Anyone who has been part of a competitive marching band program can tell you about the countless hours that go into creating the less-than-ten-minute performance—something Sean Hedding can explain in great detail.
This is Sean’s 14th year of teaching, and his third as the sole music teacher at Berthoud High, leading the choirs, the jazz and concert bands, the orchestra, and the marching band. In addition, he composes the original music performed by the marching band for competition and writes music for the orchestra and other bands as well.
With just under 30 members, the marching band competes at the 2A level, performing the music Sean composes for them and using the formations, or ‘drill,’ that he designs.
“I’m the one-man stop. I write the drill, I write the music,” Sean says, describing how he originally decided to do the work himself in order to work within the BHS program’s financial constraints.
“I didn’t really have a budget,” he explains. “I started out of necessity. I knew that I had the chops to write it, so I just jumped in and did it.” But there’s so much more to planning a competitive marching band piece than most people understand, and most larger schools purchase music to play and hire a drill writer to create the routine for the musicians to follow on the field. Sean says that a fully custom-written show can cost upwards of $7000 just for the music, with a drill writer adding thousands of dollars on top of that.
“In a perfect world, all the band teacher has to do is teach the kids how to do what other people have designed,” Sean says. But that’s not the case for a smaller program, where Sean often works around 60 hours a week preparing for competitions. Fortunately, though he says the workload can be overwhelming, Sean is thrilled to be able to compose.
“I love writing music, and I’ve written for a long time,” he says. Sean got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado and holds a master’s degree in Music Education from the University of Florida. But Sean knew way before college that he wanted a career centered around music.
“As a kid, I was in love with the Star Wars movies. I knew in band I wanted to play trumpet because that’s the main instrument they use,” he says. Although Sean’s main instruments are brass, he learned (as all music directors have to) to play all of the other instruments, as well as how to teach vocal music and play piano accompaniment for the choirs.
Part of Sean’s job at BHS includes directing the popular show choir, which participates in its own competitions, as well as maintaining an ambitious performance schedule involving dozens of engagements each year.
His goal is to get more help for the department and keep growing each of the programs, all while continuing to direct a successful marching band—in itself, a full-time job.
This year, the band performed a program written and designed by Sean, called “Neon.” Each section of the performance reflected a different neon color to go with the mood of each movement—pink, blue and green.
“All marching band shows are made up of feelings—what am I trying to get the audience and judges to feel—and moments. If you can have an audience remember a specific thing that you did, then that moment was successful,” Sean explains. One of the big moments of this year’s show was a dance section, where the musicians all set down their instruments and did a dubstep routine. “That’s probably what people will remember.”
Fortunately, BHS—like many music programs—has a lot of outside help. “Marching bands don’t happen without a ton of parent and community involvement,” Sean says. “So much more goes on than just trying to get the kids to stand in a spot on a football field.”
But it’s worth it, as Sean explains, from both the band members’ and the directors’ perspectives.
“For any kid that ever does marching band, it’s a life-changing experience. It’s as much a family as at home because we spend so much time together,” Sean says.
Having a musical family is something Sean understands. He met his wife Natasha, a flutist, in the Army National Guard Band, and while he says they do enjoy some non-musical activities, including hiking, biking, and camping, music is still central to almost everything he does. When he isn’t teaching, he plays in some community music groups.
“My escape from music at work is to go do music outside of work,” Sean says, laughing. “Music is my life. I can’t imagine not doing something with music.”