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Individual & Ensemble (I&E)






This article was reprinted from the April 1994 issue of The Middle Horn Leader and is intended to offer background information and advice for brass performers who will be participating in individual and ensemble (I&E) competitions in the drum corps activity.


Simple Steps to Successful Soloing


Individual and ensemble (I&E) competitions have enjoyed increased attention and participation during the past decades. While talent is a vital asset required by all competitors who rank well in these events, talent alone won't ensure a good solo performance. There are several important preparations that must be made by each performer in order to maximize their performance potential.

Obviously, selecting a piece of music to perform is the most critical part of I&E. When selecting a piece of music, a determination must be made regarding the amount of work that will be needed to "make it legal." One of the unique aspects of the I&E event is the tight time constraints for the performance. The piece utilized for competition will have to be abbreviated to fit the 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 minute time requirement. Be aware that this not as easy as it sounds. The more a piece of music is edited, the less it may make sense. Once edited, the concise edited piece needs to retain as much of the characteristics of the original piece as possible.

A baritone performer (right) delivering his solo at DCA in 2002. Image from sonicspike.net

Make sure the selection has musical variety. Try to get a solo with lyrical, as well as technical sections. Ideally, it will cover the extended range of the instrument and support at least a couple of tempo and mood changes.

A good solo will highlight the soloist's strengths and hide any weaknesses. Particular traits judges will be looking for generally includes: great tone quality, musicality, lyrical playing, range extension, dynamic contrast, and technical facility.

Here's a performance by a Blue Devils' trumpeter at the 2006 DCI competition:


Of course, it goes without saying the performer should choose an idiom he/she likes. The judges are usually very open to all types of music. Remember, their job is to adjudicate the performer on their performance, not their solo selection or musical taste. However, try to find something unique. If the performer ends up playing late in the day and performs a piece the judge has already heard seventeen times, it makes it unnecessarily difficult for the judge to adjudicate impartially.

Once a solo has been selected the next step is to start perfecting its performance. Always memorize the music. Participants will be allowed to use music for the competition, but it's advisable to use it only as a safety net to catch them in the event they become a victim of the "nerves."



DCA outdoor I&E for brass in 2002. Music stands are a risky proposition, particularly on windy days! From sonicspike.net


The rules governing I&E (click here) state that the participant should give a copy of the music to the judge, but does not require it. Given this option, it would be wiser for the performer to not give a copy of the music to the judge. Think about it. Performers want to be judged on their musicality and technique, not how well they adhere to their musical selection. Having the music available will put the judge in a position to compare the performance against the notation (e.g., the dynamics performed didn't match those on the page).

When preparing for the performance, a metronome and an audio recorder are two indispensable tools. Maintaining steady tempos throughout the performance is crucial and will be rewarded by the judges. Proper use of the metronome will promote and reinforce good habits.

When rehearsing the solos, the performer will want to record themselves performing. This will let them know exactly how they will sound to the judge and will uncover many problems that won't be noticed by the performer while they are playing the piece. When rehearsing, performers should treat their solos as a drum corps treats its competition show by rehearsing specific sections and then wrapping up the session with a full run-through of the piece. Performers should always pick one short section to focus on for that day and should avoid getting into the habit of rehearsing the parts they play well. Instead, they should always spend more time on the parts they're not yet confident performing.


Obviously, it's best to choose and perfect the piece well before you move in with your corps. The road offers very little time for learning a solo. Besides, the corps is in need of the performer's undivided attention and focus. The "off season" is the best time to select and master the piece. The off season also provides the performer a chance to prepare themselves for the unexpected. They should be able to perform their solo at the end of the day when they're the most tired, and also be able to perform it without the benefit of a warm-up. They should also be doing their run-throughs in different acoustical environments. Performers will never know what kind of conditions in which they'll be expected to perform their solo. For example, waayyyy back in 1985 the brass soloists at the DCM I&E competition performed in a "standing room only" 20'x20' carpeted office. There was absolutely no resonance in the room and a lot of the performers weren't prepared to perform in the equivalent of a fur-lined phone booth.


Be prepared for chaos at the event site. Don't over-warm-up and try to find a quiet spot to do a run-through (if possible). The YouTube video presented below will provide a basic idea of what the environment at the site will be like:



Now that the performer has adequately prepared the piece and is prepared for anything, it's show time. The judge will give the performer a few minutes to warm up while he/she furiously scrawls comments  about the previous soloist. It would be best for the performer not to use this time to demonstrate their demonic lip trill abilities, "freight train" pedal tones, or extensive recollection of vintage Muchacho soprano solos. Instead, performers should point their bell away from the judge and play either a short, prepared lyrical piece or simple, well-executed long tones to get the wind moving and to get acclimated with the acoustics of the performance area. This is a good time for some deep breaths to help relieve any nervousness.


Delays occasionally happen and performers may have to wait a couple of minutes before they are asked to perform. Performers should wait at parade rest with good posture and be prepared to wait for awhile. This is not the time to discuss a favorite food poisoning story with the audience.


Don't forget to sell the piece. The percussionists are typically the rock stars of these events. Here are examples of a great performances:




Use the time after the warm-up to determine where you will be pointing the bell during the performance. NEVER POINT THE BELL DIRECTLY AT THE JUDGE! Performers should reflect the sound to the judge. If possible, they will want to point the bell perpendicular to the judge, but at the very least to their left or right. This will ensure the judge is hearing a more pleasing "sonorous" sound instead of the "airy" sound that may be prevalent to listeners directly in front of a bell-front brass performer.


Before the performance the performer may or may not be introduced. They may have to introduce themselves. Regardless, each performer should be prepared to state their name and corps clearly, along with the piece they'll be performing (and the composer). Some performers provide some background on the piece and why they selected it. If this is done, keep it very, very short.


In conclusion, a well-prepared performer will represent their corps at these events better than a more talented, but less prepared performer. Performers should pick a piece of music they really like, prepare it as diligently as a top corps prepares for a finals performance, and whatever they do, they shouldn't forget to have fun with it!


-Scooter Pirtle (email)


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