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A Quick Look: Bands of America (BOA)

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    The Bands of America (BOA) circuit is the cream of the crop for scholastic marching band programs in the United States, with regional events held from coast to coast and comprising of the best this country has to offer. As the BOA season begins this weekend, it's time for a little refresher on how they differ from our own ISSMA circuit.

    An Overview of BOA

    Bands of America hosts 16 regional competitions (a full list will be available at the end of this article), 4 Super-Regional competitions, and Grand National Championships during the fall season.

    What is a Regional?

    This type of event is typically hosted in a very large high school or college stadium and plays host to bands that are in that region. For example, the Dayton, Ohio regional will host bands from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky, it's not often that you see a group from much further travel to the Buckeye state to compete, though it's happened (and is happening this year with the Victor HS band traveling in from New York).

    Regional's have two parts, prelims and finals. In preliminary competition, all competitors are randomly placed in performance order (with preference given to the defending Regional Champion, if they are in attendance). Upon conclusion of prelims, class awards are handed out. Caption awards for Outstanding Music Performance, Outstanding Visual Performance, and Outstanding General Effect are awarded in each class (Class A, AA, AAA, AAAA) as well as top three placements in class. Once the class awards are dispersed and the Regional Class Champions are named, the top ten bands (based on score) who have qualified for finals competition are announced in random order.

    Regional finals are for lack of a better phrase, a free for all! There are no more classes as each band competes directly against other bands even if they were in a different class in prelims. Upon completion of the finals portion of the event, a truly amazing spectacle begins, and some would say is a lost part of marching band competitions in this day in age, the full retreat begins. In full uniform, each finalist band makes their way back to the field and the drum majors are brought front and center. From here, placement awards are given along with scores (unlike our ISSMA system), as well as overall caption awards. The evening begins in grand BOA style, with the announcer giving out the famous instruction, "Go for it! Break Ranks!" allowing all of the students to mix, mingle and congratulate their peers.

    What is a Super-Regional?

    It's really very similar to a regional competition, but more super! Typically the number of enrolled bands is higher (up to 65 bands) and will come from a wider geographic distance. Depending on the size of the Super-Regional, the event can start on Friday to encompass all of the competitors. Preliminary competition, despite spreading over two days is the same as a Regional in that following competition, the awards handed out are the same and Super-Regional Class Champions are named. Since the competition field is larger, finals competition hosts 12-14 bands, as compared to 10 at a Regional. At the end of night, after the bands assemble for retreat and the awards are presented, the new Super-Regional Champion has the opportunity to perform an encore for their fans. Some elect to do a stand-still, and some march their entire production. If you ever get the chance to stay for an encore, please take the opportunity, it's truly magical.

    What are the Grand National Championships?

    Well, it's the most exciting marching event! It is a performance opportunity open to all high school marching bands, on a first-come, first served basis. So, unlike ISSMA where a program has to qualify through Regional's and Semi-State, BOA's Grand National Champions are open to all (whether a program attended a Regional or not). Grand Nationals is also a spectacular music and pageantry event, one that band fans from across the nation and around the world travel to for the exciting and creative performances.

    Grand Nationals is a three-day event. The first two days are just preliminary performances, and each day has a different judging panel. At the conclusion of Friday's preliminary competition, all drum majors assemble on the field for awards, each group receiving a participation trophy for their appearance. Qualification for semi-finals is as follows: the top 12 scoring bands from both Thursday and Friday move on to semi-finals, the next top 8 bands regardless of performance day qualify for semi-finals. Should each class not have two bands qualify for semi-finals on merit of score, the top two scoring bands in that particular class will perform in semi-finals. This can mean, there can be as few as 30 bands in semi-finals, and as many as 42. While we have never seen 42 semi-finalist performances, the average is 34 bands.

    Saturday competition begins dark and early! Bands who qualify based on class (not in the top 30) are given the first performance slots of the day. Following those performances, four of the "next eight" perform, after those performances, bands in the top 24 perform (all in random order), semi-finals ends with the last four of the "next eight." Drum Majors are assembled again on the field for awards, this is where the Grand National Class Champions are named and class caption awards are given out. From here, our MC Chuck Henson announces the top-12 bands who will compete in the most prestigious event of the year, Grand National Finals. Here is a secret: Chuck always announces new bands to finals last, to build the anticipation.

    It's now Saturday night, Bands of America Grand National Finals, the most exciting 3 hours of marching music and pageantry of the year. Class Champion bands who did not qualify in the top-12 are invited to perform in exhibition before finals competition begins. From here, fans in the stands are treated to the highest caliber bands from all across the country performing their program for what may be, a final time. The energy is high and the emotion is flowing as the night goes on. Like any BOA event, the night ends in a full retreat for the awarding of caption winners and the new Grand National Champion.


    Like ISSMA, BOA uses school size to determine classifications. Since there are so many more variables to consider when putting high schools across the country together, BOA only counts students in grades 10-12 for their classes.

    Class A: up to 600 students
    Class AA: 601-1200 students
    Class AAA: 1201-1700 students
    Class AAAA: 1701 and more students

    What do these classes mean? For preliminary competition at Regional's and Super-Regional's and Semi-Finals competition at Grand Nationals, Class Champions are named, but for finals, all of the classes are mixed together and overall awards are presented.

    Judging Breakdown

    So, what are these judges looking for? Bands of America utilizes a seven judge panels in their events. Two music judges; one in the press box and one on the field, two visual judges; one in the press box and one on the field, two music general effect judges; in the press box, and one visual general effect judge; in the press box.

    Music Judges

    Music Ensemble: This judge's purpose is to analyze how and what the band is playing. They take in the performance from the press box and evaluate many aspects of what the band is performing on a macro level. Some things they consider: tone, balance and blend, dynamics, difficulty, and technique.

    Music Individual: This judge analyzes the performance from field level, you may see him / her walking in and around forms as the band performs. This adjudicator is the micro-level lenses as they look and listen to individual tone, performance quality, technique, simultaneous responsibilities, and dynamics.

    Music General Effect: While the previous two judges analyze a performance, the primary motivation for the GE judge is to react to a performance. They take a look (well, listen, rather) to how the music relates to the show and how effectively it translates. They react to the pacing of the program, making sure there is a logical flow and order to a program as well as offering advice to make a program even better.

    Visual Judges

    Visual Ensemble: From the press box, this judge takes a look at "the big picture." They will look at and analyze form control, spacing, horn angles, feet timing, color guard performance / vocabulary (what they are doing), amongst others.

    Visual Individual: Takes a look at the marchers from the field. Individual technique, micro-level spacing intervals, instrument carriage, and color guard technique are just a few things in the visual individual judge's radar.

    Visual General Effect: This judge reacts to the entire performance from a visual perspective. Is there a logical flow? Does the drill motivate the music? Does the music motivate the drill? Is what is happening visually helping convey the desired emotion? They will also look at how the color guard integrates with the marching members and what their motivation in the show is.


    So, how do we come to a score? The music caption is allotted 20 total points of the 100 point scale, using the averages of both the Individual Music judge and the Ensemble Music judge. The same scale us used for the visual caption, 20 total points between the Individual Visual and the Ensemble Visual judge. The emphasis in Bands of America is General Effect, and because of this, the GE captions are allotted 60 total points. The two Music Effect judges get 40 points, and the Visual Effect judge has 20 points. While not always the case, it usually is found that whomever takes the Outstanding General Effect caption will win their class or the show. Following the event, recaps of the judges scores are made available on the Music for All website ( for all to see and study.

    There you have it! You are now an expert on Bands of America! Be sure to share this new found knowledge with your friends and fellow band fans this fall.


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    About Author

    Christopher L. Drake
    Christopher is a 2010 graduate of Boone County High School (KY), but his love for all things pageantry began in Angola, Indiana where he lived for 3 years. Since joining the IM staff, he has engrossed himself in ISSMA, BOA, IHSCGA, IPA, MEPA, OIPA, WGI, and most recently spent the summer as a Tour Admin with the 2016 DCI World Champion Bluecoats from Canton, Ohio. Christopher is currently a Political Science student at Northern Kentucky University.


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