The Importance of Building A Positive Culture

By: Neal Cain - PRM Intern


Marching band is often viewed as an educational tool that connects visual and musical arts. Two major goals for high school or university marching band and even independent ensemble directors are to increase the number of members in their ensembles and to retain current members. While there are a variety of factors that play into a student’s decision to enroll in a marching ensemble (such as musical talent, interpersonal relationships, or competitiveness of the program), there is an overarching concept of “cultural fit” that can play a huge role in a band member’s decision to participate. This blog post provides an introductory glance into what culture means within the marching arts and how you can dive into ways of creating your own “culture” within your ensemble.

What is Culture, and Why Does it Matter?

Today, culture is known as the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. In the marching arts, we define culture as mutual examples of behaviors, interactions, perception, and understanding that are learned by socialization. In this way, it tends to be viewed as the growth and development of a collective identity fostered by social patterns unique to the ensemble. 

In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities. We define “cultural fit as the concept of seeking potential candidates to determine what type of cultural impact or addition they would bring to the ensemble and organization as a whole; it is seen as the key to member engagement, performance, and productivity. Members who identify more with their ensemble are happier, experience greater performance satisfaction, are more committed, perform better and are more likely to stay with their organization. That is why cultural fit is important. 

There’s just one problem — Seeking for “cultural fit” often gets in the way of increasing diversity. Within some organizations, the term “cultural fit” or “brand” are seen as a lack of diversity and inclusivity. 

Shifting the Atmosphere

The beer test. You know it? In the job industry, it’s hiring candidates based on whether you’d want to grab a beer with them. Sure they can probably do the job, but the real question is whether or not you can see yourself interacting with them outside of work hours. If you assume that people who don’t look or act like you won’t mesh with your organization, then you end up choosing people who are too similar to yourself or image. This then leads to complacency, lack of innovation, and underperforming teams in companies. Finding the ideal individuals is likewise not a matter of "culture fit." What many people truly mean when they state somebody is a good fit culturally, is that the person is somebody they'd prefer to enjoy a beer with. In any case, individuals with a wide range of personality can be extraordinary at the specific job you may need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also add to an organization's lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own. Therefore, other optimal hiring strategies should be used to replace the beer test that will be more inclusive while focusing on the environment you want to create in your ensemble.

As leaders of our organizations, rather than looking for “cultural fit” members, instead should be looking for “cultural add” in members — new and unique skills and viewpoints that don’t already exist in the ensemble. “Cultural add” means shaping the culture rather than fitting into it. From creating a diverse, inclusive, and equal experience for all members to how the ensemble presents themselves, bonds by cohesion, or demonstrates consistency; culture addition in an ensemble is one of the many things that dictate an ensemble’s longevity. In a recent webinar with Marching Arts Education, Brian Dinkel discusses the importance of having a growth mindset and expresses strategies that will foster an environment of learning, and a culture of personal growth and engagement – in the midst of the competitive season and beyond.

The ambience in an ensemble shifts from year to year, depending on its constituents but the group’s core cultural values should stay intact. However, each group of members may pose different interests to those who precede them, sometimes requiring modifications in the way an ensemble is run or treated. To clarify, tactics used in a previous ensemble may not work as efficiently in the present time as they did in the past. Currently, we are seeing the marching community strive for inclusiveness of all members, regardless of race, religion, cultural beliefs, etc, and showing support for communities that have not been supported in the past. Understanding the dynamic in the marching community and addressing said topics is important for this generation of members. As instructors, we should be aware of our students’ interests and find ways to best accommodate them.

When looking for members to join your ensemble it is important to understand their motives for being in the ensemble, what they would like to gain from the ensemble, and the contributions that they will make to the group that will further promote its success. Understanding the individual in front of you and their views on the group and what experience they would like to gain from it is important in knowing if they will be the right cultural add to the group. Curtis Uhlemann explains this topic in a recent webinar with Marching Arts Education, “The Importance of Building a Positive Culture”.

Tips and Reminders

  • **Cast interviews for prospective members that clarify their intentions for joining the group and the experience they would like.
  • Be open minded! Know that we all come from different environments, but be sure that the members’ interests align when it comes to the group.
  • Do not look for “culture-fit” but more for “culture-add”
  • Be aware that every group is different from the previous one and that the approaches will vary but that core cultural beliefs still stand!


Incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion within your organization isn't just "the right thing to do." These values are imperative for improving decision making and outcomes. Commit to serving the marching arts community in helping chart a path forward by revolutionizing practices that establish a culture of belonging and expand the ensemble’s actions towards a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. Culture is communication, communication is culture. Remember, culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning. A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. In a world where recognition is measured by “likes” and individual success, organizations and leaders yearn for a formula to build esprit de corps. Instead of looking to successful coaches or winning athletes, there is a lot to learn from the anonymous members of a marching band. Instead of a cult of heroes, which is the dominant model these days, the marching band epitomizes an alternative model of team spirit that is sorely needed.