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A Quick Look: ISSMA Open Class

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    Marching band is a sacred activity in the Hoosier State, producing the highest caliber groups in the nation and boasting some of the most well-rounded programs anywhere. As we start the 2016 season, it's a good idea to have a refresher on how marching band is organized and judged here in Indiana and in other circuits Indiana bands may participate in.

    An Overview of Open Class

    We begin this series with ISSMA Open Class. Open Class is the pinnacle of competitive marching programs and hosts a majority of the competitive programs across the state. As has become more traditional in circuits across the country, Open Class divides its membership into divisions based on school size, as opposed to band size. With divisions determined based on school size, it's entirely possible to watch a Class B band that is larger than a Class A band. For the 2016 season, the classifications look like this:

    Open Class A: 1700+ students (grades 9-12)
    Open Class B: 1000-1699 students (grades 9-12)
    Open Class C: 570-999 students (grades 9-12)
    Open Class D: up to 569 students (grades 9-12)

    The philosophy behind dividing classes by school size is based on the notion that schools with similar student body populations have similar resources to pull from. While this isn't always true, it still remains the best barometer to group marching programs together.

    What is the goal?

    The ultimate goal of a marching band is to bring members together, to teach life lessons and to create the finest kids that will be leading the next generation. Competitively, the goal in Open Class is to reach ISSMA State Finals, held every year at Lucas Oil Stadium (LOS). LOS is holy grounds for the marching arts as it hosts ISSMA State Finals, Bands of America Super Regionals, Bands of America Grand National Championships, and Drum Corps International World Championships. The best of the best, march on the turf of Lucas Oil.

    The road to State is grueling. There are two qualifiers that take place before a band earns their place amongst the finest in the state, the first is Regionals. Regional contests divide the state into North and South, where all of the Open Class bands compete against all others in their class, vying for a top-10 placement. Bands who place in the top-10 then move on to Semi-State, which is held in the greater Indianapolis area. Semi-State competition sets the bar even higher as the top 10 bands from the North compete along with the top 10 bands from the South. Allowing the both bands from the North and the South to compete together allows the judges to send the best 10 bands to State Finals, regardless of their location.

    We finally arrive at State Finals. Here the top 10 bands in each class vie for the honor of being named, Indiana State Champion. Within each class, the bands perform in random order as to not create any bias in the judges’ eyes. In the end, the results are read to all bands at a full retreat and a new State Champion is named and the directors and drum majors drink the traditional milk as they celebrate their season.

    The Schedule

    Here is this year’s schedule of ISSMA Open Class Events:

    Regionals - October 15th
    Chesterton HS (Open B & D)
    Lafayette Jefferson HS (Open A & C)
    Center Grove HS (Open A & B)
    Evansville Central HS (Open C & D)

    Semi-State - October 22nd
    Ben Davis HS (Open A)
    Pike HS (Open B)
    Decatur Central HS (Open C)
    Franklin Community HS (Open D)

    State Finals - October 29th
    Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

    Judging Breakdown

    So, what are these judges looking for? ISSMA utilizes six 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, one music general effect judge; 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 40 points (out of 100), divided between both the music ensemble judge and the music individual judge. The visual caption is allotted 20 points between the ensemble and the individual judge, each getting 10 points. The effect judges both get 20 points a piece. This adds up to a perfect 100. While each band at an ISSMA competition will receive a score, that information will never be released to the public as ISSMA's philosophy doesn't allow for the publication of scores. This isn't the case with local invitational's (or any other circuit, for that matter), as all scores from those events are public information. If you happen to hear of a score from an ISSMA event, keep it off of the web!

    If you've finished this article, you can head to the next contest as an expert in ISSMA Open Class in the stands! Be sure to share your newly found knowledge with others so that Indiana can have the most informed audience in the activity.

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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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  1. slaveboy
    this kinda implies that issma is claiming copyright to even the scores a band gets just like they claim copyright to all video etc at these competitions....
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