Saturday, April 17, 2021

Marching Band Excellence Utility now in beta testing


Voxitatis announced today the beta release of its new web application, which doesn’t even have a name or a domain name yet but will allow students, directors, parents, and other fans to track any high school marching band that competes in an adjudicated contest in the Illinois or Bands of America circuit.

The Voxitatis color-coding for the Box System in marching band scoring

This page serves as more than a welcome screen. It’s also an instruction manual for some of the assumptions that are made in tracking marching band performance throughout the season, from about the middle of September when bands get their first scores from judges to the middle of November, when the Bands of America organization will host its 42nd year of the Grand Nationals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

We’re developing this utility because Voxitatis is a news site, not a marching band or a school. We know directors and students don’t have time to write the level and amount of code required for such a system, especially since their school will be such a very small part of the system. They’re simply too busy with their own schools and bands. It takes an outside organization like Voxitatis to hire a few programmers and develop a system like this that we hope will benefit people at several high schools and make their programs better.

If your band was judged at an Illinois festival for which we have the recap sheets or at a Bands of America regional, super-regional, or national festival, your band will be listed on the tracking database, which is available here:

Just select the festival at which the band you’re interested in was judged (or performed in exhibition), and you’ll be taken to the page for that festival. This will feature a few tabs, some of which are being expanded and developed during the beta-testing period, which will extend through this year.

Furthermore, please note that data will be added as it is available and can be processed, verified, and edited for accuracy and completeness.

At the end of the beta-testing period, data will still be available, and we may add features that will allow directors to track the advancement of their bands throughout the season. Features will be added throughout the season as we expand this utility for production release in the 2018-19 school year.

We expect most bands to be in Box 2 or 3 for most scores and subscores at the beginning of the season, progressing through to Box 4 or 5 by the end. This utility will allow you to track that progress in data tables and in graphical formats, even comparing the timeline of your band’s improvement to that of any other band in either the Illinois or BOA circuit.

If you use the software, we would very much like to hear from you. Please fill out a short (one-page) survey about what you liked in the software and any possible directions you’d like us to take with it in the future.

At the end of the survey, you can participate in a contest to try to give the web application a working title or even a more permanent name. We have no idea what to call it or what domain name to get for it, but once people have used it and completed the survey, including the naming question at the end, we’ll stick the name at the top of it and give you credit on these pages.

Brief explanation of box scores

What the boxes 1 through 5 mean is this:

Marching bands are judged in three big categories: music, visuals, and general effect. Music includes scores that rate how well the band performs the music in its field show, and visuals rate how good the band looks on the field, and the general effect score basically describes how effective the band’s show is: Does it accomplish its artistic purpose?

These subscores, often called “captions” in the marching band world, are added up to get a total score for the band at the festival. As the band rehearses over the course of the year, they start performing the music more musically, catching more of the flags they throw up in the air, and getting their whole spirit into the show in order to entertain the crowd.

Because rehearsing makes bands better, a band gets more consistent at just about every aspect of its show over the season. The boxes translate to points on each judge’s score sheet and specify how often or how consistently a band does whatever it is that judge is scoring.

For example, one judge often rates each band at a festival in a category called “music ensemble.” Is the band playing together, in tune with each other, attacking and releasing notes in unison, styling the music in an appropriate way, and so forth?

If the band “never” does those things, the music ensemble judge gives the band a subscore in that category somewhere in the Box 1 range. That translates to between 0 and 9.9 percent of the total points for that category. Judges who rate the visual elements or general effect of the show apply a similar rubric to their criteria.

As we have reported, there’s very little difference, from a lay person’s listening perspective, between a band that gets an 88 percent in music ensemble and one that gets a 92. And while the 88 would put the band at the top of Box 4 and the 92 at the bottom of Box 5, they would sound the same to you and me. In addition, different judges, of course, have slightly different expectations for Box 4 and Box 5 scores.

What this means is that there’s a little bias in the numerical scores, but a band won’t go from the middle of Box 3 to the middle of Box 4 without putting in a lot of rehearsal. That’s what the box system is intended to accomplish.

Here’s to performance excellence in marching band!

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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