Marching Percussion vs. Grounded Percussion

Question: Why is it that some bands don’t march a battery percussion and is it possible that a “front ensemble” percussion section can compete with a more traditional complement of battery and front ensemble?

Answer: The simple answer is yes. In past years I think that directors sometimes felt that they HAD to have both a battery as well as a front ensemble to be competitive, even if it meant having only 1 snare, 1 tenor, and 2 basses. With the advancement of electronics as well as everything you are seeing coming from the winter activities, some directors are now finding that it’s to their advantage to only utilize a front ensemble if they have limited percussion members. By having those performers sometimes playing 5 or 6 different instruments throughout the course of the show, they greatly expand the choices of tone colors and textures vs. having students stay on a single instrument. The only time you would have a distinct disadvantage would be if “visual contribution” is listed as a sub-caption on the percussion sheet. Those front ensemble units obviously wouldn’t be able to receive credit in that area. Here’s another example that was recently provided by the head of the percussion caption of my judging association: 

CAN A PITTED ENSEMBLE WIN THE PERCUSSION CAPTION: OF COURSE they can. The What and the How are automatically figured into your adjudication. EX: A marching group comes out and they play a Copeland Show. They play at a very above average to good level (top of box 3 bottom of box 4) and a pitted ensemble comes out next – plays the same exact arrangement (no marching) and plays at an above average to good level (top of box 3 bottom of box 4). Who wins? Well, that example works here – same exact music – one marches and one doesn’t – the marching group would have to be given the nod just because they are really doing more due to the visual demand being placed upon them. However, if you get a marching group – falling all over themselves, very one dimensional, and then a pitted group comes out, very musical, each member contributing 3-5 instruments over the course of the performance – and their overall performance enhanced and added to the whole soooooo much – then your decision is also very obvious in that scenario as well. GOOD IS GOOD / GREAT IS GREAT! Reward it properly.

– Mark Culp