Behind the Lyre: Ken Turner as an Adjudicator (Part 2)

On 21st August, we had the opportunity to speak with Ken Turner from ErgoSonic Percussion. In this interview, Ken shares his experience as an adjudicator of marching competitions.

The first part of this blog can be found here, and the third part of this blog will be posted on 25th September. Make sure to keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!

You’ve mentioned that you’ve been doing some adjudicator work over zoom recently. How did you get into that side of things in the first place?

When I first joined the Grenadiers, they were a competitive Drum and Bugle Corps. Wwhen I started teaching the corps, the membership had turned over quite a bit, and it had gone back to just about all new kids. So we had to rebuild. When we competed, sometimes we would do well, and at other times, our inexperience showed. Invariably, we always ended up listening to adjudicator comments on our performance and meeting with them to receive feedback. In any good adjudication system, an adjudicator not only decides what the results are, but they provide the sort of feedback that every group needs to improve. That’s really the value in it. Right from the beginning, it was clear to me that these were people who could be a tremendous resource. they could help me be a better teacher. They could help our group improve.

Over the years, I decided that I wanted to become an adjudicator. After a few years of teaching, I decided to pursue membership in the New York State Chapter of the All American Drum and Bugle Corps and Band Association. I took the qualifying exam, and started my apprenticeship locally.

The Grenadiers Drum and Bugle Corps
The Grenadiers Drum and Bugle Corps [photo property of Ken Turner]

Did you receive any guidance from another adjudicator about becoming one yourself?

Yes. From a gentleman by the name of Truman Crawford. He was the Director of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, and who also happened to grow up in the area where I was living. The Grenadiers were in a competition in Baltimore, Maryland, where the US Marine Drum Corps had played an exhibition. After we performed, Truman came over to me, introduced himself and said that it was nice to see a group from his hometown doing well. Of course I knew who he was, and he had no idea who I was.

Crawford became an important advocate, supporter and mentor for me. He encouraged me to become a judge and recommended me to Don Angelica and Dr. Bernard Baggs. They were with DCI (Drum Corps International) at the time, and he suggested that I judge on the regional and national level. He and I ended up on several judging panels together, and he thought that I had done a good job. Truman, along with Bob Zazzara and Al Hallenbeck, both previous brass instructors of the Grenadiers, were also instrumental in getting me started in adjudication.

When I moved to Johnson City to take the job as K-12 Director of Music, I found that I didn’t really have time to teach other groups. I did have time to adjudicate though. That’s when my judging assignments started to expand. Before long I had the opportunity to judge all over the world. Its been very gratifying. Of course, you always hope that you can help by imparting some useful information for groups to take back and use to improve themselves. There’s no question that I have learned as much from my judging experience as I have imparted to those I’ve adjudicated.

Is there anything that you always look for in an ensemble when you’re on a panel?

It depends on the judging system being used. Since various associations and local organizations may have slightly different evaluation methods. For instance, there are a few places in the US where the organization may be trying to encourage the development of fundamental playing skills. Or, perhaps, there may be locations where they’re developing a judging system that rewards the overall effectiveness and entertainment value of the production. As an adjudicator, you need to make sure that you understand what you’re evaluating and what they really want you to reward.

But no matter where I’ve been, there are always a couple of things that you judge. You always evaluate how well the group is performing what they’re doing. There needs to be an element of precision, of good fundamental playing technique, of performing properly with the instruments, and playing together as a cohesive ensemble. And you also evaluate what they are performing. The depth, complexity and challenges of the material and the ensembles ability to engage the audience. There’s also a difference between a group that plays as a collection of individuals and a group that plays as a single unit. You can hear it almost immediately. There also needs to be a collective understanding of what the spirit of the music is. The overall musical communication. Are they transmitting the essence of the material?

Are there any performances that really stick in your mind?

I remember going to Horse Guards Parade, and the bands were playing with such pride, precision and spirit. I have goose bumps on my arms now just thinking about it! They owned it! It wasn’t a group of people saying; “I’ve got to go do this thing”. They were communicating the spirit of the music. It’s very difficult to articulate exactly what that is, but you know it when you hear it.

The technical things are probably the easiest to determine. If you have some experience, you can talk about those things. Ultimately, the essence of the music and the human beings transmitting it, that really is a special thing. It’s very easy to hear that, and it’s one of the things that has kept me enthusiastic about this for my whole career.

I can imagine!

In the world we live in, with all our difficulties, its easy to become a little disaffected by what we as humans have done. Yet, every time I hear somebody play, every time I see a performance (even listening to my granddaughter Sophia, play happy birthday for her cousin, Jack), the spirit of the musician comes through the playing and the music. When I hear someone play, especially lately, I’ve often been reminded – this is what human beings are capable of! This is what they can do! It’s a remarkable thing, tremendously invigorating and encouraging.

When you ask about what we judge and how we do it, of course there are the technical things, but that spirit! Whether it’s the Royal Marines marching proudly into Horse Guards Parade, a kindergarten marching band’s genuine enthusiasm at the Marching in Okayama Festival in Japan, the Bands of America National Championship in Indianapolis or the Drum Corps International Finals…when you hear that musical communication and spirit, it’s absolutely wonderful! It’s a joyous thing to behold. No matter where I’ve gone and what I’ve heard or who I’ve listened to, that’s been the essence of it. It may not happen with every group you hear, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an event or any place where it didn’t happen several times. It makes the trip worthwhile; I’ll tell you that.

Ken Turner - Judge Administrator and Adjudicator
Ken Turner – Judge Administrator and Adjudicator [photo property of Ken Turner]

I was going to say, it must make it feel like sometimes you’re not working at all!

Absolutely. 100%.

So how is an adjudicator usually chosen to join a judging panel?

Most judging panels are based on some type of part-whole evaluation. What that means is that you different people judging the percussion, the winds, and the marching. Perhaps someone who’s evaluating the overall effect of the performance? I often evaluate the overall effect. I do winds and percussion as well, but that’s mostly what I judge. Each judge has a certain number of points to award and the total of each judge’s score determines the results. Because we all score independently, we generally don’t know the complete results until they are announced.

Interestingly, in the Drum and Bugle Corps movement, there’s been a move in recent years to reward groups who have designed their programs using a more coordinated holistic approach. Some of the judges view the program from an overall perspective as a surrogate member of the audience. At times, judging the elements as individual component parts can leads to a situation where you’re not really rewarding groups who put significant effort into clearly communicating the essence of their show. The idea is simple. Someone needs to evaluate groups from an overall perspective, with a little more weight added to that aspect. Maybe it needs to be worth a few more points?

…this blog will be continued on 25th September – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!

Get Involved in ‘Behind the Lyre’

Would you be interested in sharing some of your experience working within or with a military or marching band? If so, we would love the opportunity to speak with you.

We’re looking for people from all countries, of all ages and abilities, who play all sorts of instruments! We’re also looking for those who are a little further behind the lyre. This includes educators, directors, agents responsible for sourcing musical instruments, the instrument manufacturers themselves, and many more. We would love to share your important role in military and marching music with the rest of our community.

To find out more, or to schedule an interview, please email

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