Creating a Halftime Show That Wows

Kent State’s director of athletic bands describes the method behind the detailed and entertaining half-time performances

It’s college football Saturday. Kent State University fans are eager for a great game and a great halftime show. The Marching Golden Flashes take the field and ... look at them march! They’re forming the shape of a person. Now he’s dancing? How do they do that?

At the 2023 Homecoming game, the marching band wowed fans with a Michael Jackson-themed drill routine where they even brought Jackson’s famous moonwalk to life on the field.

Kent State Today sat down with Darin Olson, director of athletic bands, to find out just how the Marching Golden Flashes do it.  

2023 Marching Golden Flashes
2023 Marching Golden Flashes - Photo by Melissa Wallick

Olson uses a combination of pen, paper and special technology to create the pre-game and halftime shows, driven and inspired by the students themselves.  

The process starts with breakout rooms, where members of the band brainstorm ideas or themes they would like to explore, including everything from sounds and songs to movement. After these meetings, Olson, who holds a doctorate in musical arts, gets to work on making the drills and bringing their ideas to life.  

“It’s a long process in general,” Olson said. “We will start in January, and I usually send a survey out to all the students with ideas trying to figure out concepts that they’re interested in. Maybe it’s a genre. I think about it until March or April, and then in April, we’ll have breakout sessions of 10 to 15 students in different rooms. They kind of go through that process again.”  

By summertime, Olson has the drill movements and songs lined up for the themes and games. Pregame will stay the same, so these shows are full of Kent State spirit and do not change.

“I think the best part about all this is that the student input makes the material more engaging to them. They see the whole process coming through,” Olson said.  

To formulate and teach the movements, Olson uses paper grids and two kinds of computer software. He begins the process by hand drawing his visions, and then he transfers those onto the computer using Pyware to formulate the drill routine.  

“I am still a little bit old-school on how I approach things. I have to take a physical sheet of charting paper, and I will sketch out a concept. Then I’ll transfer it into a computer program and work my way in and out of that,” Olson said. “I make sure I can position it on the field the way that I would like to.”

Marching Golden Flashes student uses an app to learn show movments
Student uses app to learn movements. Photo by Sydney Prusha

To learn the drill movements, students download an app called Ultimate Drill Book. This app assigns band members a number in the drill routine, so they can hear the music and practice the movements.

“The students then can link that position to their phone, and it shows them where they’re going on each of the pages,” Olson said. “It allows them a lot of different ways to learn the material based off where their spot is. They get to see the whole picture, themselves, and then have the audio playing in addition to all that.”

Darin Olson conducting during MGF practice
Darin Olson during practice - Photo by Sydney Prusha

After band camp in the summer, the band members only have three practices a week, and their hard work shows through at the field on home game days and select away games.   

“Our students are incredible,” Olson said. “The amount of material and the pace that they can learn the music and the drill is really, really impressive.”  

Learn more about the Marching Golden Flashes

Learn more about Kent State bands

POSTED: Thursday, November 30, 2023 11:42 AM
Updated: Friday, December 1, 2023 07:54 AM
Francesca Malinky, Flash Communications