Individual and ensemble competitions allow soloists and smaller groups of performers to shine outside the larger organizations.
Jaden Dupree has always enjoyed watching soloists perform. As a marimba player in the Campo Verde High School Marching Band in Gilbert, Arizona, he’s experienced the thrill of performing and competing as a member of a large ensemble, but like the soloists he’s admired, he longed to express himself through music that was independent of a director’s or conductor’s interpretation.
Then he found individual and ensemble (I&E) competitions, which allow individuals and small groups to showcase their skills on material separate from the full marching band. “As a soloist, [I&E] allows you to be more unique and take your own liberties to really make the music your own,” Dupree says.
Marching arts organizations such as Drum Corps International (DCI), Drum Corps Associates (DCA), WGI Sport of the Arts, Percussive Arts Society (PAS), and the Arizona Marching Band Association (AzMBA), to name a few, all offer some form of I&E.
I&E events have become successful social gatherings that bring together participants and the local community in an intimate setting. They shine a spotlight on the hosting organization while introducing community members to drum corps and marching band.
More importantly, they give marching participants a chance to try something new. “To PAS, [I&E] is not about our organization and what we gain but about giving more interactive experiences and opportunities to our members, especially when it comes to being able to attend the [Percussive Arts Society International Convention],” says Amanda Goedde, director of marketing with PAS. “I&E allows students to set a goal of learning a piece and performing that piece for their peers and world-renowned educators.”
Students who perform have the chance to earn scholarships or positions in another activity or at least can list their I&E experiences on their performance resumes, which in and of itself can lead to other positive outcomes.
Participants typically receive valuable feedback from judges. “With education at the heart of WGI, it is our goal to do what we can to help each individual grow and excel as a marching arts performer, and we believe that Solo & Ensemble is the perfect complement to this mission,” says Trevor Jordan, WGI marketing manager. “In addition to the commentary, each participant receives a certificate with their name and score.”
The most significant benefit a student enjoys from competing in an I&E event is musical proficiency. “The individual accountability involved with performing in a small group or as a soloist builds performance skill,” says Matt Kozacek, AzMBA’s president and director of bands at Campo Verde High School. “We think it’s a unique opportunity, and students are very excited and motivated to perform to their best abilities. It is very cool to see students work hard toward something that they feel so good about.”
I&E competitions also allow individuals to show off their personalities. “It is a great way to just be yourself for a moment in time,” says Dick Fischette, chairperson for DCA’s I&E and Mini Corps event.
Time to Prepare
I&E competitions fall outside the regular routine of marching bands, drumlines and corps. Those wishing to participate must make time to prepare for their I&E competitions mostly on their own. Since DCA corps tour only on the weekends, individuals in these corps are afforded time away from their corps to prepare.
Performers on a tighter schedule need to strike a work/life balance, just as professional musicians do. “While touring and your commitment to your group is important as a student, it is also important to take time for yourself and do something that will push you and further your own goals,” Goedde says.
Kozacek polls his students to determine which ones want to participate in I&E competitions. Though performers work on their material outside the marching band’s scheduled rehearsal time, they do receive coaching from the high school faculty. “Instructors are there to help them and give them feedback as they prepare,” Kozacek says. “Before the competition, I’ll have the students perform a dress rehearsal for the full marching band to get them ready for the nerves they will experience.”
In 2018 Dupree performed “Libertango” arranged by Eric Sammut at Williams Field, one of the I&E competitions hosted by AzMBA. “It was a very difficult, college-level piece that I was playing as a junior in high school, and so I practiced every day during lunch and seventh hour after my school day was over,” Dupree says.
I&E competitions can have long-lasting benefits for both the organization and the students involved, but hosting them can present some minor challenges. Kozacek says creating judging sheets, scheduling the event without causing conflicts with the marching bands and corps, and maintaining adjudication consistency from week to week are among the challenges he’s faced as AzMBA president.
In some ways PAS has fallen victim to the success of its I&E competitions, being unable to accommodate the increasing number of students eager to participate. “There are only so many spots and categories we can offer,” Goedde says.
Fischette works closely to set up and execute I&E events at the venues in the host cities. “The venues change when the championship changes the host city, but once we establish the event in a certain location, it becomes very easy to set up and execute the event for the time the championship stays in that particular city,” Fischette says.
No matter the challenges, I&E competitions are a boon for marching arts organizations and a valued option for students. “In my opinion, that’s when the music truly comes alive,” Dupree says. “I would recommend that anyone do I&E. …You get to show off how much you’ve been practicing. And in practicing a solo, you are guaranteed to improve both technically and musically. All and all, I&E is just simply an opportunity to better yourself and hopefully spread some joys to others via your music.”
Here are the details on several I&E hosts.
DCI Performers Showcase
Called Performers Showcase, the Drum Corps International (DCI) I&E competition occurs during its World Championships week on the Wednesday before finals each August. “It’s always one of the season’s highlights for individual corps members of Open and World Class corps and even SoundSport teams,” says Barbara Nash, a spokesperson for DCI. “The competitive event offers them the chance to demonstrate their technique, musicality, and originality on a range of different instruments including woodwind and vocal categories.”
Free and open to the public, DCI’s Performers Showcase is held on four stages—three in the Indiana Convention Center and one in the Indianapolis Arstgarden. Categories for soloists and groups include a variety of brass, percussion, and woodwind instruments as well as keyboard, guitar, flag, auxiliary, dance, vocal, and mixed.
In 2018 DCI featured nearly 350 musicians from 28 corps, competing in more than 175 entries. Each year medal winners are honored at the end of the DCI World Championship Semifinals event.
DCA I&E and Mini Corps
Drum Corps Associates (DCA) also stages its I&E contest during its championship week, giving both current and retired marching members the opportunity to show off their individual skills in captions like solo, duet, trio, quartet, brass, percussion, guard, and dance. “Since 2014, with changes in DCA-allowed instrumentation as well as a few changes in groupings, we have added about three or four new categories,” says Dick Fischette, chairperson for DCA’s I&E and Mini Corps event.
WGI Solo & Ensemble
WGI Sport of the Arts calls its new I&E contests Solo & Ensemble. Participants of any age can compete in color guard, percussion, woodwind, or brass categories as soloists or as part of ensembles with two to six performers. Launched in 2019, the events were held during the summer—WGI’s off-season—with locations in Dayton, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; and Irvine, California. “WGI Solo & Ensemble welcomes any and all performers, including those not currently or previously affiliated with a WGI-performing group,” says Trevor Jordan, WGI marketing manager.
Percussive Arts Society (PAS) holds its I&E competition during its annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). A mainstay for more than 20 years, PAS’s I&E competition demonstrates the breadth of its members’ musicianship. “Given the perception that PAS is mostly an orchestral-based organization, it’s important for us to be able to show that there is a wide diversity of genres being represented in our organization and, specifically, at PASIC,” says Amanda Goedde, director of marketing for PAS. “The I&E competition allows us to give individuals with a marching percussion focus interactive experiences with the top artists in the marching arts.”
PAS divides its I&E competitions into high school and university divisions, with the eldest member of an ensemble determining the division in which it competes. Individuals compete in one of five categories: rudimental snare, concert snare, tenors, keyboard, and timpani. Ensembles comprise two to six performers and compete in one of two categories: marching (single types of instruments such as snare, bass, cymbals, and tenors) or mixed (any combination of percussion instruments).
The Arizona Marching Band Association (AzMBA) began hosting I&E events for brass, woodwind, percussion, and color guard in 2018, choosing three of its fall marching band shows as venues. “Solo and ensemble scores are announced at the end of the night right before the scores for the full marching band are revealed,” says Matt Kozacek, AzMBA’s president.
A committee then selects several outstanding solos and ensembles to perform at AzMBA’s marching championships in November.