The “Perfunctory Factor” -let’s hype!

November 25, 2009 8:12 pm in Marching by BillBachman

I’ve had the honor of judging quite a few band and drumline competitions this past fall and have seen a lot of really good stuff going on. Of course, I’ve also seen some not so good stuff going on which brings me to my topic of choice, the perfunctory factor. First of all, let me define perfunctory: Per-func-to-ry: -adjective- performed merely as a routine duty; lacking interest, care, or enthusiasm; indifferent or apathetic.

When you judge hours and hours of groups it gets extremely hard to remember exactly who played what and how well they played it. For this reason I believe most judges like myself set up some criteria to go along with memory joggers to help rank and rate all of the groups. For me some of the criteria that clearly set groups apart are as follows: Overall presentation (standard high school high -vs- pretty clued in –vs- professionally detailed), diddle quality (loose hands with finger control –vs- tight fist or drop diddles), mallet sound production (piston strokes –vs- the downstroke clunk), cleanliness, demand, and of course, the perfunctory factor.

When you’re making a tape, (yes we still use those occasionally), and you’re trying to hype, help, and educate the kids in the group and their instructors there are few things worse than seeing performers that just aren’t into it. You get the feeling that they’d much rather be home playing X-box and getting as well rested as possible. If you the performer aren’t into it, then how can anybody watching you possibly be into it? If your body language tells me that what you’re doing is lame, then why would I doubt it?

Now I’ve run many percussion programs over the years and understand the giant workload, time crunch and necessity to let certain things go, but I think that as a last line of defense all of us instructors should check for the perfunctory factor. Ideally every member of the ensemble is way into what they’re doing; when this is the case the audience (and judge) has no choice but to get into it with the group. No matter how good or bad the level of playing is, if you sell it then the audience (and judge) will buy it. It’s even OK to fake it now and again, I know that I have from time to time as a performer. (Please just don’t let it be totally contrived like when mallet players touch their nose to the bars at pp and jump up with big eyes at ff.)

Performance skills are totally valid and transfer into practically every area of life-try and see just how far you’ll get at a job interview or asking someone out on a date with the perfunctory factor happening. Almost every ensemble has a “that guy,” but let’s get every single player hyped on what they’re doing, they’ll get into and we’ll have no choice but to get into it as well!

Alright, stories? comments? confessions?