My band director at my second high school was one of the most optimistic people I have ever met. They loved being presented with a challenge and strived to create an inclusive environment in their band program, for both the marching and symphonic bands. Even though I was transferring from a new school, they instantly made me feel included and like I could do almost anything (read about when I first met them here). As a result, I was able to participate in marching band my junior and senior year. Here are some of my tips and tricks from the experience. Note that I did not use a blindness cane or other mobility aids at the time, and I played the Bb soprano clarinet (the “normal looking” clarinet).
At my first high school, the marching band that played at halftime was the same one that competed at competitions throughout the state. Because of my poor coordination, my family and band director requested that I be exempt from a district wide policy, which mandated that students enrolled in band class participate in the marching band program. At my second high school, there were two marching bands- a competition band, and a halftime/fun band, which is what I participated in. My band director asked me frequently to join the competition band, though I never joined- but I cheered them on at competitions!
Learning to march
At band camp, it took me twice as long to learn to march as it did for any of the other freshman, due to my lack of depth perception. I had trouble taking the required amount of steps and judging the distance I had to march. I also couldn’t read the dot sheet like the other students. To accommodate this, a staff member would tell me exactly where to go while the other students read dot sheets.
Enlarge music to a larger print size
Marching band music is in even smaller print than normal music. Mine often had to be enlarged to 400% (normal materials were enlarged to 250%), but I especially appreciated when the music was made available digitally. Also make sure that everyone gets their music at the same time, so no one is standing around waiting for the enlarged copy of music.
Alert staff that there is a low vision student
My senior year, there was a staff member, paid by the school, who was highly critical of how poorly I marched, how I “acted” like I can’t see a thing, and even temporarily kicked me out of the band, all while the band director was in a meeting inside the building, oblivious to what was going on. After the director explained that I genuinely do have low vision and that it is very illegal to discriminate against a student like that, I was reinstated in the band.
Understand student limits
I can’t march a backwards diagonal while leading a line of freshmen, but I appreciate that my band director believed in me that I could do it, as they had originally written that in the drill set/choreography. I was much happier once I was reassigned to an area where I never had to diagonal march, or even backwards march.
Have a buddy
I made friends with the people directly next to me and in surrounding areas, and more or less trained them to be my human guides. Also having friends in the same section to help with reading music is invaluable. When we marched in a parade, I was surrounded by people who knew about my low vision and helped me to figure out where I should be going, and guided me while I played.
Standing off to the side
My senior year of high school, right before the senior football game, I fell off the school bus and into a pothole (more on that here), breaking my ankle in the process. For the rest of the season, my director had me standing towards the front of the band, playing without moving. One downside was that I was completely alone and often couldn’t follow the drum major very well, but I was much more comfortable with this than I ever was with marching.
Talk to section leaders and drum major
Let the section leaders and drum major(s) know about low vision, and ask them for help when needed. They also may be asked this by the band director. Often times, they are very experienced with marching and are happy to help. I was “adopted” by the saxophone section my senior year, and the section leader helped me frequently (hi S!).
Marching in an opposite direction
Believe it or not, this never happened to me. I never had to worry about taking a left while the rest of the band took a right, or standing all by myself in the middle of the field. If that does happen, try to get back into the marching formation as quickly as possible. Don’t put the instrument down, but stop playing if possible until things are back in place. Each band program has a different way of handling these incidents.
Every single one of my friends can be traced back to my participation in band, even in college. I even met my two best friends from my second high school at band camp! I still keep in touch with a lot of my band friends and am forever grateful for the impact music has made on my life. Don’t take everything too seriously, and enjoy the experience of being in marching band as much as possible.