Friday, October 2, 2015

My review of the Ryle Tournament of Bands on September 26th, 2015

First, I would like to apologize for not being able to write any in-depth reviews until now. Week 1 and Week 2 were part of an absolutely insane stretch of work between my two seasonal jobs. I have really been looking forward to having the time to do these reviews, because I genuinely enjoy writing them as much as any reader enjoys reading them. I would also like to apologize for how long it took me to write them; my job has been giving me more work than it usually does at this point, and I had a fierce migraine on Wednesday that set me back. However, now that I'm finally done with them, I definitely want to share them with you all.

Second, I would like to discuss the competition itself. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite competitions of the season. The judges were high quality and consistent, the warmup areas were obstructed from the stadium well enough that even the loudest bands were barely audible during performances, and there was plenty of space for the bands as well as parking for spectators. The parking locations were close to the stadium, the stands were built on a hill so that the entrance is at the TOP of the bleachers instead of the BOTTOM, and despite having 7 AAAAA bands here, there was still enough room for everyone and the viewing angle was pretty good. The concessions were good, moved well, and were very well organized -- drinks sold at a separate location from the food to cut down on congestion, good variety of foods including bloomin' onions and baked goods, and everything is within close walking distance of the bleachers. The bleachers themselves are a bit narrow, which makes entering and exiting the seating area pretty awkward, especially when people on the ends of the rows are unwilling to move to accommodate. Aside from that, however, the competition is top notch overall and an experience I would recommend to anyone looking for a competition to attend.

Also, I would like to say that despite a few fans / parents who weren't overly friendly (no names), the spectators here were very well behaved, got along well with one another (even the Lafayette, Madison Central, and Dunbar fans!), and collectively enjoyed watching all of the great bands that were here. After the week of bickering that we have had on the forums, that was really encouraging to see.

Now, on to the bands. There are bands who have more difficult shows that are not quite as clean, and there are other bands who have less difficult shows but are cleaner. The difficult shows have not yet caught up with the easier cleaner shows, but are starting to close the gap. Also, I have noticed with many bands (including some finalists and potential champions) that there could be massive wasted opportunities in their shows as they are now. Whether these opportunities are taken advantage of could change the outcome of finals.

Henry County - "Wait"
This show is about time, as evidenced by the backdrops depicting various representations of time like clocks, watches, and even Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory. There are various musical references to the sound of clocks, from sustained percussion rhythms imitating ticking to melodies that include the common tune indicating the top of the hour that is played by clocks and churches. Therefore, it is viciously ironic that most of this band's problems deal with timing. I go crazy when I see and hear the issues they struggle to contain, issues that are pretty easily fixed with subdivision and individual practice. Foot phasing, tempo tears, cleanliness in music, and rhythmic definition were all factors that pulled down their performance level. This is made even more frustrating when taking into account that there are some good musicians in this band, including a pretty skilled trombone soloist with a good, strong tone that never goes out of control. The note transitions in those solos could be a little smoother, an issue that should be fixable with quicker movement of the slide between notes. Also, in the second solo, the trombone seemed a little winded and really needs to push those notes out with the diaphragm and breath control. The percussion parts are very simple, and I think that may be the most frustrating part of the music; a good, skilled percussion section could add so much to this show, but yet, the accompaniment for the battery is middle school difficulty and the technique in the battery reflects that difficulty level. Visually, there were two problems that hurt this show: errors in marching technique (foot phasing, lack of uniformity in leg straightness, slumped posture), and lack of energy in the drill and the guard (whose work, like the battery, is too simple). The drill doesn't move enough, and at moments where there is not much going on visually, the guard does not move more to compensate, and that hurts their visual effect. I think more forms shaped like circles and some more rotations in the drill would have helped convey the show concept visually. Even some more of the cliche rotation of the arms to represent the ticking of a clock or some swinging of the arms or props to imitate a pendulum would help. There are plenty of opportunities for this show to succeed even despite its design flaws, and it just requires the band members to be committed to working hard and helping the program succeed. Some work with a Dr. Beat or a metronome would help this band so much, and some brainstorming on visuals would help shore up their visual issues. Just those two actions would cement this band as a AA semifinalist, and combining that with even a slightly better show design could transform them into a dark horse for finals in the class.

East Jessamine - "2015: A Space Oddity"
East Jessamine's show this year is a zany romp through space-themed music, touching on "Ground Control to Major Tom", Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the ultimate space-faring cliche, Also Sprach Zarathustra (which was actually appropriate to their theme). The end result is an 8-minute long cheese-fest that leaves the viewer wondering what they just watched, despite probably knowing all of the music the band played. Dated drum parts, stylistic clashes between their movements, and a slow-moving drill that has quite a few dead spots all combine to put the students at a disadvantage before they even step on the field. However, there were quite a few performance issues that also held them back. Fundamental musical properties like tone quality, dynamics, and timing were not always present. The trumpet solo at the beginning wasn't terrible; all of the notes were correct, but it was kind of lifeless and monotone. If that soloist could add some dynamic contrast and sing the part with emotion, then it would actually be a great start to the performance. Dynamic movement really plagued them throughout; they topped out at a mezzo forte and even their hits just didn't have enough impact. Dynamic changes sounded uneven and terraced, and accents sounded like forte pianos. I found the tuba solo in the second movement kind of cool because that's my instrument. I would like for the kid to work on a stiffer embouchure and crisper tonguing, because it sounds like they're "chewing" on their notes a bit, but it has promise. The band had problems with phrasing and breath control, and on sustained notes, I heard several winds having to breathe in the middle of phrases and then attacking way too hard coming back in (even on sustained notes). That seems like an inexperience thing, though, and will hopefully get ironed out as the season goes on. They slouched and bobbed left and right while they marched, so posture will need to be addressed going forward. The slow-moving drill did not help with this. However, even that could have been overcome with some good guard work providing the movement where the drill is slow or stopped. It pains me to see this band in this condition, because I always try to root for them. They just need a lot of practice both at the individual level and as an ensemble to add more definition, shaping, and movement to their music. Their visual package is not great and probably can't be improved without some major rewriting of the drill. However, if the guard could be used to boost the band's visual package, they might be able to be competitive. I don't see them advancing to semifinals this year, but if they can work hard and improve their musical ability, then they have a puncher's chance. I have my fingers crossed for them.

North Oldham - "Whodunit?"
As the title suggests, this show is a murder mystery, and each movement focuses on a different suspect: the lover, the ex, and the business partner, going into detail about why each one had a different motive. The tarps and the guard uniforms help add visual flavor to the show and give it a very Clue-like feel. This seems to be North Oldham's new show formula, and I think it should work for them going forward because it builds effect into the show very efficiently. Their guard was engaging, confident, well-positioned, and did very good work. North Oldham's issues are almost completely in musical performance. They have a good blend, and with some more work, I think it can turn some heads by Halloween. On Saturday, it broke down a bit, and a few voices -- brasses especially -- tended to stick out. Tempo tears, muddy technical passages, tone control during hits, some missed attacks, all combined with the blend issues to pull their music down. The trombone solo during the third movement was a real highlight, with good music and great interaction from a guard member. Visually, I wish that they would not limit their performance area quite so much, but their drill was interesting and had nice velocity for the most part. There were a couple of spots (especially during the ballad) where there wasn't going on visually, which may have hurt their visual effect at that moment. They have good marching posture, and when they move, they look really good doing so. They did struggle with some foot phasing, and their lines will need some work going forward, but there is nothing in the drill that can't be fixed with practice. The guard really helps sell the concept, the outfits are spot on, and their work brings a lot of energy to the performance. There are still a few holes where the guard doesn't do enough, but that's not their fault. I think this is, overall, a show that can contend for finals, and the only thing holding it back right now is performance level. These kids have their fate in their own hands, and where they finish this season depends solely on their practice habits. If they want to make it to finals, then they will work hard, practice their parts, and make their music as clean as possible both individually and as an ensemble. Timing is paramount for them, so a metronome or a Dr. Beat would be a great tool to have handy. Because if they can clean up their music, their feet, and their marching forms, then they definitely have a chance to go a long way.

Woodford County - "Before Midnight"
I can't really tell, but I [b]think[/b] this is a show about the ballroom scene from Cinderella. Broken into 3 movements so far, the opener is grandiose and formal, followed by John Legend's "All of Me" as a touching ballad, and then 12 chimes signal the end of the romantic period and the beginning of a frantic piece portraying a quick escape before the Fairy Godmother's magic expires. The selections and arrangements are pretty clever (though "All of Me" is maybe a bit heavy for a first date), and help tell the story of the scene pretty well; I especially love the subtle insertion of chimes reminiscent of clocks that foreshadow later events. I do wish it would have more challenging parts, but it functions well. The drill is very generic and blocky, and it doesn't really do much to portray the concept in any way; the guard dressed in tattered garments like Cinderella's usual attire help to a small degree, and their work is pretty good. But visually, the show is pretty bare and does not set the band up very well for visual effect moments. They perform it pretty well; some lines will need work, but others hit nicely. They could use some work on posture to eliminate those slumped shoulders, but otherwise, their marching looks pretty decent. The winds have a good blend that continues to improve from recent years, but they still need more work with balance and control, especially during dynamic changes and at the loudest points. The mellophone soloist at the end of the opener struggled with the notes a little bit and will need to work on hearing them in his or her mind, which will help the notes come out more smoothly. The trombone soloist in the ballad was great, with good emotional content and just a small bit of rough note transitions; the trumpet who joined in was a bit harsh, and could use some work with putting emotion into the part. If the trumpet soloist can match the trombone player's emotion, then that can be a very special moment in the show. The closer brings with it a spike in energy level, but in the context of realizing the time and hurrying out of a ballroom, it actually fits. The winds will have to control their energy, though, and not let it push their sound out of control. They still have more closer to put on, it sounds like, so we will see how they end it. I don't know if this show is challenging enough to be competitive in a cutthroat class AAAAA, but it is enjoyable nonetheless and has plenty of enjoyable moments in it. If they can clean up their tone quality during fast / loud moments and work on emotional content in their music, then they will probably maximize their chances of getting to semifinals out of the brutal AAAAA East region. In future years, this band should be able to compete for a finals spot in AAAA if they move back down, so keep your eyes on them. I wish them nothing but luck going forward.

West Jessamine - "Dreams of Flight"
This show may have been the surprise of the day for me. I will admit that I was not expecting much from them, but their show about the first flight of the Wright brothers caught me off guard. It has a lot of cool visual things sprinkled throughout the show, and there's never a long period where nothing is going on. The visuals in the winds, the plane prop (which provides my favorite moment in the show), the kite streamers, it all showed pretty creative visual design. Their preshow touches on a pet peeve of mine: why are you going to do all these cool visual and musical things BEFORE the beginning salute, which eliminates them from being judged? I don't get that. And the cloud-design backdrops seem to be more trouble than they're worth; they're flimsy, light, and big enough to catch the wind. I would recommend some sandbags or lifting weights to anchor them, and also a stronger material than PVC to use for their frames. Also, the voice-overs at the beginning give me a headache; having to decipher 2-3 different voices coming at me at the same time was tedious and frustrating. The drill is compact and not overly difficult, but it is functional and has a lot of appropriate wing-shaped forms, which I enjoyed. Their visual design and performance were their strong suit and definitely what got them into finals. For the most part, the guard helped add to the show visually and provided movement during holds, though they could use some work with projection and crispness with their work. They also tended to have a problem with going straight up with tosses. The band's visual performance wasn't great, but it was good enough; lots of minor form issues, especially with straight lines and holding forms between sets. Their marching posture also needs work; horn angles are a little low, arms are a little too close to the sides, and I saw upper body movement caused by bent legs in a few individuals. Their musical performance has the most room for improvement; tone quality, blend, and emotional content are huge issues for them. They could really use another dynamic level on top to give their big moments more impact. However, before they do that, they will need to work on tone quality and blend even at the dynamics they can currently reach; I heard a lot of voices sticking out, blasting, or getting drowned out. I think some exercises with just holding a major chord and adjusting their sounds to blend together could really help them out. I think the flute soloist would really benefit from listening to some nice, lyrical flute pieces and learning how the music flows from note to note and through the course of phrases; also, I think a little embellishment is warranted in that solo. Some more grace notes and fluttery technical stuff could really help sell the idea of flying. The snare solos are a nice idea, but they can't try to time their music off of each other if they're going to be across the field from one another; instead, they need to listen forward to the pit or watch the drum major for their beat. Like other bands, the winds had slumped shoulders and will need to really push that chest out when they march, and they need some work on keeping their lines straight. I loved the ending of the show where the plane prop goes between the two lines in the band and then the band follows the plane out of the performance area, but it's kind of a shame that they have to run back and grab their instruments before exiting the field; can't they do exactly that but keep their instruments? Anyway, I like where this program is headed; they're still not the band they were in 2011, but they're definitely getting better. I think with some more work on blending, changing dynamics together, and projecting that good confident posture along with the usual cleaning can really benefit them; they have a great show this season, and if they continue to improve over the next month, then I see them getting into semifinals and maybe approaching the top 10. Keep up the good work, kids!

Williamstown - "Arrow"
I get the theme of this show, which is molded loosely on The Hunger Games; 160 BPM is a nice (though overplayed) intense piece to set the tone, followed by Bon Jovi's "Shot Through the Heart", then "(Everything I Do) I do it for You" -- the ballad from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves -- and ending with Dvorak's 9th Symphony, with snippets of William Tell sprinkled throughout. It's all appropriate and sort of works, but there is a certain cheese factor to it that I can't get past, like the musical equivalent of speaking in cliches. I do appreciate that they used a custom arrangement of 160 BPM and not the Bluecoats 2010 arrangement, because it showcases some different parts of that piece that were not covered in the more popular rendition of the piece. I wish the intro had not been arranged for electronics, because I think it ruins a great opportunity for introduction and building through the winds; I also wish they would exaggerate the "one-and-a" steps created by the 7/8 time, because I think it would be GREAT for their visual performance and effect scores. When they form a heart in the second movement and perform the Bon Jovi, I couldn't help but shrug at the wasted opportunity when the guard formed -- not an ARROW dissecting it -- but a blob. Such a great opportunity and they don't take advantage of it! I'm not sure what is going on with the vertical poles that have fake ivy spiraled down their length; maybe that's a low-budget representation of trees and forest? Regardless, I think show design is one of the main reasons for this band's struggles so far. Their marching was their greatest strength, and I appreciated their precision and technique. I do wish they would do some more body work during slow points, but what they do is good. There were some audible footsteps later in the show in prelims, so they will need to work on keeping that technique all the way throughout. Their sound is not quite as big or as full as it has been in the past, and that really hurt their musical performances and their impact points. They have great tone quality, but their normally excellent blend broke down at times with some voices sticking out and others getting lost. Generally, all brasses stuck out at one or more points, and the woodwinds got lost a lot during hits and sustained notes. The tempo tears I heard in Week 1 were still there, but they were not quite as bad and they were fixed more quickly. The bottom line is this: Williamstown has some uncharacteristic design flaws, and they have some uncharacteristic musical issues, and both will need to be worked out if they want to repeat. I would like to see them emphasize the "arrow" theme more during the later parts of the show, because I think it gets lost to a degree, I would like to see them make a little more sense with their props and their visual design, and I would like to hear them clean up and fill out their music so that they can put out that sound and that warm blend that earned them a Governor's Cup a year ago. Without all of those things happening, they do not repeat, and they may get bumped out of the top 3.

Tates Creek - "Chrysalis"
As the title suggests, this show is about the process through which butterflies transform from their adolescent larval stage to their adult butterfly stage. This is one of those shows that comes up somewhat often, and I have yet to see it done to full effect. I like this show, and I think it has a lot of upside, including some great visual moments and music that is always interesting and appropriate to what is going on in the show. However, I believe this particular butterfly show has two critical flaws that will limit its ceiling. First, the drill just does not do enough to convey the show concept. There are precious few moments where the forms indicate anything really to do with a butterfly or the process of chrysalis. Second, the show skips the larval stage, starts at the cocoon stage, and moves to adult butterfly stage in the ballad. On the surface, this may make sense, but where do we go from there? And how does Lux Aeterna fit into that? As with Williamstown, there are many of what I believe to be huge missed opportunities in this show. Their performance level was actually quite good (visual moreso than musical), and I thought it would propel them higher than it did. They were loud for having 90 winds and percussion, but a lot of that volume was uncontrolled and dirty. I think they would really be helping themselves if they would play within their numbers instead with good control and blend. The woodwinds were pretty skilled, but often got buried under blasty brass tones at impact moments. The saxophone soloist sounds okay, but the solo lacks energy and needs more feeling injected into the part. Their percussion is the unsung hero, providing a steady, accurate beat and clean music throughout. The guard really helped add to the show visually and gave more impact to their hits; despite my misgivings about their show design, the guard had the highlight of the show with their dual butterfly wing flags. However, there were a lot of points where the guard was staged as a backdrop and not as a participant in the show, which I disliked. As a whole, the band had pretty good marching technique, but there were a few individuals whose lackluster upper body posture tended to make those around them look worse than they actually were. There were a lot of moments where I wasn't really sure what was going on in the drill, and it could have been a scatter or it could have been a form that just missed. Going forward, I think they could really help themselves by locking those forms into place at the end of their sets. Their block formations hit pretty well, though I wish there were a few more curves and organic sets to match their show concept. Lines tended to be a little off and will need some more work. I don't know exactly how far this band can go, because their show design may limit them going into the second half of the season. However, there is plenty of room for growth in both musical and visual performance. They need to work on evening out their sound, playing within their numbers, straightening their lines, and raising the individual marching technique of their younger marchers. If they can do these things, then they should have a puncher's chance at a finals berth on Halloween.

Henry Clay - "Across"
This is an interesting show with a thought-provoking concept, and the way they executed that concept was fascinating to me. There are two platforms with built-in ramps in the back of the performance area, and they are set a ways apart from one another. They are the focal point of the show, with guard girls dancing on both platforms to signify the desire to get from one side to the other, but yet there is no way to do so in the first movement. Then, during the ballad, guard and battery members line up in the space between and extend a "bridge" in the form of a narrow board, which a single guard girl crosses while being supported by the band members below. I find that moment beautiful, because it has so many messages built in: the band plays "Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters", signifying a path through adversity to a favorable outcome; the band members supporting the bridge are a great parallel to those who support us in our lives and how we are never truly alone in facing our obstacles; and the crossing of the bridge previously thought to be insurmountable speaks to the growth and enhancements we undergo in life to overcome obstacles that had previously not been possible to overcome. I think this was one of the best effect moments, if not the best effect moment, of the day. However, the rest of the show falls short. There are also small bridge platforms positioned all over the performance area that are sorely underutilized. The two platforms in the back can be pushed together for another great, thought-provoking effect moment. The music in the opener and the closer are generic, and the closer doesn't currently have much meaning because of the fact that the bridge was "crossed" in the ballad. Their musical performance was decent, but got buried by many other bands in finals who gave better musical performances. Cleanliness and blend were the top two issues; there were a lot of muddy passages in the music, and rhythm was not always clear in the notes they played. Some of this can be attributed to field coverage phasing, and the performers far away from the drum major will need to work on anticipating to compensate. I heard a lot of squeaking in the woodwinds, and they were responsible for a lot of the muddy music, so they will need to practice hard in this last month. The soprano saxophone soloist did a good job, but can be a little cleaner and project a little more, so keep working on it. The winds did not maintain tone quality during all of their hits, and blasting brass tones really took away from their performance. Their percussion was impressive, and had an even better run in finals than in prelims; the amount of notes they play is massive, and they play with tremendous skill. I don't like the show design during their feature, because even though they are impressive and deserve to be the center of attention, that moment needs more going on visually; that would be a perfect opportunity to move the platforms together and have the rest of the performers march over it. The drill was always going to be somewhat difficult with a concept like this, and I don't think it does much to help that concept. Maybe pass-throughs and lots of lateral movement to signify "crossing"? Their marching wasn't bad overall, but had some really horrendous moments. Foot phasing, toe lift, upper body posture, continuity with marching forward or backward while marching laterally; all of those issues were present to varying degrees. Because of this, their drill really suffered and didn't quite hit unless they stopped and held in a form. Their lines will need work, and better posture and marching technique should help with that. I'm a little frustrated at this show, because on one hand, I really like the beautiful moments it has, and I think those moments can be elaborated and built into a good presentation. On the other hand, it doesn't really work other than those moments, and the performance level just isn't there right now to compensate. Unless they can fix their marching, clean up their technical passages, fix their brass tones, and possibly change the show around a little bit to make more sense in the second half, I see this show being left out of semifinals in a brutal AAAAA East region.

Beechwood - "My Second Chance"
As far as I can tell, this is a show about a woman who had a choice between two men, chose the wrong one, it didn't work out with that guy, and then had another opportunity arose with the right one. Interesting musical selections, going from East of Eden to Verdi's Requiem Mass in the opener, followed by the song "The Best of Me". The Requiem Mass implies something very serious, and the interaction between the guard and band members seems to indicate a somewhat rocky relationship between the woman and the first man. I think that may be a tasteful way of representing a controversial situation, in which case, I think it was done the right way. They only performed through the ballad, so it will be interesting to see how their closer adds to the show and ties it all together. I didn't get the umbrellas in the ballad; there are a couple of ways in which it COULD tie into the show, but it's not obvious, so that may be viewed as a cheap gimmick for visual effect that the judges might not get. Also, the performers seemed to have a bit of trouble getting the umbrella up over their plumes. As always, the woodwinds have very tough parts and are doing a very good job with them. The brasses are getting there; they put out some really nice sounds, but they also had some issues with entrances, cutoffs, and intonation. At times, they don't fill out their sound quite enough, and I'm really cautious about using this statement, but I think they can play out just a little more. When I saw in Beechwood's end-of-camp video that they were fielding a battery for the first time that I can remember, I was cautiously optimistic in that I loved the move they are making, but I was afraid that their battery might struggle. I am happy to say that their battery is doing well, and is not holding back their percussion or their music in any way. The duet at the beginning of the show was good; in prelims, it was maybe a little light on emotion, but they fixed that in finals. Visual design is where they have the most room for growth; their drill is all within about a 30-yard diameter in the front half of the field. Their visual performance was pretty good, but their lines will need more work, I saw patches of foot phasing, and their knee angles are making their heads bob. Also, their guard has a problem that they have had ever since I've watched Beechwood: they are very plain, do not stand out visually, and do not add enough to the visual aspect of the show. They do a good job with presentation, technique, and emotional content, but you can barely see them in those plain, skin-tight black outfits. Also -- partly because of the guard not standing out -- there are several moments in the show where there just isn't enough going on visually. More color, some body movement from the band, something needs to be added during those points. Also, I like the piano solos that Beechwood is known for, but those tend to be some of the most visually boring parts of their shows, and I really wish they could add something at that point, even if it's just one central visual element. If not for the vanilla visual design, Beechwood may be one of the best marching bands in the state. With Williamstown's struggles, Beechwood looks like a clear front runner in Class A East, with Murray proving once again that they are the best in the west. We will see how this class pans out.

Milford - "Oracle"
As with other shows at this competition, I saw so many wasted opportunities in this show. A platform sits in the center of the field, adorned with columns and a dais in the middle. There is often a guard member on that stage, portraying the "oracle", as smoke and mock flames come up from inside the dais. At one point, what looks like a stained glass window behind the dais lights up to signify maybe divine influence. While I like the idea of having guard members on the stage dancing, I don't think that's enough; I think one or a few members need to be dressed differently and be on there permanently; I also think it would be a nice effect for the "oracle" to foreshadow drill movements and to "affect" the band, which didn't really happen. Also, I thought the dais should be used DURING hits instead of AFTER them, which was when they typically happened. The drill had good velocity to it, but it was a bit blocky and I don't think it interacted with the oracle or the central platform enough. I think if you're going to use that platform, the whole show should point to it. Their music was generally clean, but they had a lot of slight issues that added up. Brasses tended to lose control during crescendos and hits, and one or two trumpets really started to overpower with harshness. The soloists need to work on their features, because missed entrances and rough note transitions killed both. I did not notice the woodwinds often, because they were drowned out by the brasses for so much of the show. The percussion did a great job, but I felt their feature didn't really belong with the rest of the show. I thought it should be incorporated more into the rest of the presentation instead of being the only thing going on, much like Henry Clay's battery feature. I liked that they did a lot of visual stuff in the show, with lots of body work during points where the band did not play. Their marching technique will need work going forward; they had good upper body posture, but they need to keep their upper bodies straight to the sideline. Bent knees and flat feet led to footsteps being audible in their tones, which will need to be eliminated. Their lines were not straight enough and will need more work. The guard had a few problems with their technique, and will need to get everyone together going forward in order to help with their visual scores. A couple of members even had trouble tossing straight up. Overall, I like Milford's show designs, but I wish they could take that extra step with show design and move from really good into great. Entrances, attacks, and blend will be critical points for improvement musically, and they will need to work on getting the guard work and the drill together. Despite my misgivings, I think this could be a Grand Nationals semifinalist show if they can clean it visually and balance out their sound. Thanks to this band for making the trek into Kentucky to compete with us.

Paul Laurence Dunbar - "Facade"
This is such a strange show. Between the masks, the striped guard uniforms, and the esoteric musical selections, it almost had a carnie feel to it. The guard, clad in their half-caped outfits with white and black stripes on the outside and neon colors on the inside, really helped give the band a visual impact. They had trouble with their tosses, though, and will need to work on tossing straight up and catching their weapons; I saw too many drops in both runs on Saturday. I don't get long playing pre-shows, though; if you're going to play it and sound good playing it, then why not get judged for it? I think there is room for improvement with tying the show into the concept of a "facade"; for example, why not have the guard wearing masks the entire time? Or at least some of them? Also, in the drill, have two forms stacked vertically, with one in front of the other acting as a "facade"? It's all interesting, and there is SOME material that ties in with the show concept, but I think they will need to add more going forward to maximize that part of their effect captions. I appreciated the challenge level in the show; they march more than the other 3 perennial finals contenders, especially while playing. Right now, they are struggling with the responsibilities placed upon them at times, but as they practice and clean, I think that issue will clear up. The woodwind ostinato lost a bit of steam as it continued to repeat, so the woodwinds will need to work on keeping that energy level up throughout. I also heard a bit of squeakiness at a couple of points in their prelims run, which sounded like nerves. If they can lock their parts in together and keep that energy level up, then I think they will be one of the better woodwind sections in the state. The brasses just didn't have good runs in either performance; blasting, intonation, blending and tone quality issues all plagued them, especially during hits. As with Tates Creek, it seemed like they were trying to compensate for having fewer members by blowing harder to sound as loud as they did in the past, which resulted in a lot of bad tones at the high dynamic levels. Also like Tates Creek, even if they're not as loud, I think they would be much better off playing within their numbers and having a good, blended sound. The second movement added a lot of character to the show, I thought, and I liked the interaction between the guard and the band at that point. The woodwinds need more practice with being exactly together at that point, but they still sounded good. I think some visuals can be added while the performers are holding and playing, which would add even more to their visual effect. I saw a lot of potential in their ballad, where their blend sounded its best and the guard really filled up the field at that point, though they will need work with being more together and the brasses will need to work on their legato note transitions. The dynamic contrast they exhibit is great, and I think that is still one of their greatest musical assets. They do not have their closer all the way on yet, so I look forward to seeing how the show ends. I'm glad they came out and showed everyone that they haven't fallen that far since getting a new director, but I think they still have more to show us going forward. This show has more room for improvement than any of the other contenders, I think, and how far they go will depend entirely on how hard the band members are willing to work over the next month.

Bourbon County - "Heart of Stone"
This is a pretty typical Eric Hale show. There's a lot to like: some great visual effect moments, drill that moves, a visual package that never stops for the entire show, and a well-taught band that can flat-out play. There's also a lot that I'm personally not crazy about: an elaboration on the "heart" part of "heart of stone" that I didn't think really fit with the Medusa theme, stylistic clashes in the music, snippets of recycled musical passages used as links between pieces, the bass synth that was left over from last year, a drill that you could swear you've seen before, and a general feeling from all the crazy left turns that you're watching something out of the mind of a person who has A.D.D. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it just makes for one wild ride. Also, this is just personal preference, but I'm not a fan of the 4-count silence before going into a hit; I don't think it adds impact to the hit, but much the opposite. There is a doorway in the back of their performance area that is not used, and I can't help but wonder if maybe that gets used in the last part of the show that they have not put on the field yet. If not... that prop is another one of those wasted opportunities. Between their use of arms to symbolize Medusa's head-snakes, the mirror shields, and good choreography, the guard really helped convey the show concept. They did good work, but will need practice keeping everything in unison. The drill had its clean spots, and was better overall than their exhibition performance in Week 1, but it still needs more cleaning. Lines were better, but not there yet; some of the curves were also a little off. I also saw some slumped shoulders, and the marchers tended to telegraph the next set. They also tended to lose marching technique when they went into jazz run; it looked more like just plain running. I think they left more points on the table in music and music effect than they usually do; I heard a lot of harshness in the trumpets, who tended to overpower the rest of the band in both performances. They did a good job of double-tonguing, though, and their feature in the ballad worked especially well in their finals run. When the brasses perform the snippet from Les Miserables, they have dragged EVERY SINGLE TIME; they will need to anticipate more. The woodwinds generally do a good job, but they were getting drowned out pretty much all throughout the show by the brasses and will need to play out more. The woodwind soloists seemed to have a tough time in prelims, but did better in finals; I think that was a confidence issue that will disappear as they perform their features more. The percussion wasn't as noticeable as other groups at this competition, but they were very clean and provided an accurate beat (when they weren't getting drowned out by electronics or voice-overs). Overall, this show will probably be very polarizing to the marching band community: either you love it for what it is, or you hate it because it touches on too many pet peeves that you may have. I think it has championship potential as long as they can clean up the blend, straighten the lines, and add a little more to make it more cohesive.

Lafayette - "Vive La France!"
Last season's experiment has apparently been written off as a loss, and Lafayette has gone back to the more traditional "Lafayette" show design. While this is disappointing to me personally, I see where Chuck Smith is coming from: he wants to give his band the best chance to succeed, and the more traditional style has had a lot of success in the past. Also, it's not as if their more traditional style isn't enjoyable, as well. I personally like the jackets the guard wears to start the show, though it's a bit anachronistic: red jackets were typically British at that point, and French jackets were typically blue. But oh well, they fit the era and catch the eye. I like the selections from Bizet and Les Mis, which is right in Lafayette's wheel house and fits together perfectly. The drill is a bit more curvy than Lafayette drill usually is, and they will have to grow into that as the season goes on. It still has a lot of blocks, straight lines, and follow-the-leader sets that are Lafayette trademarks, and they still utilize the AAAAA strategy of holding featured performers while the rest of the band marches. Their step size is still averaged out, as well, with no especially fast movement. However, they do a good job of keeping the eye stimulated at all times, and they still have a decent amount of individual responsibilities throughout. I like that they are already adding some visuals for featured performers and that they are already together. A lot of Lafayette's drill was ALMOST clean about 90% of the time; a curve here that was a tad warped, or a line there that wasn't quite straight, or a block that had 1-2 people slightly out of place, or a bit of confusion with marching forward or backward in lateral moving blocks, or a couple of individuals foot phasing. That should all clean up by state, though. The guard didn't show that dance school influence as much as they have in years past; they didn't have as much of that professionalism and confidence that Lafayette's guard usually projects, and they had a couple of uncharacteristic drops. They were good, but not Lafayette good. Like Bourbon County, I think Lafayette left the most points on the table with their music. I will hand it to them: their music has some really difficult passages. Those passages are still a little muddy, so they will need to continue working on cleaning. Someone in the trumpets really hurt them in prelims, and even though it was better in finals, there was still at least 1 person, maybe more, who were harsh during high dynamic moments and took away from the overall sound. The low brass did a good job with their feature, but need to make sure they all cut off their notes at the same time. The ballad really cleaned up their blend, and was the highlight of their show; that last note is so warm and pretty. The woodwinds kind of lost it in their feature in finals, and they tended to get drowned out by brasses (though that might have just been the "heroes"), but were otherwise good. As with Bourbon County, the percussion was never really featured in Lafayette's show, so they were not as noticeable as other percussion sections; they had a couple of slight tears, but were fixed quickly. (It's hard to fathom that a couple of small tempo tears may be all that separates 2nd and 6th place in percussion at this competition.) Their closer does not have the last of its drill on the field yet, so they just played those sets at a standstill and sound really good doing so; I hope they sound that good when they play it while marching! As someone else mentioned on the forums, the mellophones have a really nice countermelody in the closing moments, and I hope it cleans up as they put drill to it. Despite my misgivings about Lafayette's drill writing, I think this is a show that can win a title. They have the most room for improvement of any of the title contenders in AAAAA: they will have to grow into the music, they will have to clean up the mistakes in their drill, and I personally think there is room for a little more visual design. If they can do that, then they have a good chance to win.

Madison Central - "eXplore"
As a fan of astronomy and exoplanets, this show is right down my alley. I think I would be a huge fan of this show no matter who was playing it, but the fact that it's my alma mater makes it that much sweeter. The New World Symphony is one of my favorite pieces, and is appropriate to the subject matter. I like that there are more circles in this drill than Madison Central usually does, and the common theme of "X" patterns to represent the unknown and the theme of exploration (since the "X" is capitalized in the title, after all) helps keep the show concept fresh in the minds of the audience. The orange guard uniforms are great; they help to add a lot of color and visual material to the show. However, I do not believe that even Madison Central escaped the missed opportunity bug. Their march-on is such a great build-up, and the big, ordered X looks so good... and then they just fizzle it all out and go to their opening set. It could have been such a great entrance if they had done exactly what they do and just stayed in that formation! Also, even though they do blocks really well, I think they could add more to their effect captions if they replaced just one or two more blocks with circles. They will need some practice getting their visuals all the way together, because it was just a little off. Marching technique dipped at a couple of points, so they will need to work on keeping their leg angles and toe lift consistent throughout. Their lines were good, but individuals did stick out of forms during some of the curves. The woodwinds have a cool move where they alternate between doing visuals and marching, but half of them do one while the other half is doing the other, and this while they have the melody. It's not there yet, but I appreciate the demand level there. I do think their music up to this point is closer to its ceiling than Lafayette or Dunbar, but let's not forget that Madison Central revealed a closer last year that was pretty demanding musically, and it paid off for them. They had a lot of the same execution errors as Lafayette and Bourbon County, but the reason why they won was because those issues were smaller and fewer in number. Their music in prelims was better than in finals; their visual in finals was better than in prelims. They had the best blend and overall sound at the competition, only going out of control or sounding harsh a few times and usually fixed pretty quickly. They were a bit heavy and dragged slightly a couple of times, so they will need to work on being on beat or anticipating if they need to. The woodwind features are coming along well and they have a good, blended sound, but they still need some more work to lock those parts into place. The brass controlled their tones very well and were never TOO overpowering, resulting in some really nice sounds especially during the ballad. The trumpets got just a bit anxious on their ballad entrance in finals, but at least they sounded good. The saxophone soloist did a good job in prelims, and then nailed it in finals. Best solo of the day in my book. Also, I love the interaction with the guard at that point, as they circle him with yellow flags, reminding me of a star. The percussion had a couple of hiccups in prelims, but they turned it up with a vengeance for finals. The battery and the front ensemble were both very professional and played with great dynamics, never overpowering the winds or getting drowned out. I like where they are right now; they're cleaner than their rivals at this point, they still have the closer yet to put on, and there's plenty of room for more content to be added, which they will have to do if they want to stay in front. This was a great victory over some very worthy competition, but the season doesn't end for another month, and they will have to stay hungry. Once they can get their closer on the field and clean it, they should be in good shape going into the last weeks of the season.

Larry A. Ryle - "Something Wicked This Way Comes"
After being punched in the face by their forceful rendition of Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony, I didn't really know what to expect from them on Saturday, except that it was going to be powerful. And they definitely delivered on that. Their show, as one might guess, is about witches. The guard outfits are superb, managing to be both colorful and representative of the the iconic plain colonial dress from the Salem witch trials. Their steepled hats top it off nicely, even though they are discarded early. They instilled a lot of energy into the show, and they were surprisingly clean. The purples that are prominent in the opener really set a good tone. The band's new uniforms look great, and really play well into the darkness of the subject matter. I love the points where the witches "control" the band members; the band members really sell the part, which boosts their visual effect. I also liked their musical selections, including Danse Macabre, Shostakovitch's Jazz Suite, and Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem Mass. Their drill is a little generic, though it moves really well. I did like the forms representing symbols that I believe are Pagan; that was a nice touch. They had issues with intervals and form control; some of the curves were warped, and they accordioned in a couple of lines. Also, they had issues with marching technique, causing hard impacts that made their footsteps audible in their tones. The main issues I noticed in their show were musical; tone quality and overly heavy articulation really hurt them at every single impact moment. The brasses are very powerful already, so they don't need to blow as hard as they did on Saturday; 150+ members will produce a good decibel level. A good judge will always award more points for a nice, controlled tone that is pretty loud than they will for a jet engine of blasty brass. That may have just been fatigue, though; we'll see if that gets fixed going forward. Aside from their loss of tone control at the high dynamics, the brass did a good job with their music. The woodwinds were basically the opposite; always under control, drowned out a bit, but always technically accurate, if maybe a little off beat at times due to staging. Their parts aren't easy, and they handle the challenge pretty well. I'm really looking forward to seeing how they clean up going forward. The saxophone soloist did a great job, but a tempo tear that opened up during the solo ruined it; the sax needs to be careful not to rush. I'm really looking forward to seeing how this show cleans up, because it's one of the most well designed shows in class AAAAA, and if they can rein in the brass, clean up the woodwinds, and work on their feet, then they are DEFINITELY a contender for a finals spot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Reviews of the Bryan Station Pageant of Bands on October 18th, 2014

It's good to see that this band is reinventing itself. I've always wanted to design a show that uses Mozart's and Verdi's Requiems, so this show is right down my alley. The preshow with the chord progression from Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" was a nice touch. The backdrops were good, and I was happy to see some flags used by the guard that actually matched the stained glass pattern on the backdrops. That's a kind of subtlety that I would only hope a marching band effect judge would pick up on. I do wish the drill would move more, and I saw plenty of opportunities for more visual effect to be put into the show. One of the things that I have come to expect from this band is creativity with props used by the color guard, and I think if they could find a couple of appropriate props and incorporate them into the show, then it would really help boost their visual effect score. Nicholas County suffered from some small band musical issues, like mistakes being more audible because fewer voices are performing the parts, and music at low dynamic levels not quite reaching the press box because of a combination of ambient noise and the increased distance from the field to the stands at Bryan Station's football stadium. The woodwinds tended to get overpowered by the brass at the higher dynamic levels and will need to play out to match them. Intonation in the trumpets was an issue throughout the performance; I recommend tuning all of the valves daily to help combat this, especially in cold weather. They had a tendency not to last all the way through their phrases and will need to work on completing the statement before they take a breath. All of the featured performers were good, but the tuba's solo kind of got drowned out by the pit and will need some more air, and the clarinet solo had a couple of missed notes; bonus points for sticking with it and finishing strong, though. The front ensemble's bass drum striker is my new hero; that kid played his part like a boss. Great sound from the drum, and always on beat. He single-handedly added a lot of excitement to that movement. As I mentioned before, their drill was slower than average, and with a small band, that really limits the options a director has for visual creativity. Also, with slower drill, marching technique tends to suffer because students tend to shuffle more than actually marching when they have to take very small steps to get from point A to point B. Their lines were not bad, but they really need to be exact with their positioning to show the judges beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what the formation is supposed to look like; they sometimes left just a little room for doubt, which hurt their visual scores. The guard added a lot to the show, and were pretty clean from what I saw. They're pretty well integrated into the band during a lot of the most important parts, and the choreography keeps something happening visually at all times. I had them on the bubble to make it into finals; between them, Paris, and Danville, I was pretty confident that one of the three would take the spot that GRC ended up filling.

I like the changes they have made to their show since Morehead, and the way the show ends is a nice twist. The featured guard girl does a fantastic job as the tortured, schizophrenic patient fighting for her life against the demons in her mind. Their selections are all appropriate for the show concept and work well together. The voice-overs help to set up their movements, but I really wish they would not use school names for the name of the psychiatric facility; county or municipal names would be more appropriate. "Bryan Station Psychiatric Facility" just sounded strange. Regardless, this is a great visual show design, and the guard really helps tell the show's story. The flag designs are really cool, especially in the last couple of movements. I'm not thrilled with the fact that the drill only moves horizontally and cannot really move vertically because the backdrops are so far forward on the field, but I understand that that's sometimes the only way to combat the issues Nicholas County faced with their sound not reaching the press box. The thing that most dismayed me about their performance was that they are not really getting cleaner. Their tones were still rough, they still had some phrasing issues, and the brasses tended to be a little behind the beat. Intonation became an issue among the brasses during their louder points. I also believe that they need some more dynamic variation; more crescendos and decrescendos would really help their music effect. The flute soloist did a good job, but could really use more expression to make the performance more memorable. Vibrato and subtle dynamic swells at appropriate times will really help here. The baritone soloist was also good, but could use some of the same things as the flute soloist. The pit had a solid performance and were the biggest stabilizing factor in the music. The drill was cleaner, but still had some slight spacing issues and lines that weren't quite straight. Like Nicholas County, I think what hurts their visual scores the most is the fact that they literally cannot move more than they do because of the restrictions placed on them by the backdrops. The level of demand can be higher, and if it is, then they will be rewarded for it. Their upper body posture was still hit-or-miss; I saw some bobbing up and down and I saw some wobbling back and forth. Those upper bodies need to be completely motionless while marching. Their body angles were varied on pretty much every visual they did, which limited the amount of points they received for them; if they can work on the uniformity of those angles, then it will add to their visual scores. There is still a good amount of room for this band to improve, and they can be in the finals mix again, but they have a lot of problems that need to be fixed in order for that to happen. I've always liked this band, and I will be keeping my fingers crossed for them next Saturday.

From what I can tell, this show is about a the oppressed subjugates of a cruel tyrant who rise up and "overthrow" him. An interesting concept, though difficult to portray musically. The selections (Dvorak's 9th symphony, Jupiter from The Planets, and Farandole by Georges Bizet) seemed completely random and left me scratching my head. Good pieces individually, but what do they have to do with one another or with the show concept? Likewise, the drill is a pretty collection of shapes and designs that does very little to enhance or portray the idea presented by the title. I think this will limit their effect scores going forward. Though larger in size than Nicholas County or Paris, Morgan County still had trouble getting their sound to the press box. The highest dynamic level I heard from them may or may not have been a mezzo forte. As a result, their dynamics were severely limited, and the band could not use dynamics to enhance their music effect nearly as much throughout their performance. I found myself wanting more than they gave at several points throughout the show. I thought the snare drum parts during the Jupiter ballad were out of place and accented the wrong beats, which took away from the movement instead of adding to it. Their closer just kind of fell apart. The soloists during Farandole had good technique (and the baritone soloist at the beginning of the piece did a very good job), but the blend in the harmony and during the heavy march theme need to be balanced out. The melody often got drowned out by the countermelody; whenever a wind player has the melody during that movement, they need to play out more so that the melody is always the focal point of the audience. The music got a little dirty and lost energy toward the end; the band will need to work on pushing all the way through the show even though they're tired. As with many of the smaller bands, Morgan County's drill was limited by their backdrops. I also thought the soloists needed better staging, especially during the closer. Their marching technique will need work going forward; leg angles, upper body posture, and toe lift were all over the place. I saw foot phasing periodically throughout the show, and a couple of spacing issues also popped up. Their lines and curves weren't bad, but their blocks did not hit and rarely stayed intact during sets. They will need to work on making their lines and diagonals exact in order to leave no room in the judge's mind about what their drill is trying to do. In a very weak AA East region, I think this performance will be enough to get them to semifinals, but I would like to see them work on their marching and carrying the melody and give an improved performance that could get them through regionals comfortably.

This band has been very frustrating over the last couple of seasons. Before 2013, they really cleaned up and started coming together at the right time as they approached regionals, and they just missed taking home the governor's cup for two straight years. However, that steady, gradual process has disappeared in the last two years, leaving the band just as much of a mess at the end of the season as it was at the beginning. There is very little wrong with this show as far as being competitive in their class. Yes, their drill is pretty slow; yes, their guard work is simple; yes, their music is somewhat easy; yes, they do a lot of dancing around instead of marching; but there are myriad other bands in AA who have similar shows but perform them cleanly and are in better positions going into regionals. There is nothing stopping Danville from being right there with the rest of them -- their staging is excellent with the large iPhone frames, and their selections are all interesting and appropriate to the show -- but their show is just not cleaning up. As with most other bands today, the high brass were plagued with intonation issues from the temperatures. Their energy level seemed pretty low throughout, and a lot of the music came out flat. The band (including all of the featured performers) will need to work on expressing the emotions in their music more. The lower voices got drowned out most of the time, and all I could hear was the high brass, some of the woodwinds, and the bass guitar. The trumpets stuck out pretty much all the time, and when they stopped playing, I couldn't tell whether the music was designed that way or the trumpets were just dropping the phrase to take a breath. The closer's music fell apart, and their energy level dropped further at that point. Students will have to work on lasting throughout their phrases and keeping the energy going all the way through the show. I think they could use some more crescendos and decrescendos in their music, as well, just to show that they are capable of doing so. As mentioned before, the drill and guard work aren't overly challenging, which may have hurt their visual effect score. I think they need to be challenged more so that they can grow into the show more as the season goes on. They did a good job of being uniform with their body movements during the sections where they danced around. There were some bent legs and foot phasing throughout the show that will need to be cleaned up before semifinals. I am a little dismayed at how similar Saturday's Danville looked to the Danville I saw at Bourbon County; there has been little improvement over a month and a half, which just won't get a band into finals. This band will need to do some soul searching over the next week and a half and figure out what they really want to do with this activity. If they want to get back to finals, then they will need to do much better.

For fans of the reality television show of the same name, this show might be an amusing tribute. Alas, I am not a fan of the show. The selections made me smile, since I am a fan of classic rock, and they are all appropriate to the concept. However, that is the extent of the positives I experienced during this show. Classic rock, like other popular musical genres, is somewhat limiting with dynamics, and that problem was exacerbated by the lack of dynamic variety shown by the band; they may have reached a mezzo forte a few times, and that's about it. Air support and faster air flow will be needed. Their selections are not very difficult, but they still had problems with timing and could not maintain a high energy level throughout. There were times when it was difficult to tell what was going on in the music, so they really need to subdivide in order to keep the beat locked in. Their marching technique needs a lot of work; I saw instruments drooping, upper bodies facing different directions, bent legs, foot phasing, etc. They will need to work on their marching technique going forward in order to help with their visual scores. The guard was not together and may have taken away from the show instead of adding to it; they could use some practice on individual sets and then with putting those sets together to form the movements of the show. Subdivision will be key for them, as well. While not as difficult as AAA West, the east region is still full of good bands, so I do not believe Greenup County currently possesses the tools to make it to semifinals this year. My suggestion to them is not to focus on that, but instead to focus on getting an early start working on those fundamentals (subdivision, marching technique, air support) and use next Saturday's performance as practice for those techniques for the future.

These students have exemplified their show this season just by having a competitive marching band despite all the adversity they have faced over the last couple of seasons. It's really a shame, and also somewhat infuriating, that the school board abandoned them in the way it did by slashing their budget. This is another group of kids who deserve much better than what they have been given in the recent past. This season's show looks like it was hashed together at the last minute, which unfortunately may have been the case. Mars and Jupiter from Holst's The Planets Suite really don't fit in with the rest of the show's patriotic idea. (John Williams's "Hymn to the Fallen" from the film Saving Private Ryan would have made an excellent ballad for this show!) The visual package has improved a little bit since Bourbon County, and I like the moment at the beginning of the show where the guard forms a pose representing the statue of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. Also, even though Jupiter has little to do with the show concept, the red, white, and blue flags used during the hit made for another really nice moment. The use of Taps, Caisson Song (which is commonly referred to as the theme song for the U.S. Army), and Walking with Heroes, was very tasteful and somber. I would have liked to hear more emotion coming through with the solos, and their phrasing can also be improved. The band's energy level was never really high, and with a couple of exceptions, their music came out very quiet and emotionless. The woodwinds got drowned out during every hit and really need to improve their projection. I found their drill sluggish, and I felt it contributed to the band's low energy level. There were a lot of issues with spacing and crooked lines, and I don't think I saw any sets hit perfectly. Uniformity was a big issue: none of their visuals were completely together, either with the moves or the angles, and I saw a lot of issues with stepping off to the next set too early or too late. The guard work was pretty simple and not together; there were plenty of moments where I could not tell if the guard was supposed to do their moves on separate beats or whether they were just off by 1-2 counts. They really need to make their timing exact so that the judges will know that that is what is supposed to happen. I think there's a lot of improvement this band can make between their performance at Bryan Station and regionals on Saturday; better timing in the guard and their drill will really help their visual scores, and listening in to improve their blend will really help with their music scores, and both can be achieved in a week. I have my fingers crossed for them, because they have had such a tough road over the last couple of years.

Their finals performance on Saturday was the first sign I have seen that this show was finally starting to come together. Energy has never been a problem with this band; this season, their biggest problem this season is that they are struggling with cleaning up their show. There are two other problems they're having that are typical for them: rough tones because the brass is trying to play out so much, and small band drill because they're not a very big band; the backdrops cut their field in half as other small bands do. The color guard and field commander still add a lot to the show with their attitude. The low brass got lost in the blend during their hits, but the piccolo came through piercingly. If they could balance it out so that everyone is represented, then their show would sound a lot better. There are still some muddy parts, though they were better in finals than in prelims. There is a lot of demand placed on the brass in this show, and they have been the weak link thus far; they will need to nail their more difficult passages in order to maximize their music scores. Slow it down if you have to, get it right, then speed it back up. Do all the body movements you would be doing to get yourself used to doing it all at the same time. The front ensemble is a bit underutilized, and I would like to hear more from them; the battery was cleaner than I remember Washington County being in the past, though. They will need to work on keeping their tones under control during the big hits, because there was a bit of what my band director called "laser tone" going on. At one point in the opener, there are about 20 counts of drill where there's nothing going on in the music, and I think something needs to be inserted there to keep the show going. The notes at the end of the opener were a little flat and could use more power. The sax solo was good, but some of the notes seemed rushed because the sax player was taking breaths in odd places. I think his solo would come through better if he could change the phrases so that he lasts all the way through them. When the flutes join the sax soloist, they need to blend better with him; they tended to either get drowned out or their dynamic levels just went all over the place. I think part of the reason for this is because the sax soloist is miked, whereas the flutes are not. That part of their ballad is good, but can be so much better if they could work out the blend and dynamics. Their drill does not have as much vertical movement as I would have liked, which hampers their creativity with drill. They have a lot of body movements, but will need to work on keeping them together and making them shorter and more crisp. They did a good job with spacing, but sometimes their lines were a bit sketchy and will need further work. Their music is the roughest aspect of their show right now, and if they could clean it up, they could probably add about 4 or 5 points onto their score. It's unfortunate that they were put into the tougher AA West region, because it will be difficult to place in the top 4. With a clean musical run, though, I think they can do it.

This band's performance level really kills their show concept. It's supposed to be an inspiring journey from the darkness of depression and adversity to overcoming obstacles and achieving goals despite having a tough path laid before you, but all of the mistakes doom it before it even begins. Their music is not that difficult, which limits its ceiling. Issues with intonation and blend appeared throughout, with high brass losing control and woodwinds disappearing in the sound. The tubas lost control on a couple of occasions and sounded very messy. The last hit of the opener sounded somewhere between a mezzo forte and a forte, and it just needs another dynamic level in order to give the movement the ending it needs to have. The saxophone soloist did a good job, but needs to be more confident on that first entrance; it did not come out very clearly in their finals performance. Intonation issues plagued the ballad, which killed its impact. The mellophone solo wasn't bad, but the soloist needs to shape the notes more to give it a lyrical flow. The front ensemble has a pretty understated part in the show, but did a pretty good job and was one of its bright spots. Uniformity was a huge issue visually. Between the guard, the drill, and the body movements in the band, they just could not get everything together. Foot phasing and bent legs made their drill look sloppy, and their lines never hit perfectly. They formed a few triangle formations, and all of them looked at least a little wonky with spacing errors and messy diagonals. The guard needs a lot of work; they dropped flags and weapons often, were rarely completely together, and did not look that interested in their work or the show. A LOT of cleaning is in order for them this week. This band needs a gut check, or else they will be shut out of semifinals again.

Wow. At the beginning of the season, I figured they would clean up decently and be a pretty solid semifinalist, but they have already surpassed my expectations, and there are still 2 more weeks before semifinals. The telling of the poem "Annabel Lee" is such a poignant narration for this show, setting a somber tone for an appropriately dark collection of musical pieces. The dancers do an excellent job portraying the bond between the narrator and his subject, and they really add a lot of emotion to the show visually. They have an impressive first hit, which is always very important for effect; good first impressions go a long way with judges. Their blend is much improved from previous seasons, and they do a good job of maintaining it while moving. The woodwinds tended to get drowned out at higher dynamic levels, though. The brass players who sidestep while passing off the melody with other sections did a good job, but lost some energy while moving. The flute soloist is doing a really good job, but just a bit more expression would go a long way toward music effect at that moment in the show. The high brasses need to be careful during their crescendo into the big hit in the ballad, because they went a little too fast and lost control while also drowning out the rest of the band. After that big hit is over and everyone except the woodwinds releases, the woodwinds need to make sure their intonation is on the money. Also, I believe the releases from all of the winds at that point should be gentler and not quite as jagged as they were. The pit was great, and really shone at moments during their performances. The low brasses who have the melancholy, discordant melody really need to keep a strong, steady stream of air going through their horns, because they started to come out flat and go out of tune during their feature. The battery did a very good job with their feature, but can be cleaner than they were on Saturday. Their use of dynamics in their closer is very cool; it helps to give the music some movement even at lower dynamic levels. I would like to see that dynamic movement maintained throughout the movement, though. Their finals run was easily their best performance of the drill to date. There are more blocks and lines in the drill than I would like, but boy, did those blocks and lines hit quite often. The next step for them will be to clean up their diagonals to make those lines look even more uniform. Upper body posture broke down at times, especially among the woodwinds; the judges should not see any upper bodies swaying or rotating back and forth while marching. Their lines are good, but the next step is to fix their diagonals to create that perfect grid pattern that make them look even more uniform. Their body movements were good, but there were some movements and body angles that weren't exactly together and will need a little more practice with uniformity. The guard is integrated pretty well into the band's drill, and has a couple of really nice moments during hits. Their uniformity is also much improved, and really adds to the impact of the band's visual moments. In the end, I'm not sure where this band will place, but with Mercer County moving down to AAA and a couple of perennial class AAAA finalists underperforming, there's a slight chance that if this band continues to improve and clean over the next couple of weeks, they could make finals. I think they will finish closer to 6th or 7th place, but stranger things have happened at SMBC. This is the best band they have had since I have seen them perform, and I really hope they continue to improve in coming years.

There are parts of this show that I like, and there are other parts of this show that I don't. The selections they chose are all appropriate for their concept (except maybe Over the Rainbow and Baba O'Riley, though I won't complain about any band who wants to play The Who), but I'm not a big fan of how they're arranged in a jumbled, disjointed manner that jumps around too much for me to get much enjoyment from it and stylized awkwardly (and, in my opinion, unnecessarily) to give recognizable themes a spin that just sounded strange to me. Throughout the show, the melody seemed to be behind the beat pretty often. Maybe that is a side effect of those with the melody playing out to make their parts heard, but regardless, the melody needs to stay on beat. The low voices were drowned out pretty often at high dynamic levels, and will need to produce more sound to balance out the blend. there were a couple of muddy runs, one in the opener and one in the closer, that will need more work to clean up. The winds need to be careful during crescendos to impact moments, because some of them went too far and were out of control by the time the crescendo reached its apex. Intonation became an issue toward the end of the show. I liked the piano cadenza at the beginning of the ballad, even though it did not really fit in with the rest of the music. The saxophone solo sounded great, and really carried the moment; however, there wasn't enough going on in the show at that point and I felt the solo's impact was canceled out a bit by that. The battery does a great job in their feature, but I felt the feature itself went on for too long while the band was marching around and not playing. The drill had its moments, and I especially liked the light bulb shape they made in the opener. Some of their lines were good, but a lot were just a little off, and a couple were very noticeably off. I saw some spacing issues and some foot phasing throughout, as well. The guard was sometimes integrated into the band's drill very nicely, and at other times was banished to the back of the field; I would have liked to see them included in the most visible parts of the band's visual package more often. They did a good job of being together most of the time, but had a couple of moments where one or more guard members were off from the rest of the group. Most of these issues were minor, though; I thought their visual performance was pretty good in finals. Henry Clay is always an enigmatic band, and they could probably place anywhere between 4th and 8th at regionals depending on how good of a run they have. I think they will probably be closer to 6th, but I won't count out the possibility that they could finish in the top 8 at semifinals with 2 phenomenal weeks of cleaning.

What happened to this band? They're considerably smaller than they have been in the past, and their sound production has dwindled. They still play their music pretty cleanly, but at about half of the dynamic level that they used to. The voice overs are recorded airport and in-flight messages, and in my opinion, are very annoying and take away from the show instead of adding to it. I'm not a big fan of the boards in front, because not only are they static backdrops that do nothing but sit there and look like airplane windows, they hide the feet of the marchers when they are close enough to the front sideline (which they are for much, if not most, of the show). The backdrops behind the band look almost as much like shark fins as airplane wings, which had me guessing until I looked up the show title in the program. How about a whole plane instead of just a wing? I think that would make more sense. Or maybe clouds, or even the sun... Anyway, I digress. Their biggest problem was with dynamics, as I was mentioning before; they topped out at maybe a forte a couple of times and never gave me a "wow" impact moment. The woodwinds had good technique, but were the quietest part of the band and often drowned out by the other voices. The pit looked and sounded very professional, maintaining a constant beat and staying together throughout. The flute soloist was good, but needs more shaping of the phrases to add more movement to the part. Intonation was an issue at the lower dynamic levels, and I heard several squeaks from woodwinds having trouble pushing their notes out. The ballad sounded nice, but its impact was limited because there just wasn't enough sound production to give it the emotional power that it needed. The soloists in the beginning of the closer were all good, but their timing was just a bit off at points and can be improved. The blend fell off slightly at the very end, just enough to not quite sound right. Visually, it was actually quite good until the closer. I saw some bent legs that made their marching look sloppy, but the drill itself was pretty clean for the first two movements. The lines became sloppy in the closer as they added rotation to the drill, and will need to be straightened out. The guard did a good job for the most part, and some clever drill writing really helped them contribute to the band's visual scores. The weapon handlers were very skilled and caught all of their high-exposure tosses during the first two movements. The drill kind of left them out in no man's land for the closer, though. Some of the band's visuals seemed like they may have been either a cascade effect or something that was supposed to be done in unison and they just weren't in unison; more definition to the timing of those visuals would help eliminate any doubt in the minds of the judges. I can tell that this is a good group of musicians, but they're too restrained with their dynamics. They need to clean up their closer, add another dynamic level on top of what they use now, and use more dynamic changes of greater magnitudes in order to leave a more lasting impression on the judges. Otherwise, their music will get lost in the muddle at the first half of AAAA West, and I'm afraid that may cost them dearly by keeping them out of the top four.

This band just keeps getting better and better, and I still don't think I've seen them completely nail their show yet. Saturday's prelims performance was close, but there were still a few moments that left me thinking "that could be better". The air powered rocket during "Rocket Man" is awesome, and I saw that they have added LED lights to their reflective star props. Boy, those look really good under the lights. Ironically, the Williamstown effect did not come into play, and their prelims run was actually the stronger of their two performances. They have the best blend of any band in class A, and they will undoubtedly have the cleanest musical performances in the class over the next two weeks. Does that mean their music can be more difficult? Well, that's not for me to say, but their rendition of "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets definitely is not easy. The woodwinds tended to get drowned out during the higher dynamic levels, and I would love to see them play out a little more. During their opener, the melody that plays while the trumpets make growling noises in the background still isn't loud enough and gets drowned out. This may fly in the face of some of the musical education that is taught to these kids, but my advice would be that it's okay and even preferable for the melody to stick out of the blend, so if just you or just your section carries the melody and the rest of the band is doing countermelody or harmony, then don't be afraid to play out further in order to make sure your part is the focal point of that passage. The second movement was the place where they lost energy over the first couple of weeks of the season, and they have done a great job of shoring it up; all of the sectionals are improved, especially the trombone feature that had been rough the last time I had seen them at Morehead. Their ballad continues to shine, and I think it is now my favorite part of the show. Their blend is great during the hit, making it a beautiful climax to the movement. The trumpets did have a somewhat tired tone going into it, and there were some voices that cut off just a little late, so I would like to see those issues fixed going forward. I'm a big fan of all the dynamic changes during the closer, which adds a lot of movement and makes the music that much more exciting. The band needs to maintain their blend during all of those dynamic changes, though; I felt some of the voices did not crescendo or decrescendo as fast as the rest and were left behind a bit. I like their visual package, because it has started out great and has only improved since the beginning of the season. Their drill is very clean, but there were some issues that can be fixed or improved. A lot of the rotating lines hit beautifully, but a few (especially in the closer) did not. The kids in the front will always be tired and running out of energy at that point, and will have to fight fatigue in order to stay in line and keep it straight throughout the set. I like the visuals that they do, but some of them are just a little off; they need to make it all more uniform in order to sell it to the judges. Their marching technique is about as good as you could ask any group of kids around the state to perform, but if they could do a little more work on keeping everyone's legs as straight as possible, then I think they'll look just a little bit better, and in this close of a race in class A, every little fraction of a point counts. I think if they nail their show, no one in their class can beat them, but they have to fix those small, subtle flaws and leave no room for doubt in the judges' mind.

I guess the judges have been saying something similar to what I've been saying in my reviews about how the band's music has very little to do with their show concept, because they have added voice-overs since last week. I'm not really thrilled with them, but they do help tie the music to their concept a lot better. I think they may have made some slight changes to their drill, as well, to feature a guard member playing the part of this "muse" -- and she plays the part very well. I like where the show is going, but I still think it will need more in order to drive home the concept. Some parts of this show are cleaning up pretty nicely, and then there are other parts that look or sound the same as they did in Week 3. The muted trumpets have improved their staccato notes, but their runs still like a jumbled mess. The timing in the saxophone solo was a little off in their finals run, but I think that's the first time I've heard him not nail it. Keeping it fresh in his mind will be important over the next couple of weeks. All of the woodwind features were very well done, and were the highlights of the show for me. The band's notational run in the opener was almost distinguishable, but was still a little muddy and will need more work. I heard some intonation issues and a tempo tear open up in the ballad, killing its impact. There are a couple of awkward phrasing moments in the trumpet solo; I can't really tell if the soloist is supposed to cut off abruptly, but it sounds out of place with the rest of the music. The melody dragged on and off throughout the second half of the show both in prelims and finals, and the trumpets often stuck out of an otherwise nice blend. The trombone feature cleaned up between week 3 and week 6, but has regressed a bit since then. The glissandos just aren't coming together well enough, and it still sounds messy, just not as much as it did at Ryle. I really like how much the guard adds to the show, and they're really helping to shore up the band's visual effect. The "muse" soloist is very professional and did everything just right. The rest of the guard (especially the weapon line) is doing a pretty good job, but will need more work getting everything more together during this home stretch. The drill is much better, but still has its share of issues. A lot of their body movements were not together and looked messy, which is a step back from where they were at Madison Central on the 11th. They will need to work on getting those back together and lock them into place in order to get full credit for them. Their lines were good, but some of them didn't quite hit and will need to be straighter by November 1st. Their marching also still has its share of issues; I saw some foot phasing and spacing issues that made their drill look messy. I'm a little dismayed at how they haven't come together more in the last month; Williamstown shows improvement every week, but Beechwood seems to take a step forward and a step back every week. Every time Beechwood has beaten Williamstown, in my opinion, they have beaten Williamstown's B game. If Williamstown has as clean of a finals run as they have the capability of performing, then Beechwood will need a much cleaner run than I have seen from them so far this season in order to beat them.

Steph made a very good point about this show on Saturday: even though the energy level is pretty good throughout, this show spends way too much time at the extremes of the dynamic spectrum; it's either forte and higher or piano and quieter. They show a lot of dynamic range, but they don't show as much fluidity of changing between those dynamic levels as I personally would like. The Red Cape Tango is a really cool piece, but modeling half your show off of it can get tedious. Having been a tuba player in high school, it pains me to say this, but I think Ryle's drill writer made a bit of a design error putting the tubas so close to the front of the field for so much of the show. Also, the guard is not very well integrated into the band's drill, and is shoved out to the edges of the performance area (either in the front or the back) for about 90% of the show. I also think that the closer just doesn't fit in with the rest of the show, especially when it modulates to a major key. It just sounds awkward and out of place from the rest of the music. Their performance level is about as clean overall as it was at Madison Central, which means to me that it was good but I thought it could be better. The woodwind trio is in great shape; there were just a couple of moments where it's off, but it's been solid since I've been watching the show, so they just need to keep it fresh in their minds as they practice between now and semifinals. The brasses need to be careful that they don't go overboard with their heavy ostinato, because they had a tendency to blast. There was some field coverage phasing during the opener, so they will need to work on keeping on beat with the field commander and not with what they hear from the other side of the field, even though it may feel awkward. The trumpet duet was great in prelims, but lost a bit of accuracy in finals; they need to keep working on that and make sure they can nail it regardless of temperature; blow warm air through your instruments all the way up to your entrances if you have to. The judges will understand. The bass clarinet sounds like she is forcing the first low note in her phrases a little bit, and could use some work on smoothing out that entrance. The saxophone accompaniment does a great job of blending the tones together. The rest of the woodwinds were just a bit rough in their finals performance, but they are really doing a good job with the frenetic runs during Red Cape Tango. The front ensemble is also doing a good job staying right in time with them. The trumpet runs are good, but need to be smoothed out so that they glide from note to note. During the closer, their attacks got a bit rough, and they lost tone quality toward the end. They will need to smooth it out and maintain their air support all the way through. Their blend was good throughout, but better intonation in the brasses would help make it even better. Also, the tubas need to be conscious of their position on the field and back off a little bit if they're closer to the front. Their lines have improved as the season has wrapped up, but went awry just a little bit in the second half of the show. Their rotating lines and diagonals need the most work. Despite being banished toward the edges of the performance area, the guard still managed a couple of really nice moments, especially during the lower dynamic levels, that helped keep the show's energy level up. I saw some legs bending while marching, which will need to be addressed to make the drill look more crisp. Their finals run was slightly less clean than their prelims run, but I thought both runs were clean enough to put them in second overall. I like what I'm seeing from this band, and I'm not counting them out as a potential surprise finalist in class AAAAA, but in order to have any chance of doing so, they will need to even out their music and smooth out all of the rough edges in order to eliminate any separation musically between them and the other finalist contenders. I think their show design takes a couple of points off the table that they desperately could have used, but their performance level is really solidifying. They will probably need some help to get into finals this season, but if they put together another show next season that is this good or better, then watch out, class AAAAA.

Like Beechwood, Grant County has added voice-overs to their show, and like Beechwood, those voice-overs turn a head-scratching collection of good but unrelated pieces into a collage held together by the words spoken by the narrator. I still think Grant county's show concept is a little ambiguous, but they have done what they need to do to connect their music to the idea presented by the title. I didn't notice this at Madison Central, but they're actually a little bigger than they have been in the past. Their sound has improved from past seasons and is more under control than it was last weekend, but they still have more work to do smoothing out the roughness in their tones. The question-and-answer woodwind part at the beginning got ahead of the beat a little bit, so they may actually do better listening back to the pit right behind them. The first hit is getting a lot better, but the trumpets still get a little rough once there is some movement in their parts. Their blend is good, but I seem to say so often, the woodwinds tend to get lost in the sound. They sound great when they are audible, though, and their feature was great in finals. During the ballad, the pit dragged behind the beat a little bit while the soloist (who did a good job) was playing. The band's energy level dropped while at their lower dynamic levels, so I think they could use some small dynamic swells to shape the phrases and keep the flow of their music going. Intonation became an issue in the brasses, as well. The last note of their hit in the ballad was nice, but I think it would have so much more impact if they could decrescendo it more during the first couple of counts and then crescendo back to a full forte when they cut it off; it didn't move quite enough for me. That crazy run at the beginning of their closer is getting better, but the trumpets will need to keep working on smoothing out all the roughness in their parts. The timing was great, though, and it set up the coming hit nicely. The forte piano note at the end of that hit was good, but the crescendo back to forte was very sudden; it will need to be more even and take up all of the counts in the hold. The brasses went out of control in the last part of the closer because it has some pretty crazy drill movement, but they will need to maintain their air support all the way throughout. I liked their body movements, and I thought they were the best moments in the show for portraying their concept; uniformity could use a little work, but it's very close to being perfectly together. I thought the white flags in the color guard were too plain; why not have white and black to portray two distinct choices, or maybe even more than two colors? Same with the color guard uniforms themselves. Regardless, they did a good job and had a very professional look to them. The weapon line will need a little work getting everyone more together, but they did a good job. The drill is pretty crazy, and for the most part, they do a good job with it. Their finals run was by far the rougher visual run, with lots of foot phasing and crooked lines (especially during rotations), which I thought would keep them out of second place. I also thought there should be something done visually at the end of the show to portray some kind of choice being made, which is the logical outcome of a "dilemma", but there was none. I think there is more that can be done with this show, and I hope they keep adding to it even though regionals are this weekend. I think they have something that can bring them back into the top two, but they will need to clean up their tone quality, smooth out their fast runs, and keep those lines straight in order to have any hope of winning the class. They have their work cut out for them. I will be looking forward to how they shape up against Anderson County this weekend.

It was great to see that they went back to doing the preshow; I think it's such a great setup for what the show itself is about. I would love to see the band members bend their legs out further to the side to really exaggerate the effect, even though it's preshow and not judged. Their finals run was a little rough musically, but I thought it was their best overall performance of the drill so far since they've had the whole show on the field. The brasses went a bit out of control in the opening hit, so they will need to be careful at low temperatures like Saturday. I love how they play at low dynamic levels with good blend and tone quality, and that blend does not suffer when they change dynamics, which is really difficult to do. The woodwind feature was good, but their blend broke down toward the end of it. There was a slight tempo tear in the passage leading up to the next hit, so the woodwinds will have to be careful that they don't begin to rush there. The last hit was good, but just had one trumpet sticking out throughout. The pit has a nice moment at the beginning of the ballad that they have been hitting in previous weeks, but their timing was a bit off Saturday night. The mellophone soloist has really cleared up the tone and is doing a much better job of singing out the solo. The flute soloist has some difficult timing moments and handled them very well; it sounded great on Saturday, but I think a little more dynamic movement in the solo would make it sound even better and give it more impact. The Sweeney Todd section of their ballad has some phenomenal dynamic building to a nice, full hit. they changed their show slightly to include a faint trumpet solo playing the Godfather theme before ending the ballad with a climactic hit, which I think is a really cool moment. The brass run is almost together, but the timing of the handoffs between sections will need a little more work. The woodwind countermelody does a great job of providing movement during a lyrical melody in the brasses, and the band does a great job of maintaining their energy level throughout the end of the show, finishing with crescendoing hits into a nice, full chord. Their drill has a lot of pretty crazy sets, and despite its velocity, they managed to keep their lines relatively intact during rotations and lateral movements. There were a few people out of place during these sets, though, so they need to keep working and make those lines spotless throughout. Their spacing was better than it has been in the last few weeks, but during the mellophone solo when the woodwinds take those prancing steps, they need to maintain their step size. The guard is underutilized a bit, but they are very clean and have a couple of really nice moments when they add a lot to the show. The moment in the ballad where the 3 guard members dance through the band is particularly cool. What's scary about this band is that even though they were more than 2 points ahead of a very clean Ryle, they still have another gear, which I think we will see them achieve in the next couple of weeks. They have some cleaning to do, and they will need to give solid performances from here on, but I believe that they can (and will) do it. If they nail their show, I believe a lot of jaws will drop. They have the potential to go all the way this season, and it is now just a matter of mental integrity.