The General Effect

In the world of competitive marching music, performing ensembles are judged and scored based on a system of categories (called captions) pertaining to various elements of a performance. Yes, marching band can be competitive. Though a bunch of ridiculous looking geeks parading down the street is a cherished stereotype, it’s not always the case. The amount of precision, concentration, and athletic coordination it takes to perform a field show at a high caliber is greater than you would think.

The Music caption obviously refers to the way the group performs their musical selections. Tone, dynamics, execution, phrasing, difficulty of the repertoire, timing, blending of sections, soloists, and a myriad of other factors are observed and scored in the judging process. Additionally there is a Visual caption. Visual focusses on the quality of the formations being made on the field (called drill), the marching technique demonstrated by the performers, and the maneuvers of the color guard. The last category, and in my opinion the all-encompassing grand exhibition of talent, is the General Effect caption, or referred to in the industry as GE.

The GE caption, put simply, is the effectiveness the ensemble demonstrates in communicating something. Throughout a field production (called a show), the ensemble presents a theme, a purpose, or a story to the audience through music and movement. This is pageantry. Some shows might be about popular stories like James Bond, Les Miserables, The Godfather, or Romeo and Juliet. Other shows might try to communicate ideas or subtle truths, such as the struggles of the Great Depression, the joys of Christmas, or the celebration of American traditions like horse racing, rush hour, or baseball. Though those be just a small example, you get the picture. GE is what causes the audience to connect to the music at an indescribable level. GE measures how captive an audience can be, submitted for 12 minutes in the hands of the group. In the highest competitive circuits of competitive marching arts (DCI, BOA, WGI, etc.) where each group demonstrates outstanding talent both musically and visually, the GE score can be the deciding factor for a winner.

Drawing from the life lessons I learned as member of a Regional Champion marching band during high school, I can’t help but think about how this idea and influence of GE applies to our own lives. For those of you with faith in God, perhaps you believe that one day you’ll stand before The Almighty and be judged according to your earthly actions. We don’t know exactly what that will be like. Personally I don’t think that God has specific captions in which he makes marks or merits. But I present to you the following questions: What is your life’s General Effect? What is the purpose, theme, or story that you are trying to communicate? Is your score high or low? Some might say I’m stretching the concept a little too far…but when an activity like band dominates the mind as much as it does mine, it happens to be one of the only mediums through which things get to me.

As I see it, part of one’s individual General Effect are things like our relationships with others, our dedication to just causes, how we serve others, and how we present ourselves every day. It might be the language we use when we speak, our temper, our demonstration of faith or our ability to act on gut feelings or show courage. It is our honesty and integrity when dealing with other people or when spending time alone. It’s the way we spend our time. It’s the happiness that we create for ourselves and for others. It’s doing the hard things that beset us, and the way we choose to deal with the results, good or bad. It’s hard work, failure, tears, sweat, and the price of knowledge we all have to pay. I could go on and on and so could you. These subtle elements that make up part of each one of our existences can communicate the content of our character and quality of our spirit better than anything. These are things that determine what effect we are having on people and the legacy that each of us will leave at that inevitable end.

My invitation to all isn’t of the direct nor specific nature. My purpose is merely to inform you of ideas and provide insights that perhaps you hadn’t before considered. My hope is that you take a moment and think about your performance called life. How is the quality of your music? How sharp are your movements and precision of your drill? And most importantly, how is your purpose being communicated? This is your General Effect. What will be your score?

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