From Average to Outstanding

Instrumentalist Editors | September 2011

   From a judge’s perspective, to perform is to execute. An exceptional marching band executes all musical, visual, and effectual components of performance with great commitment.
   Of the many musical aspects of performance, well-blended and balanced ensemble sound, precision of entrances and releases, and consistent commitment to dynamic contrast distinguish average from excellent. Proper ensemble sound production is often forgotten outdoors. An open and round tone from all wind players through proper physical setup and air support is key. How performers start and stop the sound is also important. As ensemble ability level rises, so does exposure in execution. Playing loud is easy. Playing soft in a controlled, balanced, blended, and in-tune manner is difficult. Being able to captivate audience members at all written dynamic markings distinguishes an average from exceptional performance.
   Visual and effectual aspects present another critical layer in marching band performance. In a truly exceptional performance, everything matters, including posture, uniform horn angles, alignment, equal spacing of forms in hard sets and transitions, moving equally through space and time with equal step sizes between transitions, and uniform glide step and mark time technique. In addition to these visual aspects are effectual aspects that make a performance unique or special. Such effects should be logical and enhance a performance rather than distract from it. In an average performance, variables affect the level of execution and overall presentation. Such variables are limited in an exceptional performance, and execution is at a level that results in a compelling performance.

Brandt Payne
Youngstown State University

   The initial reaction to this question would center on show construction. Well orchestrated music uses a variety of textures and creates a sense of drama and excitement, and strong melodies with rhythmic interjections create opportunities for musical effects. A well constructed visual program does not mean demanding drill but instead a drill that facilitates and amplifies what the audience hears.
   Drill in itself is not as important anymore as a source of marching and maneuvering; its importance today lies in how different elements get staged from one moment to the next.  Opportunities for guard contributions are created and the visual texture enhances that of the music. 
   Having said all of this I can easily discard it. I see many programs that are well thought out but simply too difficult for the performers. What I see less of each year is execution. On two occasions last year bands with very simple shows consisting of straight-ahead music and vanilla drill were given the highest scores by the majority of the panel. The reason both times was extremely clear. They simply marched better and played better than anyone else on the field. Ultimately, a good competition rewards execution, which I equate with education, and sifts through overproduced, overdeveloped, overly complex messes.

Stuart Benkert
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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