Drum Corps International
Judging and the adjudication system

Judging and the adjudication system

by Drum Corps International

By John Philips, Drum Corps International Judge AdministratorEditor's Note:The member corps of Drum Corps International have decided on several occasions during that past decade that their performances and programs will be evaluated as a competition. To make those evaluations and determine the ratings and ranking for each competition, Drum Corps International and its member corps have invested a substantial amount of time and money to create an adjudication system and to train the judges. For the 2002 30th Anniversary Program book, John Philips, Drum Corps International's Judge Administrator, put together an explanation of the various components of the adjudication system and what the judges' responsibilities are. IntroductionThroughout the summer the DCI office receives many inquiries about the judging system and the individuals who make those critical decisions each night. The Drum Corps International judging system is as objective and criteria-based as possible. Drum corps competition demands excellence. It is our judging philosophy that any group could win at any contest. The judges' decisions are based on the performances they observe and not on a corps' reputation or past performances. The group that performs the best and performs the best program will always come out on top.One question that fans often ask is why did corps 'A' not place higher than corps 'B'? What might seem obvious on the surface may be masked by the complexity of the judging system we use in DCI. It is a well-balanced system that takes into account the entire process of creating and recreating the program. The system rewards the design and creativity of the program and the performers who bring their show to life. Drum corps judges evaluate four separate music captions: Music Effect, Ensemble Music, Brass Performance and Percussion Performance. There are also four separate visual captions: Visual Effect, Ensemble Visual, Visual Performance and Color Guard. The following is a summary of the DCI judging system with examples of how it works.Performance The two music performance captions – percussion performance and brass performance - and the visual performance caption concentrate on the individual performer. The judge examines the students' work at close range on the field. In evaluating the music performance captions, a judge will concentrate on the quality of musicianship and the quality of technique (excellence). How well the individual musicians play will determine the overall score for each brass or percussion line. Judges will "sample" individual musicians as they play and march through the program, listening for the musical aspects that are positive as well as the ones that need improvement. The judge further applies his/her knowledge to assist the corps in improving their work. Additionally, a judge must recognize simultaneous responsibilities, which means: "How well are the musicians playing their music within the spectrum of visual and musical demands?" Furthermore the judge will also praise the students when they are successful in completing a difficult passage with clarity and ease. This balance between positive recognition and encouragement for improvement is the trademark of a good DCI judge.Visual performance is much the same as the music performance captions with further consideration being given to the control of the performer's body while they play or manipulate their equipment. Additionally a judge will examine the methodology of movement and basic alignment between performers in two subcaptions called Accuracy and Technique. The same recognition of achievement and encouragement for improvement is applied in the visual performance caption. EnsembleBoth the music and the visual elements are further examined in detail from a distance, usually in the press box of a stadium. These are the ensemble judges and they take a look at the big picture but still focus on either a musical or visual section of the corps. Within the ensemble music caption, a judge concentrates on the musicality of the group. Consideration is given for the tuning of the ensemble, balance between brass and percussion, tempo control and rhythmic accuracy. It may be, for instance, that either the brass or the percussion is exemplary on their own, yet the two sections have difficulty playing precisely together. Conversely the group may sound very together and yet the brass or percussion line has some tuning difficulties that plague them throughout the performance. These are some of the subtleties that an audience member may miss unless they were required to scrutinize the details as closely as the judge. To effectively judge musicianship requires an even deeper understanding of the elements of music and how they interact as well as detailed analysis of the musical rendering being offered by the corps. Style also becomes an issue when judging ensemble and the adjudicators must recognize the efforts of the corps whether they chose to perform jazz, symphonic orchestrations or contemporary wind ensemble literature, even pop or rock music. All performers must interpret the music in a similar fashion. Sometimes the judge may find that the brass or percussion is working at cross-purposes in their interpretation. This needs to be pointed out and some ideas for improvement are made. Like the music ensemble judge, the visual ensemble judge addresses the big picture. He/she examines the whole form and looks for accuracy in alignment and balance within, across, and between forms. One slight difference, although it is somewhat related to style in music, is that the visual ensemble judge is considering the compositional elements of program. Here, some may say, we are rewarding the designers, however, we respond similarly in music. If no opportunity for expression and interpretation existed, or the music/visual was all in one mode of presentation without much variety/creativity, the results would be very basic and one-dimensional. The performers would not communicate very well. The ensemble visual judge also examines the musical interpretation through the visual design. Here again the judge is required to consider "simultaneous responsibilities." Consideration is given to the performers' body and equipment control while presenting the development of the form. The truly successful corps are not just the ones who make the big, well-balanced pictures out of their forms. The truly successful corps are the ones who get to these pictures and you don't realize how they did it. They move in and out of their design effortlessly and transition from form to form or to a new piece of equipment, flag or prop effortlessly. Again the fans may not notice this because the corps has mastered this part of their craft so well that the result is a seamless continuum of ideas. As on the field, the ensemble judge must recognize the demands of the program. Skilled judges determine how the musical/physical demands are interrelated with the achievement of the group. The most successful corps make their music sound and visual design look effortless even when it is quite difficult. Often the fans do not realize this because it seems like the corps isn't working that hard. Color GuardThe addition of the color guard sheet two years ago has recognized one of the most dynamic groups of performers in this activity. These young men and women are truly the personality of many of the competing units. Their use of mime, interpretive dance and movement not to mention some pretty amazing coordination while spinning a flag, tossing a rifle or saber can really enhance the overall program. They can also be the center of a very special moment in the design. Judges must recognize the facility, training, excellence and precision of these performers. They must further evaluate the logic of the guard's design and their musical interpretation. EffectThe most global area of evaluation is known as Effect. Music and Visual presentations should create an effect unto themselves, triggering aesthetic responses to the intellectual and emotional design and performance. In essence, this is how we determine what is entertaining about a particular program. Effect captions are the most subjective to judge and yet there are established principles of design and performance practices which can determine what is truly effective. Effect judges are looking at the actual design of the show, the peaks and valleys of excitement throughout, and how the performers made the show successful. Questions a judge might consider in judging effect are: Do all of the elements of visual and musical design reach an effective climax together? Are there a variety of effects in the show that display a wide array of human emotions? Does the pacing of the show remain steady, or does it have lapses? It is important to realize that it is not just the designers who control the effect but how well the performers bring it to life. Conversely, the performers may be truly amazing musicians or marching wizards and yet have limited material to work with. Eventually the effect wears thin. To be a good effect judge, one must have a depth of understanding of how shows are put together and how performers can not only interpret the design but also actually elevate its success. In conclusion, fans should note that the DCI member corps create the judging system. Each year instructors and the designers in the activity meet to present their views about how this system should be interpreted refined and/or revised. This is where the current philosophy of judging originates. The philosophy is then further developed and delivered as a curriculum to the judges who in turn put the system into practice during the competitive season. While the judge makes an individual determination of placement and score, he/she is doing so with a significant amount of knowledge about how the system works and with the support of various tools to help make an informed and informative judgment. About John PhilipsJohn Philips is the Drum Corps International Judge Administrator. He has served as Brass Caption chair and been a member of the Task Force on Adjudication. He began marching in drum corps when he was 10 years old, and has more than 25 years adjudication experience for Drum Corps International and other pageantry organizations. He is currently the Head of Music at Unionville High School for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Ontario and is a part-time instructor at York University.