October, October… It’s Almost Over.

Imagine you’re the leader of a small organization of about 80 to 100 people and you are tasked with the creation and development of a unique presentation that will be judged by a small panel of “experts”. These experts have their own likes and dislikes as it relates to these presentations (which won’t be shared with you until after you’ve presented) and they will be judging you based on those preferences.

Your presentation will be given a rating of “Good” (printed on a bumper sticker…), “Excellent” (you almost kept me awake, congratulations!), or “Superior” (you’ve done well my perfect child of God…). To make it all the more “competitive”, some of your colleagues will be given more people and greater resources to help them do better than you. Based upon how well you and your colleagues do with your presentations, you will then be ranked from best to worst. This will all take place in front of a crowd of no less than 300 people. Fair?… Great.

This scenario, I admit, may be a lil’ facetious, but it is actually a very accurate description of your local high school marching band’s weekend activities during the month of October. What starts around the last weekend in September and ends around the first weekend in November is what we bandheads call Competition Season where every weekend is taken over by all day band activities (sprinkled with a college homecoming or two) on Saturdays.

This year, as in years past, as the weekly competition results start to invade timelines, I’m starting to see a familiar villain raise his/her head… pic1The Shafted Band Director. This individual, after working hard all summer, may be disappointed with the results and opinions of the judges as it relates to their competition show and resort to social media to stress this frustration. Sometimes it’s the judges, sometimes it’s the other bands, sometimes it’s the event itself that is on the receiving end of this director’s sharp criticism. This is a natural reaction and one that I can definitely understand. Creating these shows every year is a very personal activity. Your own thoughts, musicality, and creativity are all on display to be judged by others. When results don’t turn out as intended it can sometimes feel like an affront to you personally. However nothing can be further from the truth.

judge-contestJudges at these events have score sheets in front of them which they use as a measure when assessing your performance. The adjudication is based on how well you satisfy the requirements of each caption on the score sheet, not necessarily how great of a show you’ve presented. Take for example the marching caption… If you are being judged on knee lift/glide step, spacing, horn angles, military bearing, etc… You will score better if you focus on uniformity in the look as opposed to marching the “greatest drill ever created”. Many times simple precision drills score better when the high difficulty drills are not executed properly.

Then there’s the opinionated aspect of the entire thing. In each caption it’s really one person’s opinion that makes the difference. I’ve had a judge to comment on the fact that he loved our uniforms. I’ve had another judge say our Auxiliary performed with class and grace. Both of these comments are opinions that could be measurable on the score sheets. Did those comments help us to score higher in those captions? Did another band score lower? I’m sure both things are true. But when ever I was on the losing end of the stick, having the ability to accept, and respect, the judges comments and scores taught me alot about humility. As I look back, I needed those early failures in order to grow into the educator I’m still becoming. And though we won a lot of times, it was more important for my students to learn how to react when we lost.

20131005_220102To my fiery, young band directors who are in the heat of the battle every weekend trying to carve out a reputation for yourselves and wanting your creativity to be respected… I say stay humble and keep working. Hard work truly pays off and navigating a couple of bumps on the road to success is a very crucial part of growth. After 18 years of directing bands, the most important thing I’ve learned about assessments and being adjudicated is… it’s not about being the best. It’s about becoming better. Happy October! 🙂

Published by Ernest Stackhouse

-Music Educator -Marching Band Show Design -Musical Arranger -Adjudicator -Fine Arts Administrator -Band Director -Writer

6 thoughts on “October, October… It’s Almost Over.

  1. I have a proposal. instead of having the bands go to contest how about having panels of adjudicators judge your band at home. you save a lot of money and the kids get home a lot earlier .And with concert festival you are only performing for the judges anyway.

    1. Now that would be interesting… Judges randomly showing up at your home games would actually be a more accurate assessment of your marching program. Forces you to perform for the people that really matter which sadly many programs don’t do anymore…

  2. We must remember that at the end of the day the results are based on the opinions of the judges many of whom are band directors at the high school level just like you. I look at the contest as being no more important than a Friday night football game and this includes state association events. I do mot knock other people who put more importance on these events but I never will and this includes concert festivals. Again, if someone else puts more importance on these events cool. They cannot tell me anything that is going to help my program based on one performance. As for the judges ‘ sheets ,I look at them and move on to the next event. Many times that one performance is the only time we do that particular performance so the next performance we are on to another performance.
    This is a great article and I wish everyone a successful year with their programs.

  3. I remember this time well! After months of practicing, the time comes to have your work “judged.” The anxiety is so high for you, the students , parents and, sometimes the adjudicators .
    The great thing about all of it is that my experiences with band competitions have been mostly great. Under 1 director, we received many excellents and that was okay for then. Under another director, “Superior” was the name-consistently! (You’re a musical beast, Stackhouse!😀👍🏽🎶)
    I’ve experienced all sides, even as an adjudicator. The one thing that I have concluded is that the competitions are necessary. If done fairly, they can take your band to newer heights. They can show where you excelled and where you may need to step it up. It is a judgement of your work,not you as a person. Take the critiques and place them in either your “thanks, I appreciate your input and may adjust some things” or your “ alright, I hear you but whatever ‘ folders.”

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