The Long Ranger is dead ☠️ Long live the long ranger! As soon as it went away, another brand stepped in to take its place: The Anchor Audio MegaVox. There’s always a love-hate relationship between ensemble directors and these devices. People forget to charge them. Then in an effort to delegate charging responsibility, they get left in cars and then stolen (true story). They get abused! One of the most vulnerable, and critical components is the speaker cone – it’s what makes the MegaVox MEGA.
The cone is molded with three small tabs of plastic. While the cone is recessed behind the front face of the MegaVox, the fabric case is not enough to prevent damage. Anything that sneaks in an hits the code will surely break it off. On any given equipment trailer, there are many opportunities for things to jostle around and break a cone.
Start with this video that shows you how to replace the battery. We won’t actually remove the battery, but they show you how the back plate comes off to access everything inside:
You can skip Step 4 and beyond as we’re not going to remove the battery. Instead get a big Phillips screwdriver to remove the speaker assembly screw through the back. It’s just one screw!
Then pull the speaker out of the front. Depending on how old or well-worn your MegaVox is, it might have a rubber grommet that goes into the front here:
Make sure to take it off the old cone wire and put it on the new one! Use a small flat screwdriver to make sure it’s secure in the housing.
Put it all back together
Then fasten the new speaker with that big screw, and re-assemble the whole thing in reverse order. While putting it back together, double check the antenna connections. Some had come loose in ours, weakening antenna range. Make sure everything is fastened back up before you re-assemble.
Get back to work!
Spending $60 on these is waaay better than dropping $900 to replace it. It’s super easy too. Now we can get back to rehearsal without skipping a beat.
What is tracking exactly? It’s simply playing and moving while in a block, usually a parade block if it’s the full hornline. Sound simple right? Simple and effective!
As a rookie at Phantom Regiment, I didn’t know anything. Veteran members would talk about tracking and how tough it was, especially for us on baritone or euphonium. Members told tales of tracking with Dan “Lord Vader” Farrell. On tour, Dan showed up at rehearsal one day for hornline sectionals. When we split off he just said, “Baritones! Let’s go for a walk” 😉
We made a little parade block with our 20 bari/euphs and started marching down the street. The stories I had heard started to unfold. Did we do exercises where we had to start over if we screwed up? You bet. Did we hold our horns up for a long time? Yeah, but probably no longer than 10 minutes at a time – the same time as our DCI show. The crusher was when my arms were so tired and Dan had us go to up to a high-box angle. I felt crushed like a can🥫🥾
Besides using it as an endurance exercise (mostly for low brass), it’s a great way to coordinate notes & feet. Play some show segments and step-off and halt the same way we would on the field. We’d just go forward together in our little block when we’d normally be moving set-to-set.
At Irondale we’ve been doing some tracking on the field with segments the members aren’t fully confident with. For a field show (if you don’t have a nearby quiet street), you can just block it up on the field. Go forwards until you run out of room. Or go forwards and backwards if you want to get fancy.
I’ve heard noticeable improvements from the hornline after tracking the parts that lacked confidence.
Make it fun…
…I dare you! Later in my junior corps years at PR we joked that tracking “is like a little parade.” In fact, some of my fondest memories came from tracking because Dan Farrell and our brass caption, Bill Peterson, would always have something fun in mind after they busted our butts. One year we tracked with the full hornline through the neighborhood until we were at a grocery store. We arced it up in the lot at the grocery and played Nessun Dorma for folks coming out with their groceries. Classy AF 🎩
…also marching band, WGI, etc. Well we did it again this year at Minnesota Brass. This season’s problem to solve: harmonicas. The 2023 Minnesota Brass production “Speakeasy” used Billy Joel’s Piano Man as the ballad. I thought it would fun to play a little ditty on harmonica, so I worked with our arranger to put it in.
I had never played harmonica, so I did some research. I wanted to make sure it was achievable, and that whatever I ordered would be suitable. I started with this youtube video and some harmonica note charts:
Harmonica Joe provides an easy harmonica tablature on his site for Piano Man. Looking at the tablature (tab), it’s played using two holes at a time. This allows for a nice harmony in thirds. I double-checked the sounds from the youtube video on my piano (in the key of C).
Then I went to our score, suspected a Bb model would do the trick, and then verified with our click track against the piano.
Click Track: For studio recordings it’s a metronome click for folks to use to stay in time with each other. For pageantry it refers to the MIDI output file of the arrangement produced by the computer’s notation software.
I purchased one harmonica in Bb to see if I could do it. For our ditty we used the bottom line from Harmonica Joe’s tab, effectively the 2nd half of the phrase.
It wasn’t too bad to learn! At one point I thought I broke the harmonica but it just got too wet from saliva and the reeds stopped responding 🤤💦 I put in the case and picked it up later – relieved that it still worked after it dried 😰
The next issue was going to be: where do we put the harmonicas in our uniforms so they’re easily accessible? A couple of our baritone players also have 3D printers and had some ideas. They skipped thinking about putting it in the uniform, and made a clip that goes directly on their horn:
Super easy! You don’t need to dig it out of a pocket. The harmonica slides right out of the holster and the holster clips to the first valve slide.
They all picked up playing the harmonica pretty quickly. The baritones would play on them at practically every break. It was like trying to get a batterie member to stop chopping on a pad 😅 In the end it paid off – it was a nice touch to our Piano Man performance:
I set out to create a setup similar to MBI Winds’ first season at home in miniature. I knew I needed at last a 4-channel USB-audio interface. I needed at least 3 powered speakers, which can oddly be difficult as many studio monitors are only sold in pairs.
Another quick call to my sales rep at Sweetwater got me to the answer. The JBL 308s are a very popular and highly recommended 8″ powered monitor. They’re sold individually and my rep even let me know when they were going to go on sale.
Then wrapped the cables with some white cable wrap so it doesn’t look terrible in the background when I’m on zoom calls for work.
It works well because I can use the mains for listening to music while working. How I get the signal from my work computer is via bluetooth to a new bluetooth receiver. That receiver has two RCA to 1/4″ TS cables going to analog input channels 1 & 2 on my audio interface.
When I’m doing music stuff it’s sort of backwards as I’m facing the 3rd aux channel, but it’s the same experience the members would have on the floor, facing the audience. I plug my macbook into the USB audio interface for a multi-channel digital audio connection.
The JBL speakers’ 1/4″ input supports both TRS (balanced) signals and TS (unbalanced) signals. Because I’m coming off the “Phones B” output for channels 3 & 4, I use the stereo TRS to mono TS cable and connect to the 1/4″ input on my 3rd speaker. It’s not a balanced connection but it’s only traveling 3 feet, so induced noise & signal loss should be minimal.
For the mains I use regular XLR cables which connect to the SSL audio interface with a short XLR to TRS adapter cable. I got enough extension cord to run them along with the XLR cables so everything plugs in around the same area, and I use a power strip to turn it all on/off in tandem.
For version 1.1 I’ll probably upgrade my power strip to something that has USB-A ports and USB-C power delivery for the macbook.
I just got done with a fantastic first season with MBI Winds, a new independent hornline that competed in WGI’s Winds class. Our goal was to create an outlet for horn players of all instruments and all ages. We set out to show how hornline culture is cool 😎 And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Having worked with RVS since 2020, I felt there was enough momentum from graduates to make an independent group happen. At the start of the season it seemed promising. This was a screenshot of the registration list that wound up in the staff chat for RVS:
AND there was another Independent group from Mankato that was supposed to come out in Exhibition.
The timing seemed right! But I underestimated how hard recruiting is. Recruiting is hard. Harder than getting a college degree. Harder than marching an entire season of drum corps. It was draining! 😓
It wasn’t just me. I soon came to find out that both Minnetonka and Mankato would not be coming out this season for recruiting reasons. I kept at it through late January – that was when we filled our remaining saxophone spots. I was content to keep the group at 20 members even though the drill (and budget) was written for 24. Otherwise I would have gone insane 🤪
Independent Groups are Hard
We don’t have a captive audience like a student body. Members are paying to participate. They can decide in an instant that it’s not worth their time or money. This fact is not lost on anyone inside an independent organization, but I’m not sure if outsiders realize it.
We don’t own any real estate, so facilities are a big deal. The days of hand-shake deals with local band directors are over as just about everything goes through Community Education. Some of the best things Independent Groups can do are:
Partner with a local church or other space that might not otherwise receive income/donations to use their facility.
Find a school district that operates without a Community Education management system and negotiate a partnership directly.
Negotiate a deal with Community Education based on the number of rentals (this is rare, but sometimes possible)
Paying for all of our facilities means we must maximize what we can do in that time. Sometimes the work isn’t sexy, so we must fall in love with chopping wood & carrying water.
All instructors & administration of independent groups are underpaid. In most cases they need to be – to ensure affordability for the members, and the survival of the group. Staff should be there for the love of the activity & the members. If money is what you’re interested in, you’re better suited to finding a scholastic program in a ritzy neighborhood.
Independent Groups are Important
The success of any independent group is usually reflective of the success of scholastic groups in their region. Band directors – think about what your goals are. Not just the goals of your program this year or the next 5 years – over your entire career. One thing that is not lost on me is making music last a lifetime.
How can people help right now? Local band directors, we need your help specifically. None of the things I will suggest are groundbreaking.
Answer your email and return phone calls. I get it, we all have hundreds of unread messages. For every band director I contact I typically get a 35% response rate on messages.
If someone from an independent group is asking for interested members, ask. Even if you think no one is interested, just ask. If someone is interested, great! If not, then you can at least say you did.
We are on the same side. MBI Winds maintained a policy that outside music commitments come first unless it impacts a competition. Recognize that members participating in independent groups are high performers. They’re the ones in all-state band, honor band, etc. There’s a compromise to be made on both sides and communication is the key.
Making it last
I was speechless when I was recognized by peers as going above and beyond to make the season work.
I was super greatful, but my favorite “trophy” for the season was this:
I’m forever grateful for these 20 musicians that dedicated themselves to an idea. We had no basis to know what the group could or couldn’t do – we all just had to believe. I’m hopeful that next season might be a little easier 🤞The groundwork that was laid will hopefully be a good foundation. If we turned some heads and got people to say “that looks like fun” then I think we’re on the right track.