On this day in 1923, Darius Milhaud’s ballet La Création du Monde premiered in Paris’ Théâtre des Champs Elysées. One of the earliest and most masterful blends of Western art music and American jazz, the work is a stunning synthesis! Check out my favorite recording on YouTube, with Leonard Bernstein conducting, or listen to me conduct the work in my recordings section! Finally, collegiate ensembles should think of programming the work, in which consider reading up and using the modern percussion edition in my analysis of the work!
Every state, circuit, and show has a different word for it on their judging sheets. Showmanship. Entertainment. General Effect. It’s meant to measure that very intangible, somewhat subjective idea of the impact your band’s show has on your audience. Does it move them to excitement and emotion through your coordinated execution of demanding musical and visual elements.
For something so seemingly subjective and abstract, General Effect plays a huge part in your marching band’s success at contest. At many captioned contests, it can count for 20%-40% of your overall score! And even at uncaptioned contests, where some equivalent to “General Effect” doesn’t appear explicitly on the judging sheet, it is impossible for a judge to ignore how they are personally moved by the effectiveness of your show. Clearly, bands looking to improve their scores will want to raise their General Effect as much as possible. But how?
Execution is Paramount
Firstly, remember that your band will only be as effective as they are fluent in executing their marching and visual package. Judges will only give you credit for what you do, not what you try to do. To that end, at this point in the season, if there are difficult musical and visual elements of your show that your students can’t quite execute with full confidence and control, then a rewrite is in order. Simplifying ever so slightly will ensure 100% execution. So, maybe some of those 16th notes become 8th notes. Maybe some very high-tessitura brass chords get voiced down an inversion (see my earlier article “Re-write” for some ideas on this). Visuals can be rewritten as well. Maybe that bodywork during a woodwind technical feature can do with one less plié. Maybe that step size can be reduced for your brass while they are playing a loud or difficult passage. Anything you can do to improve your band’s execution will improve your General Effect!
Check Your Pacing
Just as in good storytelling, pacing is incredibly important to your show’s effect on the audience. Taking too long during transitions, not maximizing big impact moments for a little longer, not filling the field with enough color during an emotional opportunity: all of these can negatively impact your show’s effect. My suggestion: show your best show video to as many of your friends, musician and layperson alike, and ask them what they think about the pacing. Are you taking too long to change equipment? Is there too much time between your drum major salute and the onset of the show? Do your impact moments excite your audience but leave them wanting a little more? Can every portion of a new feature moment be heard, or is it being covered by other on-field sounds or applause. All of these issues can be solved by adding or removing 2-4 counts at strategic points in your production. Conversely, if you are hearing from one or more judges that there is not enough “simultaneous demand” during a particular portion of the show, or that you’re “standing still too long,” then that’s the spot to add bodywork, horn flashes, or more to up the perceived demand!
Add a Little Something Extra
Some of your audiences, judges included, have been seeing your show for several weeks. While you may have the ears and experience to see and hear the continuous improve your kids have achieved, it’s only natural that a certain level of fatigue can set in with your audience. So find a way, in these final two weeks, to add just a little something extra to your show. It could be a change to large, colorful flags at the end of your show, a new set of visuals in the winds, a flashy new prop, or a tag ending to your production accompanied by the front ensemble. It may be as simple as adding some small lighting elements to your soloists, props, or equipment to highlight a big moment. Anything you can do to introduce an extra element to help your audience fall in love with your show all over again.
With these changes to your show, you could improve a major component of your band’s competitive success! Give these a try in the upcoming week as you enter this last phase of your competition season.
Visual. Marching and Maneuvering. Whatever the contest sheet calls it, we all want a better score in how our marching band’s drill looks on the field. But this is always a difficult task, because marching in a straight line with even-sized steps doesn’t come naturally to any human being! But using the process of cleaning subsets can vastly improve the look of your band on the move, creating a pleasing visual product for you and other discerning eyes!
Drill Sets are a Fraction of Your Show
Our students can often fixate on “dots.” Do they hit their spot or not. Are they in the form or not? And those things are very important! However, this fixation on hitting a certain spot can sometimes overshadow how they look while they are on the move to that spot! For example, in a 24-count maneuver from set 1 to 2, there is one count of standing in a form and 23 counts of movement! That makes how your performers look during the maneuver about 95% of what the judge just saw. Communicating to your students that it’s not just whether they hit the dot but how they look while they do it is tremendously important!
Determine Subsets and Clean Them
Cue the subset! A subset is the form resulting in the midst of a transition from one drill set to another. For example, take a look at the following progression of forms. On the left is form 1. On the right is form 2. And in the middle, call it 1a, is the subset that exists on the halfway count between those two drill sets.
The key to cleaning this transition from set 1 to set 2 is to determine this subset position for all members and to repeatedly march and clean set 1a. If your students can hit that set with their correct foot at the correct count, we know that they are taking the appropriate straight-line path and step size.
Use Technology to Help
The images above came from a great mobile app called DrillBookNext that runs on Android and iOS devices. All you have to do is feed DrillBookNext your show’s coordinate sheets from PyWare, and it will generate animated, count-by-count, images of your show. You can see what a form looks like at any sub-count between drill pages.
Another great technology is the online Midset Calculator. This free site allows your students to input their coordinates on two drill sets, and the calculator will spit out the subset at every count in between! This can be perfect for assigning dot books or for assigning isolated drill segments that are giving you some trouble.
Even if you don’t want to fiddle with these technological advances, you can always simply use the ubiquitous cameras on our smartphones to clean your subsets. Simply video your troublesome drill segments, and afterwards you can pause and capture the frames where the subsets occur. These screen grabs can be posted to FaceBook for your performers to reflect on for visual improvement!
If you dedicate significant drill cleaning time to your subsets, you’ll find that the visual clarity of your ensemble improves by leaps and bounds. Try these techniques and technologies this week and see what they can do for your marching band!