Recently I was asked to judge a band contest. Peace Corps Volunteers are often asked to judge things (I’ve already judged a children’s art contest) and I figured I could tell a good band from a bad one, so I readily agreed. Then I found out it was a local high school marching band contest. What do I know about bands? I never did band, ever. Not even in middle school, when it was basically required. About the only thing I know about marching bands is that the Husky Marching Band is great and regal and Oregon’s is ridiculous and wears paratrooper outfits. But nevertheless, I was one of three judges, two of whom were highly qualified – the band director of a nearby university, and a former music champion in the area.
The criteria were as follows:
Choreography, Mastery, Entrance & Exit Formation – 30%
Showmanship, Showdown – 30% (I had to get clarification on how to judge “showdown”)
Costume, Props – 30%
Audience Impact – 10%
Marching bands are quite different here. Funding is a major constraint, so all the bands only consist of snare drums and two or three bass drums, some lightweight portable xylophones, flag wavers, and dancers. It really limits what you can do and how impressive your sound can be. Imagine the ambiance at your favorite college stadium without the blare of horns belting out your favorite fight song. Most of the songs played were simple children’s ditties like Mary Had a Little Lamb and It’s a Small World (funny, it’s just as annoying in the Philippines – small world, huh?), but one band had a pretty impressive rendition of the Rocky theme song and of “Beautiful Girls” (which I am otherwise entirely sick of). Judging actually ended up being pretty easy to sort out. I channeled my inner marching band critic to determine and realized what was better to watch (constant movement and playing, smooth transitions) and what was boring or distracting (standing in one place, stopping between songs). Not all the schools have the same kinds of resources, so I felt kind of iffy about making judgments on uniforms and proper instrument balance (which drowns out bad players, and makes songs sound better). The winners had by far the most impressive choreography, which was something that I didn’t feel bad about judging on. And I ended up having basically the same ranking as the other two judges, so I felt good about that – a unanimous victor.
Here is one of the participating bands - points knocked off for basically standing in this formation the rest of the time
Here's the winning band. I wish I knew how to take better night photos, besides getting a better camera.
The most exciting and unexpected moment came at the end, when the winners were announced. A rumbling of drums and cheers had been building up, and when the runner-up was named, the winning band exploded in the kind of pure unadulterated victory celebration that I haven’t seen in a while. As the dusk of the evening settled in, a slight haze fell over the plaza, the winners rushed around cheering and hoisting flags, carrying their leader on their shoulders, I basked in the joy of a last minute high school football playoff upset victory on a damp fall night, for it felt much the same.