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October 29, 2012

Marching band judges talk about their experiences

Steve Calhoun and Joey Orefice are an integral part of a marching band performance, but they are not students, directors or part of the parent pit crew. They’re judges.

Typically, six judges are required at an invitational or an ISSMA-sanctioned event, such as regionals, semi-state and state competitions. Judging is a complex process that requires a lot of musical and marching expertise, attention to detail and an ability to help bands reach their potential.

Four of the judges set up shop in the press box, giving them a view of the entire field. These individuals come from all over the United States and have extensive background in music and performance. Judging begins the moment the band marches on to the field until the last pit crew member exits.

Bands are allowed three minutes of staging and warm-up before the show begins. Performances can last no longer than 10 minutes, and the entire band, props included, must exit the field in two minutes.

From the press box the four judges evaluate specific areas or what are called captions - musical execution, general effect, marching execution and marching general effect. These judges look for musical difficulty, how well the group works together, how well the color guard performs, difficulty of moves,  as well as how the band “sells” the show to the audience.

But judging doesn’t just come from a distance. Two field judges with recorders in hand judge and relay their insights into the performance just steps away from the performers. Calhoun and Orefice were on the field during several of this year’s competitions.

Steve Calhoun

Calhoun, from Ellijay, Georgia, has been both a field and caption judge since 1990. He has bachelors and masters degrees in music education as well as an educational specialist degree.

“I was a band director for 30 years and during that time I became a judge for Drum Corps International, Bands of America, Winter Guard International, Michigan Competing Band Association and ISSMA,” Calhoun said.

While Calhoun has judged all of the captions, he’s had a lot of field experience in many different locations.

“I’ve been all over the United States,” Calhoun said. “I’ve judged in Japan and Holland and Canada.”

It turns out that Indiana is one of Calhoun’s favorite places to judge – thanks to the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA)

“ISSMA is very consistent and very well organized,” Calhoun said. “They have a good judging system and work hard to see that it is applied consistently throughout the state.”

A day in the life of a field judge usually begins around noon — that’s after travel and preparation time. Calhoun is constantly talking into his recorder, filling out forms, walking as close the performers as possible and trying to stay cool, warm or dry depending on the weather.

“Oftentimes the last performance is around 10 p.m. and most contests have a director’s critique,” Calhoun said. “It’s often after midnight when we leave the stadium.”

During his time on the field, Calhoun looks and listens carefully to each performance.

“I judge the woodwinds, bass and percussion performance at the individual and small segment level. I listen for technical issues such as articulation, timing and tone. I also evaluate how musical and expressive the students are,” Calhoun said. “All of this must be considered in conjunction with how many demands are being placed on the performer in relation to their level of accomplishment. This is called achievement, and that is the core of the evaluation process.”

Calhoun’s favorite part of the job is hearing remarkable performances from many marching bands.

“I’ve learned just how demanding the student’s job really is out on the field,” Calhoun said. “I enjoy the close contact with the students. It can be very exciting and involving when they perform well. However, you have to be very careful to avoid becoming part of the show!”

Performers are told to march through obstacles even if that means running into the field judges.

On the downside, the tedium of travel, being away from family and inclement weather are the least favorite aspects of the judging job.

This fall, Calhoun will have judged nine weekends, and he will judge 10 to 12 shows in the winter and 10 shows in the summer for Drum Corps International.

When he’s not judging, Calhoun said he likes to fly (he’s a private pilot), fish, travel and drive fast cars.

Joey Orefice

With 25 years of judging under his belt, Joey Orefice has seen a lot of good performances, a lot of bad weather and has had more than his share of interesting experiences.

“Last year, I had to fit inside a prop that the band had placed on the field in order to not interfere with the marching going on around me,” Orefice said. “It was quite a quick section, where I was on the inside of the formation. But I was so glad to see that prop there because I knew that would be a safe place to be out of the way for the next several maneuvers!”

Orefice had theater and teacher training while attending Kean College in Union, New Jersey, but said most of his experience comes from performing with a New Jersey drum and bugle corps.

“I taught performing arts groups over a period of 30 years throughout the country,” Orefice said. “I started in New Jersey working with color guards in the metropolitan area. Then I started judging at the young age of 22 in other areas.”

He’s trained in various judging associations, which requires studying video and bookwork as well as trial sessions in actual field settings, and continues taking masters classes to keep up to date.

When he’s on the field, Orefice judges several specifics.

“I judge the ‘space’ that defines the forms between individuals, and mostly the individual style of the band members – how they look, how well in tempo they are, how they hold instruments or spin flags,” Orefice said. “I also look at the posture style and how well they unify their style to each other.”

A day on the field or in the press box requires a lot of preparation for Orefice.

“I usually prepare sometime during the week refreshing what caption (area) that I will judge for the weekend. On the event day, I focus in on the details of the caption and review training session information. Each state often has a different set of scoring so I review the scoring system for that event. I prepare a sheet with the band’s name in order to score them after their performance,” Orefice said. “Then I pray to do a good job for the kids.”

Judging marching bands and color guards has taken Orefice all over the country. He works seven of the 12 weekends during marching band season and six out of nine weekends during the color guard season.

Indiana bands, says Orefice, put on a good show.

“The level of bands that participate is high quality,” Orefice said. “(ISSMA) allows us exposure to those quality programs.”

He calls his job a well-loved hobby and said judging has taught him what teamwork is all about.

“The band has to understand the responsibility of the individual and how that individual fits into the team,” he said.

Orefice currently resides in Walker, Michigan and works full time in his family business.

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