Corps, judges access five-judge panels during DCI tour’s first two weeks

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 5).

Drum Corps International announced in May that, among several cost-cutting measures, the DCI Board of Directors voted to reduce the number of adjudicators to five for all World Class events prior to July 4 — or some 30 shows. The decision was expected to save the organization about 20 percent of a projected budget shortfall, or more than $50,000.

Open Class directors made a similar move at their annual meeting in January, also reconfiguring their judging assignments at several early-season competitive events.

Eight judges are typically used in regular-season contests, with major regional events using an additional percussion judge. New this season, as many as 11 judges will participate in World Championship events.

Some, like DCI Hall of Famer Michael Cesario, a program consultant with the Colts, were anxious to see how it would all work.

“We have some changes, based on horrendous budgets this year, and we’re going to see the first season with only five judges for the first couple of weeks. I think that’s kind of cool,” said Cesario during an interview with Dan Potter on DCI’s June 5 “Field Pass” podcast.

“I hate the idea of the whole judging thing because we worked so hard on that system and the judges themselves don’t get the exposure they want. I mean, when you create an activity around competition, it’s sometimes hard to understand why you’d cut the judges,” he told Potter.

“On the other hand, I think that it will be interesting to see what happens when you average General Effect Music and General Effect Visual, and Ensemble Music and Ensemble Visual, then throw in the wild card of Percussion two [the second percussion judge used in major contests who is positioned in the press box].”

Anecdotal comments heard in the stands suggest that the reduced-judging measure was a hit with fans, who sometimes claim they’re distracted by the field judges during shows.

As for the judges who were fortunate enough to be chosen to work those first two weeks and not have their schedules slashed by the cost cuts, the move was hardly a change at all.

“Really, for the judges there was no change,” said William Chumley, who judged Ensemble Visual and was the chief judge at the Stillwater, MN, show on June 22. “The system is the same for us in terms of how we apply the scoresheets and the philosophy and spreads and numbers.

“Everything’s exactly the same, so we do our job. The magic of the system is, whether it’s eight or 10 or five, we’re doing the same job.”

But before anybody “judges” the five-person panels to be something that should become permanent, the scaled-back system was not held in such favor by the corps.

“I don’t necessarily believe it’s about the numbers in the beginning here, but I do believe that in going to the five-man panels, we don’t know how the value of the tenth [on the individual judging sheets] is being carried forward,” said Carolina Crown Program Coordinator Jim Coates after the Stillwater show.

“One person’s opinion can have a greater impact on the total number vs. the other way. That being said, I think we’re seeing spaces open up between units and things aren’t as tight as what they may be once we get into the larger panel,” Coates added.

“Well, I’ll talk out of both sides of my mouth. I mean, from a DCI board member position, we have to do whatever we can to cut expenses right now, but I don’t like this [five-judge panel],” said Cadets Director George Hopkins following the DCI Madison show on June 28. “You’re not evaluating all the captions. You’re not evaluating the technical part of what we do right now.”

Cesario expressed in his “Field Pass” interview that he thought the reduced panels might have a big impact on the corps’ judging dynamic as the season progressed and more judges were added.

“So you take all of that interesting General Effect and Ensemble, and the elevation of Ensemble to that many points over the first couple of weeks, and then drop it back down again to its place amongst eight and nine judges — that’s going to be a big difference,” Cesario said.

“I think as the corps get cleaner, that’s exactly when the guys come in saying, ‘OK, let’s take a look at your technique, let’s take a look at your performance’,” he said. “Those guys and gals are added in at just the right time and now worry about the corps that doesn’t clean.

Because if you’re not clean when those cats come in, they aren’t starting from the beginning [of the season]. They’re going in like it’s week three and you’d better be week-three clean.”
Chumley concurs that the five-judge panels probably worked to the advantage of corps that played “to the box” early and not necessarily to corps that started with other “strengths”.

“I think it’s clear right now that some of the teams [corps] have strengths in different areas and among the judges — if they had a field person or the brass person or a color guard person — those strengths might come out, or those weaknesses might come out,” Chumley said. “And right now, that doesn’t come across for the groups. The emphasis is on the whole package upstairs.

“I think that last year we had the system where the field people were in the stands and the drum corps liked it,” he said. “They said they didn’t want to be dug into so much early-season on the field. So I think it was kind of planned to be that way and this has done it by economics. It kind of meets what they [the drum corps] wanted in terms of us not being on the field right away to tear them apart early.”

Don’t necessarily count Madison Scouts’ Percussion Caption Head Roger Carter among that crowd. He felt like his unit missed a percussion judge who was closer to all the field action.

“Of course I want the guy down there to get the good read of what they’re really playing underneath all those loud chords, because you don’t always hear all the inner beats and all the articulations underneath,” Carter said following the Stillwater show, “you just hear the loud accents, the statements, the punctuations.

“The field judge down there is really the one who gets the best seat in the house, so to speak. So I think once we get that read out there and they really understand how sophisticated our book is that we’re playing, they’ll bump us up a little bit more once they realize what we are playing.”

In spite of the diminished feedback corps and their staffs received from judges during the season’s first two weeks, the read Chumley and his fellow judges got from the corps was largely favorable in critiques. “They’ve [the corps staffs] taken it really great, I think,” he said. “There have been some comments on wishing there was a certain judge, or wishing a field person was there, just because of what they perceive their strengths to be.

“I think the key to the system is that in Ensemble — both in Visual and Music — we judge everything that they’re doing and playing, so there’s no part of the system that’s missing, right now. I think sometimes the drum corps may misinterpret that, but that’s not true. Right now, the system is whole and complete. It just doesn’t have all the emphasis that it will have later.”

Once that greater emphasis comes later in the form of more judges, it does change the “rules of the game” slightly at mid-season.

“Maybe to some extent,” Carter said. “I wouldn’t say it completely changes the rules. It’s just more points of view — more evaluations from angles.”

As for the judges, who had to do more with less for the first two weeks, at least one thinks it might be a good idea to get them off the field and out of the show’s way on a more permanent basis.

“I think it’s a very valid point that when we’re on the field, we’re told to not be a part of the show. But you can’t help but be noticed,” Chumley said. “So from a fan perspective, I think that’s something that drum corps should really pay attention to and say, ‘Hey, did this create a much better experience and did the drum corps get enough information? Did the scores come out the way they should?’ And that might be an interesting change for going forward.”