Shaping visual sound: A friendly look at total institutions and their role in the subculture of competitive marching music

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Ralph G. O’Sullivan


Visual sound is the intricate blend of thematic music, marching, interpretive dancing, and colorful costuming that emerged in the early 1970s as modern drum and bugle corps and competitive high school
marching bands engaged in field competetions against other corps and bands. The performance seasons for corps and for bands are intense, lasting only a few months, and each competition reflects a complex
intersection of artistry, ambition, athleticism, and awards. This article is premised on the idea that a friendly version of total institutions is a latent development in the performance histories of drum corps and high
school marching bands, and some personalized, illustrative, ethnographic, and numerical data, as well as descriptive narratives, are used to portray their emergence and role in this performance subculture. Rehearsal
camps for corps and bands, and life on tour for corps, as types of controlled-movement environments, have become vital and virtual necessities for performance development and competitive success as
musicians and dancers enter the fields of competition for their shows which last from ten to twelve minutes on football fields before fans, spectators, other contestants, and judges.

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