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The Design Hoax


Students should quit their competitive marching band or drum corps and use the money for private lessons.

$5000 to march a 7 week drum corps season is ridiculous, more than an expensive college. Marching band can be $2000.

Having the staff judged instead of the performers is a waste of your money. What is anyone learning from these people?

There is no "art education" occurring from people with no art degrees or credentials. What art fairs display their work?

I marched 13 years junior corps and 4 years in senior drumlines, a former President of a large judges association and Percussion Caption Head for many years having observed the changes in this activity for 60 years.

Score sheets no longer reflect the original intent of having a youth music/marching contest of their peers.

What began as a healthy youth music/marching activity in service organization sponsored drum & bugle corps contests, then 1975 and 1976 when marching band circuits formed across America in their image, has become a racket by adults controlling the score sheets. Band directors never realized they needed oversight of these people and lost control.

It has become an industry focused on taking the money of well-meaning but naive booster club parents.

If you are a band director, it is time to ask your visual staff and the judges for their art degrees and portfolios.

It is time to ask why all your visual design judging tapes are filled with weird, ego-centric sentences no art jury would use.

It is time to ask why half the score in a contest sponsored by the music department is "vino

It is time to ask why percussion is not even counted in some band circuits but visual is half the score. Percussion is music.

Taxpayers don't pay you to be part of an experimental art contest. They expect music taught as primary, not secondary.

Every time I have asked a band or judges circuit for their judges art credentials, there is nothing but total silence.

If you are a parent and get the same silence, go to the principal or the Board of Education. Go to the newspapers.

If these visual designers or whatever they are have no art skills, then the entire activity is a hoax.

Here is your proof. Most of these quotes were said in front of a room full of judges and band directors:

"The performers can perform the heck out of a show, but without substantive design, they can't win."  Greg Cesario, color guard designer, DCI Today interview, Winter 1997, Vol.23, No. 1, p.50

"The intent of the visual ensemble sheet is to reward designers and performers, but I feel it is too weighted toward the performer."  Greg Cesario, DCI Today Interview

"Execution doesn't count for much anymore."  Ken Turner, DCI Judges Advocate, Outcome Based Educartor.

"We must reward the drill writer".  Aaron Roble, President, Central States Judges Association. July 13, 2014 CSJA Judges Meeting

"All my judges are artists!" Katie Beulow, WGI Educational Director. Visual Caption Head, Central States Judges Association. July 13, 2014

"The creators are once again the people who determine what will be judged and how it will be judged." Mike Cesario, color guard designer, DCI Today, Summer 1998, vol. 24, n. 1, p.17

"The individual should always be sacrificed for the whole."  Ken Turner  1992 DCI Judges Seminar "The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of the Parts" to a room full of band directors.

"Remember too that there is more life and grander emotion to be discovered beyond technical perfection." "We learn that we can often sell out for the praise of accuracy over beauty."  From p. 31, 31 of Summer Music Games, Educational series Part I (for use in competitive drum corps, color guard and bands.

"Get past the execution part of it. Get past looking at skills."  Katie Beulow, WGI, DCI CSJA July 13, 2014

These people are telling you point blank - students do not count.  Skills are what the performers do. Band directors remain silent and let them get away with it. Why do you think there are only 30 drum corps left and of those half have no ticket draw?  DCI tried to market its weakest caption - visual - where unlike the music professionals, the people are complete amateurs. 

"The performance arts- music, dance, theater, and yes drum  and bugle corps, marching band and color guard - require the performers to act as the intermediary between the designers and the audience." Ken Turner, (Some Thoughts on Design vs Performance, Dr Rosalie Sword, DCI Today, p.49)  Turner is an Outcome Based Educator guru who is saying youth are there to interpret, not compete. The high school band or drum corps member is only a stupid dot to them so they can get a paycheck. They are using high school kids for art experiments!

DCI pretends to show concern for those that march stating "It is for the kids" numerous times in press releases, but their quotes show huge contradictions.  They are for themselves.  DCI (est. 1972), BOA (est. 1977) and WGI (est. 1977) all market an "education" image. How can they educate if their judges have no art degrees or art credentials? It is anti-education. How do they "educate" if the points are more heavily weighted to "visual design" rather than student performance? The whole activity is built upon a lie. This ruined drum corps 100 year brand image in a decade. 

"At the conclusion of the DCI meeting, written on the board in capital letters were two words: THE KIDS!" Without a doubt then, the emphasis on the kids should be what drives and motivates every decision made and action taken." (DCI Board of Directors, DCI Today, Winter 1997, Vol. 23, No.1, p.49)

"Who do we serve?.... it was overwhelmingly agreed that the corps members were - and should be - the main focus of the activity and its reason for being..... Our focus as much as possible, should be on our young performers."  (1996 DCI Board of Directors Meeting, DCI Today, Winter 1997, Vol. 23, No.1, p49)

"Ultimately, drum corps in the future will be defined by the performers." (From the 2003 DCI television broadcast of finals, November 27, 2003)

Visual designers don't see it that way. Someone is lying. All of them are lying.

"No amount of performance will elevate the design."  DCI Today, Greg Cesario, Cadets

"The nature of design, judging and viewing is all subjective."  DCI Today, Greg Cesario, Cadets

"In 1977, WGI was formed. It placed the direction of the activity in the hands of the designers and instructors as they created rules of the game and the artistic and technical standards that would guide their growth." WGI Website

"WGI is the sport of the arts. We exist to foster positive life experiences for all who participate, by promoting education, creativity, and freedom of expression.... (We still put the kids first. We still value all groups equally and we still place the future of the activity In the hands of the participants."  WGI Website

How can they "put kids first" with "the activity in the hands of the participants" if "the direction of the activity is in the hands of the designers and instructors" in what is called a "game" to create "experiences"? Thumb any dictionary to the word "contradiction." If the kids are not the ones being judged, what is the result? What do they say?

"The 1992 season was my last in Boston. I had been there since '89.  They wanted me to "jazz run", pointing my toes at the ceiling running across the gym like some ballet guy.  I said I wouldn't do it. I told the management, "I came here to play drums, not not dance. You can kick me out."  Mike Godin, formerly of Boston Crusaders

Brendan Mason:  “In 2002, the Boston Crusaders had me next to center and I was from fife and drum!   If you had something called “sound quality”, you didn’t have to learn to play well.  They played easy stuff.  It was all about “sound.”  They took us aside to teach some weird marching thing.  We were told to “get our butts tight and chests out.” They wanted us to look “pretty.”  I was laughing to the point it pissed off the instructors.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  Now this was about the fourth camp so the drum instructor, Rich Viano, calls and wants to talk about it.  I didn’t go back.  The snare tech there didn’t know what he was doing anyway. They would do 8 or 10 on one hand and play as loud as possible on Kevlar.  It hurt.  They don’t define a grace note – took them for granted.  They didn’t really know how to play a Flam and had no exercises to work on them – played a lot of flat Flams.  I went there to drum, not do ballet.  They wanted us to take ballet lessons!”

"Kind of interesting how the two recent years we won [WGI] we had costumes and face paint. From a members perspective, we put up with all this visual bullshit because we know we can't win, or come close, without any of it."  Joey Mendoza, Denver Blue Knights indoor drumline.

Listen to what Mendoza is saying.  VISUAL BULLSHIT!  Members know what is going on. Can somebody help them get rid of all this unnecessary useless visual garbage and let them compete as drummers/percussionists?

Recently, high school band students have become much more astute to what is actually happening then their parents. They realize the real reason they spend much more time on visual than practicing their own instrument.

Paige is a recent Florida high school graduate and former competition marching band member:  "Many of the bands buy new uniforms every year to get higher scores. They [judges] want everything fresh. Kids would rather march in a show band. At least there you are practicing music on your instrument and not doing all the visual junk. Show bands raise more money than competition bands. They are huge! They do dance routines and their music is not as good but it's cheaper to join. A lot of kids quit because they sign up for band and end up doing all this visual stuff. Parents in some of these groups shell out a out of money." 

Nicole once marched in a Pasco County Florida band: "I really want to hear the music. That's what's most important. The color guard is secondary. I saw a unit so an exorcism show with a bed that was supposed to float in the air. What was that all about. Why were they doing that? Why are they spending money on that? I didn't join band for all this other stuff."

Fred is a former high school student: "I was in marching band for awhile. They told us not to worry about the music but make sure to learn the visual stuff. They put the visual totally over the music instruction. I quit.  It was ridiculous what we had to do. I signed up for band - not ballet."  

These former students are upset about their marching band experience. They are upset at the visual caption and color guard people controlling of the score sheets in drum & bugle corps and marching band, then forcing it on their band director, taking away from their music education. Who did this? It is industry wide including instructors, judges and board of directors members. The entire activity has turned into a racket to siphon money from band parents across the country. The Central States Judges Association has bragged that they are now in all 50 states. What do you think they are doing there? 

The visual people became carnival barkers. They wanted the same cash flow as music professionals without having art credentials, stuck using an inferior vehicle - a rectangle with dots in it.  Like John Dewey using American school children as a social experiment almost 100 years ago, the visual designers use children as an art experiment to force money from their parents to get a better score. Useless describes the visual caption with respect to education. Color guard instructors and visual designers with no formal art training , or educational credentials, wanted more respect and financial opportunities. Hence, they manufactured them. There is no matriculation princess for offering a "Bachelor of Marching" degree. They learned by rote on restaurant table ops using salt and pepper shakers at Denny's at 4am. They needed to present a palatable moniker to impress band directors and booster parents.  What do these Van-Gogh's really know?  Nothing. . None of them have art degrees or portfolios. They do not even know basics, but market themselves as "professionals."  First they were "drill instructors" then "show coordinators", "designers" then "artists", claiming to have my artistic knowledge using that term to fool band directors, parents and marching members. I have never observed such fraud. Once they reached one plateau, they tried for another till they began saying they were stupendous. The 1980's saw those responsible for the design debacle grow very bold, issuing statements filled with impunity, believing their contradictions would go unnoticed.

Who would go to Paris and tick the Mona Lisa?"  Don Angelica, DCI Board member. 

"We should take the time to consider that during the early nineties, the activity witnessed the loss of three of our genius designers. We lost Joihn Brazil, George Zingali and Steve Brubaker. (DCI Today, Summer 1998, Vol. 24, no.1, p.17) (I have friends that went to the 27th Lancers where Zingali was. He told the new members, "Go to bed with me or you don't march here." You can follow this type of activity to the Star of Indiana and other DCI corps. There was no oversight of these design people). 

"The programs developed so skillfully and artistically by talented designers involved in the field of pageantry  are of the utmost importance in helping insure the quality of the experience for those who participate in its is enhanced and enriched by having wonderful music to play and outstanding and meaningful visual concepts to perform." (Ken Turner, Outcome Based Educator, DCI judges Advocate. Some Thoughts on Designer vs. Performer, Dr Rosalie Sword, DCI Today, p.49)

"These young men and women are truly the personality of many of the competing units.Their use of mime, interpretive dance, and movement, not to mention some pretty amazing coordination while spinning a flag, tossing a rifle, or a saber can really enhance the overall program. They must evaluate the logic of the guards design and their musical interpretation."  (John Phillips, DCI Judges Administrator, Member: Task Force on Adjudication July 30, 2000)

This is a lie. Their shows were and are over-complex and ugly, the true sign of amateurism. George Hopkins of Cadets admitted it, 

"We simply need to adjust who we are so we can reclaim the base of support. Our audience is declining. We have the facts.... As we reposition ourselves we need to be COOL." 

Designers pampered each other with grandiose compliments “spectacular, amazing, sparkling, incredible and fantastic”, the moral equivalent of state televised Lotto games followed by gambling anonymous messages:  “Greg [Cesario] feels very lucky to have worked with, and learned from, three of the pageantry activity’s top visual designers – George Zingali, Steve Brubaker and John Brazale – and he has also learned from himself by teaching himself……  “I learned from John Brazale about perspective on the field.  Things appear differently the closer or farther away they are.  Geometric figures look different depending on where they are placed on the field.” Greg Cesario  DCI Today,  Winter 1997   Volume 23  No.1 p.50


Brazale kept flag makers of the Phantom Regiment so busy on tour, they wanted to quit. He was no “artistic genius”, but an excellent Spectacle City Mariner drum major (Captain Crunch) who stumbled into a time when drill writers saw they could control show design over musicians.  Brazale did not mutter art concepts and could not visualize what a change might look like - much like a drum arranger who couldn’t hear all the parts while writing without the drumline present. He excelled at guard equipment work, something deemed unnecessary in the 1980’s as color guard abused their artistic limits.

Competition Vs. Art


Competition and art are antagonists. Art is a statement best understood with simplicity. It minimizes energy. Energy costs. Competition is a comparison of skill best stated with complexity that maximizes energy. When drums were silenced for “visual design”, corps lost its energy and marketability – its very identity.

            In art, less is more. The ability to transfer an idea with greater simplicity is efficient in numerous ways:  cost, weight, size, understanding, etc.  Simplicity – a limited palette - is less confusing and more direct. When creating art, you start large, jumbled and complex, then simplify.  The skill is in the many rough drafts and changes that occur before presentation, working large retails, then small.

            In competition, more is more.  The ability to perform what your opponent cannot involves complexity.  Comparisons between performers  determine physical, coordinative or mental differences.  When competing, simplicity sets up complexity, working small details into a larger presentation. The skill is immediate, the drama of live performance without an eraser.


Artistic Limitations and Compositional Problems


The artistic immaturity of 1950’s band “theme shows” came to drum corps because drill writers concluded precision marching did not produce enough “effect” as music programs gained sophistication. Precision in anything creates attention.  The visual caption convinced DCI directors that flat two-dimensional “field patterns”, were more effective than execution uniformity or music.  Football fields became Area 51, drummers skittering with 27 pounds of equipment like silent little unidentified flying objects  – seen but never heard - pushed backfield, out of the way, like they are in orchestra.  Drummers did mime, held props and grounded their instruments facing away from the audience, their drum solos and chance to compete ruined. 

The “visual” has width and length but is missing height, inferior to sound as a creative vehicle.  In reaction, guards changed uniforms multiple times promoting “drama” to distant audiences sitting in heavy Roman Legion open architecture pretending chalk lines were a frame. This destroyed show continuity.  It is hard to sell artistic insecurity on such a limited grass platform.

Great art works exist within a set of limits; limits create rules and order. Order is needed to conduct a contest with rules. Order allows understandability, important in selling competition. Rules define required skills and training regimen. Uniformity and its derivatives are a most attractive platform, visually pleasing, artistically understandable yet comparable, even in stadium seats requiring binoculars. 

The 160 x 300 foot area of a football field is poor canvas.  You can’t blend colors on it nor use complex contrasts of lights and darks. Shade and shadow is what artists use to create “depth” via perspective using methods of plane geometry.  To have some pageantry judge tell you they see this is a hoax. There is no perspective or shade and shadow! Realize that the quest for props was an attempt to introduce “perspective” and “forced perspective”, something not possible on a flat football field using poles and wood planks as “sculpture”.  Students as dots can’t form perspective, nor color gradations necessary to support it. (televisions use millions of dots projected on a screen.)  A good fine artist understands randomness in nature, depicting  foliage, clouds, light, the effects of wind, moving water and their interaction - impossible to achieve with two dimensional dots. The Universe also contains the opposite of randomness – structure - something we call science.  Structure, order and a small degree of randomness allows for creativity and marketing.  Spastic velocity is hard to structure, reducing understandability and focus. Painting and other artistic media have the advantage of complex painterly relationships between colors to create contrast via pattern and gradation of line.  Moving human dots create weak contrast unless in massive forms, especially with distance.  Visual designers can’t achieve the effects of pencil, paint or pen on their distant, weak, 2-D grass canvas.  It is an improper medium to explore “art and design.”  Stick figures, simple geometric shapes and drill chart dot books do not produce much “communication”. Without height, they are limited to very simple flat patterns without perspective. Their mistake was using complexity in a venue that requires simplicity. Visual designers are two-dimensional “patternists”- not artists.  They create routines.  The pinnacle of these mistakes is over-complex transition.  Good artists know the limits of their medium.  Drum corps “genius” designers disrespected this most basic art lesson at the cost of the music and continuity.

Color guards have always been peripheral.  Designers made modern color guard narcistic - a detriment to transition, a disjointed side-show having little to do with the corps proper - running through formations, as if they were the show - music a secondary accompaniment, interestingly accepted by school band directors paid to teach music.  Guards disperse after their features, completely disorganizing forms - bad transition - the work of people who do not believe the idiom has limits.  “I don’t know what to do - so my guard will throw their equipment away, run right through the corps proper, change costumes and no one will see them. Don’t look at us for the next ten seconds.  WE ARE INVISABLE!”  Running to and from opaque cloth screens to hide uniform and equipment changes caused even more visual confusion. Modern drum corps arrangements follow this trend, failing to climax, phrases leading nowhere as the guard changes flags, props and uniforms to no understandable statement, all sounding and looking the same – a "mezzo-jumble" of unoriginality - reflecting  confused emotion-based judging criteria.  Judges have reduced themselves into modern art critics with the artistic vision of the Grand Poobah at Fred Flinstone’s lodge. 


Art and competition can coexist with thoughtful score sheet criteria.  Youth competition – DCI’s “Summer Music Games” and WGI’s “Sport of the Arts” –  demands design be tertiary, especially for bands when tax money is involved.  Modern band directors believe it is their right to “create”.  That is not their job. Let them create on their own time. Any band director that disagrees should be fired.  Music students receive no “art” testing or “art” grade. The author has never observed band or corps members discuss or care about “art concepts”. 


The visual caption has always been in denial of their limited artistic arena. Their only gallery has been young people not experienced at life enough to realize a hoax, band and corps directors trying to manipulate score sheets and well-meaning band parents coerced into buying their children first place. These judges are not world-class design educators. They merely use the idiom to build an image and a cash flow into their pockets at the expense of music education, destroying the lessons youth discovers competing fairly with peers.  The result is band directors who know nothing about design, hiring writers that know nothing about design, who then are reviewed by judges that know nothing about design who dispense opinion and scores to school children who design nothing and learn nothing. As one Plymouth High School parent said to this author while watching their band surround a stock market ticker on the field: “You really need to see our show from up top.  You can understand it from the box.”  The Plymouth booster club has been hoaxed.  Lady, you need a stiff double-chocolate latte.

Ephemeral sightings of perspective, color theory and fine art concepts mixed with kindergarten storylines picked by band directors to produce “high art.”  Drummers making pseudo-warrior faces playing 8th notes with lipstick on while “body sculpting” on a 15 foot high prop is not art.  It is the politics of weak people who cannot compete.  

Students rarely challenge adult authority; booster parents rarely challenge band or corps directors. They trust them.  This author is an artist who judged two decades of band and corps.  When questioned, designers and band directors hide behind each other. Taxpayers should start asking band directors “What do you think you are doing?”

Since mid 1970’s “design” clinics pondered curved forms over straight lines during ballads, football field design has been a question of maturity.  Are distant two-dimensional human dots on a football field the artistic equal of three dimensional perspective, shade and shadow, gradation of line and form, color blending and other skills of the visual trades?  Should student presentational attempts be replaced by unqualified representational adult experiments using school children, paid for with public money?  This accomplished artist says no.  Anyone who disagrees is involved in a hoax.

©  All Rights Reserved  "The Perfectionists - A History of Competitive Rudimental Snare Drumming"

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