Cold – the Shivering Menace!

At the one end of the marching season is the heat – we all know that and its effects.  At the other end is the cold – temperature, wind chill, body doesn’t work well, equipment freezes up, all the fun stuff.  But we have to deal with it.

The Body

The most difficult part of being cold is that your body starts to quit working well. The truly difficult part of the season is that end-of-football halftime show when you have to sit in the bleachers, likely on metal seats, for around an hour, with not much activity except playing of the fight song once in a while.

All that time, your body temperature is dropping slowly but steadily. The wind, the below-freezing numbers, the cold seating, the lack of activity, the thin uniform (sometimes almost  no uniform, in the case of the dance team), and the lack of any heat sources or sunlight, all contribute to making you miserable.

Hypothermia can result. Here’s what that might look like, courtesy of WebMD:

1. Call 911 if you suspect hypothermia

Symptoms of hypothermia in adults and children include:

  • Confusion, memory loss, or slurred speech
  • Drop in body temperature below 95 Farenheit
  • Exhaustion or drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Numb hands or feet
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shivering

2. Restore Warmth Slowly

  • Get the person indoors.
  • Remove wet clothing and dry the person off, if needed.
  • Warm the person’s trunk first, not hands and feet. Warming extremities first can cause shock.
  • Warm the person by wrapping him or her in blankets or putting dry clothing on the person.
  • Do not immerse the person in warm water. Rapid warming can cause heart arrhythmia.
  • If using hot water bottles or chemical hot packs, wrap them in cloth; don’t apply them directly to the skin.

3. Begin CPR, if Necessary, While Warming Person


So, the short lesson here is, do not trifle with hypothermia!

Let’s see what can be done to avoid all that, given the circumstances.

If you can’t get out of the wind, and in that situation you likely will not be able to, the next best thing is to reduce its effects.

Here again, preparation will eliminate most of these issues.

First of all, add some layers of clothing, preferably some great insulators so that body heat can be preserved.  Silk glove liners make an excellent first step in keeping your hands warm. Silk is thin, a natural fiber,  and is capable of keeping a great deal of warmth in your gloves.

Silk sock liners, for the same reasons.


When you wear these things, make sure that they do not distract from the uniform, that is, be sure they are covered by the original part of the uniform; all you’re doing is adding a layer underneath, not changing the color of the uniform as it’s seen by the public. The socks and glove liners come in several colors and sizes, be sure to play around in the area of the links provided to get what you need.

Thermal underwear is great preparation for those long periods of inactivity. Modern marching band uniforms are sometimes made of very thin material, so the waffly-style thermals may not be appropriate for you, especially if the uniform is white.

So far, we’ve covered ( and insulated!) hands, feet, and trunk, now we move on to the face.

Your face, being attached to your head, can be made warmer by insulating your head – that’s right, just about the same philosophy we used for the heat can be applied to the cold, which is that preparation is the key to success!

The skin on your head is very thin, and a lot of body heat can be lost quickly if your head is not covered. Wearing at least some kind of hat will keep you lots warmer than no hat at all. In the extreme weather we sometimes have to deal with, something like a balaclava might be very useful – it covers head, neck, ears, while still leaving access to eyes and mouth, particularly useful for wind players. And they come in colors, so again you could coordinate sections, or maybe the whole band.

It’s something you’d have to take off before the halftime performance, but you’d at least get a good start, what with your face being not frozen and all.

Your lips would be the last remaining part to help protect, and very important for the wind players.  Here’s a link to the review for the best lip protection. Unlike lip balm for summer, the winter varieties do not need SPF, but they do need simple, non-allergenic, natural ingredients without any of the pain-killers that can reduce the lip sensitivity required for good playing. It’s also helpful when they can stand up to wind and cold. The clear winner here is – Badger
Classic Lip Balm – unscented.

For reed players, your beloved cane reed is likely not the best choice for subfreezing temperatures. Many of the newer synthetic reeds will work very well in cold temperatures. Some, like Forestone, contain over 50% bamboo, so they look and sound like cane, but the reliability and consistency is much better than natural cane, AND they won’t freeze up.

Brass players, we have not forgotten you! There’s hardly any worse feeling than when you’re on the field in a snowstorm, just played your very best lick, your horn comes down, and the top layer of your lip skin is ripped off because it was frozen to the mouthpiece – ow.

Some of that can be helped by using a lip balm, as above, but the long-term answer to that problem is a plastic mouthpiece, or at least a plastic rim on the one you have.

Bach, Marcienkiewicz, Giardinelli, and several others offer screw-rim mouthpieces which have a Delrin (industrial plastic) rim; Kelly, Mutec and others make all-plastic mouthpieces, none of which will ever freeze on your lips. Sure, it’s not your very own rim profile, but this particular half-time is not your best competition show, either.  That one is likely going to be indoors, in a domed stadium, without much in the way of weather conditions to deal with.

In the meantime, its best not to injure yourself by using a metal rim during subfreezing temperatures. Here’s some ideas:

So, keep warm, keep protected, and march on!








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Rain – dealing with the flood!

Rain is a mess.  First, you get wet from the actual rain.  Then, if you’ve covered up in something waterproof, you get wet from sweat. So water on the outside of your waterproof layer, then later, you get wet also on the inside of that layer. And in marching band, your flag/instrument/uniform gets wet. Oh my.



There’s all types/styles/fabrics of rain gear available, but most of them don’t take into account that you’ll be wearing a uniform, marching, and having a drum strapped on, or carrying an instrument or guard equipment.

Really, about the only thing possible is one of those snap-on ponchos, which might have a hood. If you’re wearing a shako or Aussie hat, or other large headgear, then the hood very likely won’t cover it and the hood ends up being worthless. Here’s a link to single-use poncho, which also sells in packs of 100 and 200.

The only real use for the ponchos is that they might protect the expensive uniform from immediate damage from the rain, but if the performance must go on, then other damage is going to occur anyway.  Think lower pant legs, cuffs, kick pleats, not to mention shoes and socks.

In a parade or stand-still type of performance, where there’s also a little bit of time before you’re on, band management might consider performing in band shirts and whatever else, or in cooler weather, maybe a band jacket.

Plumes, feathers, citation cords, and other brightly-colored accessories are very likely to have their colors run, with possible expensive damage to uniforms, so be aware as you’re suiting up.

Once you’ve gotten your performance gear wet, remember not to put it away while wet, especially if it’s normally stored in a vinyl or other airtight bag.  If it goes into a plastic bag wet and stays there any length of time, it will come out a few days later completely covered in green mold.

The voice of experience.

The same logic applies to your instrument. While most drums and all brass instruments are impervious to rain, their furry cases are not. Never put a wet horn into a furry case, close it up, and then forget about it for a few days, or you’ll have a  horn and case that match your fuzzy green uniform!

Always dry off the instrument, or allow it to air dry for at least 24 hours, before putting it back in the case. Again, the voice of experience!

After drying off, brass instruments and drums should be wiped down with a very weak solution of chlorine and water, to avoid any later formation of mold.

This would also be a good time, pit, to put a drop of motor oil on all the axles of anything you use outside that has wheels.

Woodwinds are a special case, in that woodwind pads can be terminally damaged by rain (or sleet, or snow). Many of my band directors would say “March between the raindrops!”  I suppose that’s a choice, when they’re not paying the repair bills!

The best option for woodwinds is that you leave the instrument indoors, and pick up a flag – most modern marching band shows have at least one change of guard equipment, and for a parade, you could still participate as a group of flags-without-flag-work.

Water left on the pads can be a serious issue, affecting the playability of the instrument, and in some cases requiring a complete repad – this is a multi-hundred-dollar undertaking for most woodwinds. Water in the instrument occurs naturally while playing, and can be easily remedied by swabbing out the inside of the bore, but a serious soaking from a rainstorm is rarely fixable by swabbing.

Sax pads (and some bass clarinet and bassoon pads) are made of a layer of cardboard, on top of that is a layer of felt, and on top of that, a layer of leather.  Clearly, none of these materials are waterproof.

When this assembly gets wet enough that water gets through the leather, then the pad materials start to swell (unevenly), and the pad stops doing its job, which is to seal against the tone hole. No amount of reheating, treating the leather surface, or magic incantations can bring it back, it must be replaced in order for the instrument to operate correctly.

Clarinet and flute pads are similarly made – cardboard on the bottom, felt in between, only these are sealed on top not with leather, but with ‘fishskin’ – in ancient times, it really was fishskin, but for the last 100 years or so, it’s been a very sanitized variety of pig bladder.

These pads, too, are not protected from a good soaking. Keep them as dry as you can. Clarinets might be playable under a poncho, but certainly not flutes. Piccolos, you’re on your own – you could play outside the poncho, but should you?


For all woodwinds, there’s a remote possibility that you could rescue your pads by a procedure known as clamping, or wedging, your pads down over the tone holes.  Some saxophonists have a device known as a ‘key clamp’, which is a collection of what looks like vinyl-covered wires attached to rubber lab stoppers. The rubber parts are lightly wedged between the key cup and the key guard to press the pad down on the tone hole, preserving the seat, and encouraging the wet pad to dry flat over time, thus saving it from replacement.

Key clamps are made for all common voices of the saxophone, and are highly recommended.  Some repair shops even refuse to guarantee their repads unless the player uses a key clamp!

Other woodwinds don’t have those devices available yet, although someone is surely working on it.

The non-saxophone woodwind keys can be wedged in place by folding over  facial tissue several times, holding the key gently closed, and inserting the folded tissue between the key foot cork and the body of the instrument.  This must be done very carefully, or else the key cork can be broken off, resulting in loss of adjustment, and unwanted noise as the now-bare metal key foot makes contact with the body of the instrument.

Be sure to (carefully) remove your home-grown wedges before attempting to play the instrument.

When rain strikes, be prepared!







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Heat – Dealing with July and August

Your body

The human body is capable of withstanding a great deal of heat – but if you’re going to survive this heat undamaged, you’ll need help.

First, you’ll need protection from the sun. Your skin, lips, and eyes will need direct protection from the sun, and particularly from the UV A, B, and C radiation, or else you will get sunburned.

Second, you will need protection from the actual air temperature. Since this is not possible in the marching band setting, you’ll need to create yourself some shade, and introduce some kind of skin contact with cool surfaces.

Third, you’ll need to hydrate, regularly. Sitting in the shade, doing nothing, at 100 degrees F, you will sweat out about 1 quart of water per hour. When your body’s water content drops just a few percent, you will start to show symptoms of heat stroke, a potentially dangerous condition. Some of the symptoms are:

WebMD recommends the following procedures:

“If you suspect that someone has a heat stroke, immediately call 911 or transport the person to a hospital. Any delay seeking medical help can be fatal.

While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, initiate first aid. Move the person to an air-conditioned environment — or at least a cool, shady area — and remove any unnecessary clothing.

If possible, take the person’s core body temperature and initiate first aid to cool it to 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. (If no thermometers are available, don’t hesitate to initiate first aid.)

Try these cooling strategies:

  • Fan air over the patient while wetting his or her skin with water from a sponge or garden hose.
  • Apply ice packs to the patient’s armpits, groin, neck, and back. Because these areas are rich with blood vessels close to the skin, cooling them may reduce body temperature.
  • Immerse the patient in a shower or tub of cool water.
  • If the person is young and healthy and suffered heat stroke while exercising vigorously — what’s known as exertional heat stroke — you can use an ice bath to help cool the body.”

– thanks, WebMD!

Suiting up for performances can be made more comfortable with a coating of baby powder for large surfaces of the body (back, arms, legs), which will also help with sliding material over sweaty skin.

Be sure to break in your uniform shoes BEFORE the first performance, or you might end up with painful blisters on your feet.

Once the human body is well-protected,  the next step in surviving hot temperatures is to protect your instrument.


Your equipment

Woodwind instruments are sensitive to extreme temperatures as well, so think about ways to keep them operational.

In situations where the instrument must be left on the ground for a time, turn them carefully so that the pads and pad cups are in their own shade. For instance, leave flutes and piccolos grounded so that the pads are touching the grass – this keeps the hot sun from melting the glue that holds the pads in.

Saxes, clarinets (soprano and bass) need that same treatment  – pads down, so that the body of the instrument shades as many pads as possible.

Wooden instruments (some piccolos, clarinets, bass clarinets, oboes, bassoons {oboes, bassoons, in marching band? really?} ) first of all should not be outside, but if they must be marched with, take extra care not to subject them to sudden changes in temperature or humidity, or else the wood may crack, requiring repair or replacement of the joint or maybe the entire instrument.

As a wind instrument technician for 35 years, I’d rather they not be on the ground at all, but we do what we must – the show must go on!

Brass instruments (mouthpieces!), cymbals, metal flag poles, sabers, drum carriers, and metal parts on props are all going to be very hot if they’re left in the summer sun for any time at all, be very careful with them if they can’t be in the shade.





Solutions for your body


Get – and wear –  a hat. It will produce some shade for your head – because there’s a lot of blood flow around your skull, and the skin there is quite thin.  Covering your head blocks the sun and helps keep you cooler. Some kind of bill or brim will help keep the sun out of your eyes. Avoiding direct sun in this way will help you avoid skin cancer later.

Even more cool will be some kind of covering for the back of your neck, either an extension off the hat (ala the French Foreign Legion model) or maybe a bandana.

For style tips, ask your sax players, they are naturally drawn to cool hats!

Sunglasses will protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation – your older self will look back and thank you someday. Trust me on this.

Lip balm, especially the kind with a SPF of at least 15.  Wind players, be careful of using balm that has oil of camphor, or menthol, or phenol  in it.  For waterskiing and such, this stuff is great because those ingredients are mild pain-killers, but that same lack of sensation will likely lead to bad playing on your part.  Read the contents on the tube and  act accordingly. I checked out this link for recommendations, you can read all about it there, and I came to the same conclusions as them, and here’s the link to winning product:

During those long rehearsal segments in the heat, especially during band camp, it will be of great help if you have something like this:

Of the several varieties of cold wraps available, this one from Ergodyne is the easiest to use, just run under cool water for 1 minute, and it’s ready to use, cool for about 4 hours. Many others require freezing, or being in cold water for 30 minutes. This one you can recharge from a drinking fountain, or in a pinch, from your own water jug (take a big drink from your jug first!).

Your water jug is your friend. Keep it friendly by filling with as cold a water as you can get, ice would be better. It must be insulated, it must have a handle, and it would be cool it all your section mates had ones that match! Here’s some choices:




Solutions for your equipment

Shade is really the best thing for trying to keep your gear in usable shape during long exposures to the sun. When it’s impossible to get in into the shade, you’ll have to improvise and make your own shade.  Perhaps there’s an old pillowcase or bed sheet at home (light colored) that can be donated to the cause. Cut it up to cover your gear, and because it’s thin and has very little bulk, it will fit in your pocket, or your case (don’t lay it in there in such a way that it puts pressure on the instrument), so it will be available when you need it.

Marching band can be pretty rough on instruments, so now would be a very good time to brush up on your regular maintenance skills. One of the best ways to do this is to invest in a care kit for your instrument. Most of these will have some basic instructions on how to use the stuff in the kit to maintain your horn. They’re fairly inexpensive, and well worth it if you can use them to avoid expensive repairs. Here’s links to kits for some of the more common instruments:

flute/piccolo         plastic clarinet

wood clarinet       alto, tenor sax

oboe     bassoon   trumpet

French horn   trombone

baritone horn/tuba drums


End of page, dealing with heat. There are yet a couple of pages you might be interested in, one for rain, and another for cold.


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