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by George Oliviero

“In second place with a score of…………….” We’ve all heard those words in one context or another. For drum corps fans, the announcement of the scores is the moment to hold one’s breath and to cross one’s fingers, hoping that the favorite team moves up in the standings. Of course, that excitement often turns to amazement, disbelief, shock, and perhaps a bit of anger. “Those judges…….” Or “How did THAT happen? My team was clearly better.” Or “It’s a fix. They always win.” Gosh, I am sure we have all heard a long list of complaints after a competition some time or other. We can probably agree that even in professional sports the audience reactions are not so different. “How could they miss that interference call?” Or “It was clearly goaltending, and they didn’t call it.” Or “It was a fumble. What’s the tuck rule?” Yes, you have to remember the “Snow Bowl” days for that last one.

All in all, there is inevitably going to be disagreement about placement. The focus of this document is the manner in which the rules of our game are made. Perhaps, you will get some relief from those after contest moments of indigestion when you know who is involved and what is done to develop and continue a judging system that is fair to all competitors.

In fact, the judging system is a collaboration among instructors, the directors of their units, and judges, who offer advice and support once the major rules are passed at DCI Congress.

So, where does any judging system begin? It begins in the above-mentioned partnership and collaboration at the annual DCI Congress. All instructors and directors come together every year (or two) to discuss the rules, the judging system, the particulars of the sheets, and any problems that might have arisen in the way the sheets are implemented. And sometimes, it will take a year or two to recognize that changes are needed or wanted.

Ed Denon, Al Yesue, Jack Whelan

Ed Denon, Al Yesue, and Jack Whelan

DCI has a committee called the ACSC: Artistic Competition Steering Committee. On the committee, there are instructors — 3 visual, 3 brass, 3 percussion — who are responsive to the desires and wishes of their constituents. Those constituents are the community of all instructors. There are also judge members in each caption who assist with the discussions.

In January of the year, DCI will call a meeting of all corps and instructors. Judges are present as advisory members but not as voting members. Instructors will have a caucus meeting on Friday evening and also meet all day Saturday. For example, all visual instructors will come together to discuss aspects of judging in the visual area. Every instructor will meet in the Effect caucus. Percussion judges will meet in their own specific caucus and Brass judges will also meet in a caucus. Various proposals are discussed at each meeting. These proposals are submitted by corps, instructors, and sometimes by judges. Those caucus sessions hold votes on various proposals and/or changes. It is the instructors in attendance who vote on the adoption of changes to the judging system. It is the instructors who vote on the adoption of the system itself.

On Sunday morning of the Congress weekend, the directors meet. They have the final vote on the proposals that come out of each caucus session. The instructors’ input is vital and often accepted.

For the development of any judging system, the main questions have usually been twofold: What do the instructors and corps want judged and How should those items in the system be judged? For the last 20 years, the overall framework has been the same. When everyone came together in 2000, there was a major change in WHAT we should judge. The number of judges was set at 8 (though some contests have a double panel at the instructors’ request.) There is satisfaction with this global approach because it touches upon three areas with sheets specific to different areas of the music and the visual.

First, there would be TWO General Effect judges for a total of 40 points (20 points for each Effect judge) of the 100-point total. The premise is that the audience should be entertained, excited, and engaged. In providing 40% of the points allotted to Effect, the motivation was to encourage exciting and thrilling programs for the benefit of the ticket buyers. Over these last 20 years, a case can be made that our products are more entertaining and often tell a story that the audience follows. Audiences have grown and participation has also increased.

Second, there would be 6 other judges — three visual judges and three music judges. The three visual judges would include a field judge (to help maintain the excellence and accuracy of which all of us have been so proud and worked so hard to refine.) Another visual judge would be an Analysis judge, who would look at the strength of the visual composition. The concept is that we wanted good writing as well as good effect. Lastly, there would be a color guard judge. Over the last 25 years, the color guard has grown into a principal portion of the overall programming AND it contributes mightily to the entertainment qualities of all programs.

George Oliviero, circa 1975

George Oliviero, mid-1970s

Each of these visual judges has 20 points for a total of 60; however, to keep the balance towards effect, these three sheets are added and then the 60 points are divided by 2. Essentially, these three sheets are 30% of the system while the Effect is 40% of the system.

To accompany this approach, the music captions also use a set of 3 sheets. One is for field brass, with the same idea of preserving excellence from the wind instruments. A second music judge is an analysis judge, who helps grade the composing process in the music area. The third music judge is for percussion, with the same intent as the field judges in visual and brass – preserving and rewarding the quality of the writing and precision. These three music sheets are also added together for 60 points and then divided by 2. The percentage is 30%, the same as visual.

When the dust settles, the Effect is worth 40%, the three visual judges use 30%, and the three music judges also use 30%. Instructors and directors had decided on WHAT they want judged and these 8 sheets support their wishes. In fact, recently, you may have noticed that field judges are not so visible on the field. Instructors requested that judges remain as much off the field as possible. The reasons are twofold and easily understood: today’s programs have over 150 members moving across the stage, often with significant set designs (props). There is a safety issue for the judges and the marching members. Safety is increased for all when judges are not moving among the members and are not moving around the field. The second reason is, in part, an aesthetic determination. There is a significant financial investment in set designs, costumes, writers, and designers. With judges moving around the field, sometimes near, around, or in between members, etc., there can be a distortion to the design. As one audience member stated, “no one wants to go see the Mona Lisa and then see nothing because people are in the way”.

The second primary issue is HOW those 8 sheets are implemented and the application and development of the philosophy behind the sheets. After all, all judges should use sheets in a similar fashion. Likely, it is safe to say that no two judges are the same; however, if each judge brought his/her own philosophy of judging, there would be chaos. The discussion, refinement, and publication of articles that support each sheet is an important function of the ACSC.

The instructors have important and valuable input into the content of the sheets and how they are to be used. Each year, in fact, part of the discussions at the Congress will center on changes, small and large, to the philosophy of the sheets. When all is said and done, DCI publishes a judges’ guidebook that lays out the intention of each of the 8 sheets. This approach makes the judging community accountable to the wishes of the wider community of instructors and corps.

George Oliviero, circa 1975

George Oliviero

Further, within the judging community there are caption leaders who listen to the audio files to assure that the intended use of the sheets is proper. These caption leaders report to the Artistic Director and the Lead Judge. There is a significant level of accountability provided from within the judging community. And, as always, instructors with questions can have a conversation with the lead judge, should there be any questions about the implementation of the judging system or its individual sheets.

It seems safe to say that the judging system is not intended necessarily to be the same every year. Within those 8 sheets, many changes have occurred. Those changes include changes in words, changes in emphasis, or changes in what instructors want the sheets to cover. It may be overused, but the judging system is organic and ultimately is responsible to the instructors, the directors and their corps.

All of this information may not change your level of angst when the scores are being announced; however, you should be assured that every year, the system and its implementation come under thoughtful review. New ideas and language are provided as some things are phased out. The effort is meant to maintain a contemporary system that is fair to the current performers and to all of the corps.

“In third place……………..”


*Feature Photo: Cambridge Caballeros on the inspection line in 1962

(Hey Howie Bennet – how are you, old friend?)

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