Straight Leg Technique is dangerous, harmful and foolish. It is ridiculous not to allow High School kids to bend their knees while marching. Have you tried walking without bending your knees? It is incredibly painful and puts a tremendous amount of injury-causing pressure on the knee joints. As Band Directors, just like coaches, we are responsible for the physical well-being of our students. The claim that "It's easier to clean," and achieve uniformity and win trophies is no justification whatsoever.
A certain band here in the metroplex has used the so-called "straight leg technique" to go all the way to Finals at Bands of America Grand National Championships. They require their students to march without bending the knees AT ALL and because of their success, many other bands are now imitating them. In fact, I attended a clinic at Texas Bandmasters this summer in which they "addressed" the accusations that this is dangerous and basically blew them off, justifying their actions with empty words. They claim to focus on pushing their feet down into the ground, not on locking the knees, but I tried the technique myself, the result is the same.
Do we want our marchers knees to be straight when their heal strikes with the toe at a 45 degree angle to the ground? YES, of course we do. No one wants to see a bent knee, lowered torso bicycle step.
Do we want our students heals to glide as close to the ground as possible? Again, YES. No one wants to see kids picking their feet up with EXCESS knee band.
But is it ok to force students to march stiff legged--which IS what is happening? Emphatically, I say, NO! In order to achieve a true uniform step, a GLIDE step that is smooth, natural, lends itself to healthy movement and provides a steady upper body to facilitate quality musical performance, the knee has to bend while moving through the stride. In fact, it is impossible for the feet to roll properly without an adequate amount of knee bend.
Straight leg technique is a GIMMICK. It is a cheap, fast way to achieve "success." As with everything else in music, THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS!!! This gimmick is dangerous and is not fitting for people who are meant to be good stewards of the children who have been entrusted to our care for a significant portion of the high school career.
Most of my posts have deep theological content. This one is much more simple:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)
I tried this technique out. IT HURTS. It is horrible on the knees. It's painful and not at all suited for a quality musical performance. How would you like it if someone made you walk this way? It seems to me that in the rush for accolades and glory, it is easy to exploit children along the way and justify it by claiming to make them winners. Everyone is trying to make a name for themselves and seek glory and fame. Communities want to use children to get glory for themselves as well. Too much of the self-esteem of schools, communities, coaches, teachers, band directors and parents is wrapped up in the so-called "successes" and "failures" of its students. It is time to take a step back and re-evaluate WHY we teach. It is a WONDERFUL thing for a town to be proud of its children. We should be proud of kids when they give their highest level of effort. When students work hard to perform their best and the grown-ups support them, That is the GOOD kind of community pride. But it is an awful thing to be Prideful about the achievements of students. When the self-esteem of adults in based on the achievements of children, THAT is the pride the Bible warns about when it says:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly of spirit with the humble than to divide plunder with the proud. (Proverbs 16:19) A man's pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor. (Proverbs 29:3)
How many bosses out in the world are using people to further their own career, make them money, achieve their own personal goals? Using people is the worst kind of usury. And it has become so prevalent in our society that it is accepted as normal and even applauded and called "great leadership."
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Don't we want to help a generation of students rise up who will be good, kind and considerate stewards in the workplace? Who will make other people's lives better? It is our responsibility to teach students to care for each other and that starts with how we care for them. Jesus said that there is no greater commandment than to:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength....and Love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
Hard work is good. Goals are good. Comradery is good. Using people is Bad. Taking shortcuts is bad. The Best Practices are Healthy Practices. Every aspect of what we teach as Musicians should be positive, beneficial and helpful. It might take longer to teach kids to march correctly. It might require more patience and diligence. The right way is rarely the easy way. But I have to believe it will be best for everyone in the long run and lead to the highest caliber of excellence, not just in musical performance, but in life.