Good Music and Visual Effect

Question: What sort of things do you feel are positive in the areas of music and visual effect?

Answer: The effect captions are probably the most misunderstood captions that are judged today. Very frequently you will hear folks leaving a contest saying “Band A was so entertaining . . . I can’t believe they didn’t win”. However, the most entertaining band may not always have the program that is the most effective, especially when you carefully examine the sheets and what makes up the caption. When you talk about performance, it’s easy (even to people who have never participated in marching band) to see people out of step, formations that aren’t aligned quite right, or feet moving in different tempos when they should be together. It’s also easy to hear wrong notes, incorrect attacks or releases, and ensemble blends that are less than ideal. Effect, however, takes into account the “whole”. Essentially, there are three types of effect: Emotional, Intellectual, and Aesthetic. 

An easy example of emotional effect might be when you have the entire band in a large front or “power wedge” coming at you playing at forte. 

Intellectual effect is created when the design team “programs” a desired response, but it may not be as apparent as the emotional effect. A great example that I’ve already seen this year is the second movement from Dixie Heights’ program. It’s all based on a traffic signal. Sounds easy, right? Well, make sure you catch the fact that they have 1/3 of the guard on red flags, 1/3 on yellow flags, and 1/3 on green flags. Also pay attention to how they stage the ending of the movement with the winds and the guard in almost a “human traffic signal”. That definitely wasn’t “luck” that those elements came together that way – the design team had a definite plan.

Aesthetic effect is probably the most difficult to define. When I designed for groups in the past, I always had a vision that parts of the program (or possibly the whole program) should be both so musically and so visually detailed in order to “take the viewer to another place”. 

Also keep in mind that the effect judge looks at both the design of the program as well as how well the band is performing and communicating their efforts. To achieve at the highest level, much of the responsibility lies with the performers to bring the program to life. I’ve seen countless shows with excellent design qualities, but they are performed without an ounce of emotion and tend to come off a little on the flat or boring side. I’ve also adjudicated groups with very basic programs whose performance level has been so compelling you can’t help but get excited about their efforts. The judge can (and should) credit each facet appropriately on his or her sheet. Quite a few years ago I sat at BOA prelims watching Marian Catholic perform Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu”. At the end of the piece I had tears running down the side of my face. Their design coupled with their ability to communicate this very delicate piece of music just absolutely moved me from an emotional standpoint. And this was 3 minutes after they took Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and literally “shoved it down my throat” with a level of intensity that I’ve very rarely seen matched on the marching field. Now THAT’S effect. 

As far as specific positives . . . Almost every sheet I’ve used always looks and credits variety, coordination from all elements (winds, percussion, and guard), musicality, and creativity. Personally, I always enjoy seeing how some groups will take a piece of music that’s been done countless times in the past and put their own creative spin on it. And as I mentioned above, the performer’s ability to emotionally connect with the audience is critical to the success of any program.

– Mark Culp