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From The 13th Chair Trombone Player

Humorous and inspiring author DJ Corchin offers his unique observations about life in the world of marching bands.

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When I Grow Up...

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The Outside Looking In, Looking Out

Don't You Judge Me

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From The 13th Chair Trombone Player:
Don't You Judge Me

By DJ Corchin
Posted February 11, 2011

Dear "Judge,"

What the heck!? Are you serious? Do you even know what you're doing? How could you have possibly scored us the way you did? Three tenths of a point? That's the difference between us and first place? I could have found those three tenths of a point underneath the dog poop I stepped in along the 30 yard line (side B). I got your three tenths of a point right here dude. It's mixed in with all the crud in my slide from last night's dinner. You like lentil and carrot soup? I don't either but I had to eat it. Just like I have to eat this raw vegan diet that makes me have to go to the bathroom you call a score. Thanks for nothing. I'm not even gonna listen to your tape. I gave the tape to the old record store that's going out of business because people steal music. They took the tape, but you and I both know no one is going to use it. It's a tape. Why the heck are you still using a tape? Ever heard of Mp3s? No you haven't because you obviously don't listen. Where did you learn about band? From your mom? Must have been. She's dumb and you smell.

Brett Chester
Supreme Trumpet Overlord of the Ridgeville Marching Hedgehogs

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player OK, I feel better. That took me about 30 seconds to write. It's so easy to just open'r up and let it fly when you're angry. How many of us wish we could have been able to write this letter at one point or another? Use more colorful language? Not me, I never curse. Not even in front of kids or animals. OK, not animals. But I's what I do...I'm one big digression.

I remember feeling so slighted, both as a student and director, when a score was so close and didn't go our way. Despite the opening to this column, I really did enjoy listening to judge's tapes. But before I could take their comments seriously, I had to judge them first.

One time when I was announcing for a competition, I was stationed in the corner of the judge's box (the announcer is always in the corner...cue tear). I turned on the mic to list the adjudicators for the day and blared out the name "Mike Smith" because that's what the script said. Almost immediately he shot over to my corner and said, "It's DOCTOR Michael Smith". (I changed the name for this column because I still see this particular judge, but that also happens to be the name of the worst teacher I ever had. I swore one day if I had the chance I'd call him out on it...there, burned in a marching band column. Oh snap!) I immediately apologized and let him know I wouldn't let it happen again. Then, I let it happen again :)

So obvious conclusion? Title and education don't automatically mean anything. Experience and wisdom has to be the key right? A wise euphonium player once said to me... "Can I tell you about our specials?" So I would have to say no.

Have you ever listened to a judge's tape who you thought was going to give you the best advice in the world? Like the band they ran for half a century had Drillmasters carved from DiVinci's designs and was directed by God himself? (Could you imagine God as a Drum Major? I'm sure there's no phasing when you control physics.) But when you listen to the tape it has a ton of, "When I do this...If this were my group...You HAVE to do it this way..." All with the tone of "Bueller....Bueller..." (If you haven't seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off, take a moment to feel bad about yourself, go see it, then send me money or buy my book for enlightening you to one of the finest cinematic masterpieces in history). These types of comments told me one thing about the individual saying them. They let their expectations get in the way of their perception. Another way of putting it is they let what they expect something should be, get in the way of what it could be. I touched on this in a previous column Gimme Some Props. Let's face it, times are changing and we are on the forefront of modern marching. But if the judges can't see past what they think is "correct," then we're all doomed.

If experience and wisdom aren't what makes a good judge, what does? I looked up the word "judge" in the dictionary and it says, "mom" (J/K...kinda). It says "verb - to form an opinion or conclusion about." Seems simple enough. Why can't a contest judge do this? I think a great judge does two things: Finds a great balance between opinion and conclusion, and is able to give specific feedback both positive and constructive.

An opinion is a "view formed not necessarily on fact or knowledge." It's very important for a judge to have an opinion. They are audience members too. Taking the risk to have a judge "like or dislike" versus not care one way or another is worth it. If we took out opinion, then they would be scoring us strictly on execution. Since when is art about just execution? (Yes it's ART not this if you doubt.)

A conclusion is "a judgement reached by reasoning." By combining knowledge and experience, a good judge can make a reasonable assessment of the situation based on what the group is trying to do. This is essential. If it's based on what the judge wants them to do, than he/she is putting too much opinion into their role.

Now if "to judge" is "to form an opinion or conclusion about," and we then substitute "opinion" and "conclusion" with their own definitions (follow that?), than I believe we have a better idea what makes a good judge: To Judge - to form a view based on reasoning but not necessarily on fact or knowledge. Yin and Yang, Light and Dark, Evil and Evil-er. Balance.

Second, a good judge must be able to give specific feedback. I use myself as a bad example. The first few times I ever judged a contest I was terrible. Not that what I meant to say wasn't good information. I mean I'm no slouch. I know stuff. But here's what my tape sounded like. "Great job Trumpets. Way to go flutes. Ooo, pit careful that rhythm. Um, you might want to check that part out next rehearsal." After going through an entire 12 minute show I said a whole bunch of nothing. Even the positive comments didn't really mean anything and probably left the group saying, "Thanks, but whatever."

Here's what I've learned in my few short years on this planet of the crazies: People love to get better. In order to do that, they need to be able to know what good behaviors to repeat and what to change. I'm an author, kinda. Each project I've done, I've asked a trusted gang of friends (I call them a gang because they really are a bunch of hoodlums) to give me feedback. But the rule is they have to tell me not just what they like and don't like, but why and why it's important. If a judge says, "Clarinets, your marching is not together during that fast section," that tells you something's wrong there. But what if they say, "Clarinets, during that one fast section when you're on the 25 by the back hash, there's about 3 or 4 of you at the end of the line that seem to be slightly behind the beat with your feet. It looks like you're trying so hard to turn your body to see the drum major that it is having an effect on your feet. Not sure, but check it out in rehearsal because it's such an exposed section for you both musically and visually, that if your feet are in time together, it will be easier to play together?" Now to me, that gives you something to look for and the reasons why it's important. It also didn't feel like the judge was judging you as person. That would be cool though. Imagine being able to say, "Um, OK trumpets, your horn angles are terrible which is probably because you lack discipline to practice like you perform due to a terrible work ethic that came from your parents spoiling you. So consequently, your bodies were not prepared for this specific performance at this time in your life."

Just as bands practice to get better, so do judges. Hopefully over time they are able to better blend opinion and conclusion while always giving specific feedback. But if you get a judge that still hasn't quite figured it out, at least try to understand what they're seeing or hearing. It still has value. Just because they didn't describe it right, doesn't mean your performance is perfect. Remember how bad you feel when you're judged incorrectly and imagine being the judge who made the judgement you judged to be an incorrect judgement. Judge, judge, judge, judge, judge... ;)

About the Author: DJ Corchin is author of the celebrated humorously inspiring book, Band Nerds Poetry From The 13th Chair Trombone Player ( He was a featured performer in the first national Broadway tour of the Tony and Emmy award winning show, BLAST! where he was best known as the "unicycling trombonist." His new children's book, You Got A Boogie (, was recently published to rave reviews. A pop recording artist out of Chicago and former high school band director, he continues to be involved in marching bands and music education through speaking events, competitions, and organizations such as Music for All. His next book, Sam & The Jungle Band is slated for release in June 2011. Mr. Corchin welcomes your comments via email. Mr. Corchin is an independent contributor so his views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of

Text by DJ Corchin. Trombone illustration by Dan Dougherty.

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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