to Centerville, OH in 1997 to teach Centerville HS. I was the Percussion Director there from 1998-2011 and still actively teach and design for the Indoor Drumline, Marching Band and Winter Guard there. I got into the visual side of things by writing the drill for the Indoor Drumline (because we had no one else!) and found that I really enjoyed that aspect in addition to the musical side of things. I started writing drill for Marching Bands shortly after, around 1999, and have since expanded that into designing for a variety of Indoor Percussion, Guard, Winds and Drum Corps all over the world. I live in Centerville, OH with my wife Jodi, my daughter Logan, and my son Carter.

ON AVERAGE, HOW MANY SHOWS DO YOU DESIGN A YEAR? DO YOU DESIGN MORE INDOOR OR OUTDOOR?

A typical year will include 10-13 Fall Marching Band shows, 12-15 Indoor Percussion shows and a few other Winds, Guard, or Drum Corps shows mixed in!

ASIDE FROM THE OBVIOUS, WHAT ARE SOME KEY DIFFERENCES WHEN DESIGNING A SHOW FOR INDOOR ENSEMBLES VS OUTDOOR ENSEMBLES?

Many of the keys components are the same…Staging the instruments appropriately, coordinating the motion with the soundtrack, etc.

I’ve found that outdoor groups take way more planning from a visual timeline standpoint. For example, if I know that the woodwinds have a feature at Letter G, I need to start setting that up by Letter E, which is probably 64-96 counts away.

In indoors, you can get almost anywhere on the floor in 16-24 counts so the amount of ‘set up time’ can be way shorter. There are also a lot less ‘personalities’ to coordinate indoors, since you’re usually just dealing with the ‘drumline guy’, instead of having to deal with a band director, program coordinator, AND separate people representing the guard, drumline, woodwinds and brass!

SPEAKING FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO DESIGN A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP CALIBER SHOW? IS THE PROCESS DIFFERENT FROM DESIGNING FOR SAY, A HIGH SCHOOL INDOOR PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE THAT COMPETES LOCALLY?

Designing shows for Rhythm X is a team effort. Tim Jackson, Andrew Markworth, and I all work together to produce what we hope will be a ‘championship caliber’ show. Our process is VERY organic and we often end up with something very different than what we started with. We’re constantly evaluating what we like about the show and discarding what doesn’t work and enhancing what we feel is unique or inspiring.

Though there are always many layers to a show, it often gets boiled down to one singular idea when talking about it and this year’s show is no different. The first concept was to do a show about the Greek Letter ‘Alpha’, which is the first letter and often used to denote the first in a series. Then that evolved into a show about the ‘Alpha Male’, then the ‘Alpha wolf in a wolf pack’, and has now ended up being a combination of our favorite aspects of all three of those shows. This process is very different than a local HS program that might start with one idea and stick with it through the whole process. Both methods work, but we’ve found that the truly special shows are the ones that we’ve let grow and evolve throughout the year.

IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT SEPARATES A GOOD DESIGN FROM A BAD DESIGN? EXECUTION? STORYTELLING?

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are really more in the eye of the viewer/judge than the performers/designers. Many times, I’ve seen things that are successful that I didn’t think were very good, but they just weren’t ‘good’ to MY tastes. One goal that I always have in designing shows is to make them work at a high enough level that even people that don’t traditionally like what we do will have to give us the points.

FOR YOUR INDOOR SHOW(S), HOW MUCH OF THE SHOW IS CHARTED IN PYWARE? ARE REVISIONS MADE IN THE PROGRAM, OR ON THE FLY DURING REHEARSAL?

The majority of my indoor shows are done completely in Pyware and then I send the client charts, coordinates and 3D animation videos. For a few of my clients (Rhythm X, Centerville, Broken Arrow, etc.) I will stage the show live and then document the drill as I go. This has proven to be a good combination of the ‘organic’ nature of staging live, with the precision and consistency of having Pyware charts, coordinates and 3D videos.

HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN A CONCEPT FROM COMPUTER TO REHEARSAL TO FIND OUT IT JUST “DOESN’T WORK?”

Every once in a while I’ll have something that doesn’t work as well I thought it would, but the fact that I can always see exactly what it’s going to look like in the Pyware Real View usually keeps these moments few and far between. Often times, I’ll try three or four different things in Pyware before I think it’s right; but that ‘workshop’ time happens by myself at home, instead of while the students are waiting on me to figure something out, therefore more efficient rehearsal time!

MARCHING ARTS APPEAR TO BE EVOLVING TO MORE AND MORE “THEATRICAL” SHOWS, WITH THE USE OF PROPS, COSTUMES, VARIOUS ELECTRONIC EFFECTS, ETC. DO YOU SEE THIS TREND CONTINUING IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE?

I think that the trend will continue, as people discover more and more ways to enhance their shows. However, good playing and good design will always be paramount to competitive success.

ANY ADVICE YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE FOR THAT ASPIRING DESIGNER THAT WANTS TO ENTER THE INDOOR DESIGN REALM?

This is a topic I could talk forever on, but here’s a short list:

1. Be yourself. Study the activity for what works but don’t be afraid to bring your own voice. Look for moments of uniqueness and highlight those in your programs. Your students are a reflection of you and your talents, so don’t copy other people and their ideas.

2. Practice. Write a show that doesn’t exist from scratch. Try and recreate your favorite drill moves in Pyware and analyze what skills the writer used to make them happen. Design 10 different floors for the same show. Read a book on the Elements of Design.

3. Ask questions. Learn from other designers by asking them directly about things or ideas. EVERY designer in the activity started out as someone who didn’t know ANYTHING and was as scared as you might be right now. They’ll be willing to help, don’t be afraid to ask.

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