“What the Heck is Ensemble Analysis Anyway?”

| November 14, 2011 | 6 Comments

“What the heck is Ensemble Analysis anyway?” Many people (Guard Instructors) ask me this question and it baffles me. It seems so obvious to me. How can people not get it?

Apparently, I’m in the minority here.

So, I’m going to try to explain it over the next several months along with thoughts about how to make your color guards better.

In a nutshell, Ensemble Analysis (or Visual Ensemble, or Visual Composition in marching band) is the evaluation of the visual design of the program. It’s not about entertainment or emotion. We leave that to those silly GE people. As the name states it’s an analysis of the design based on elements and principles of design.

If you took a design class at your local community college (which isn’t a bad idea) you’d learn about the building blocks of design: Space, Line, Shape/Form, Direction, Color, Value and Texture, and the Principles (rules for using the elements) of design: Unity, Emphasis, Balance, Proportion/Scale, Movement, Repetition/Rhythm/Pattern, Contrast and Variety/Harmony. Some lists differ slightly, but generally, this is what you get. (To read more about this, click this link to the “Design Basics” pdf.) These words can be used to describe every design ever created. For fun, find something you think is well designed and see which concepts are predominant. Which ones attract your eye the most?

In our activity, we layer visual design, which is often static, with time, physical motion and music, so we don’t completely fit into the standard list of terms above. To accommodate, we’ve made up some unique terms like “horizontal orchestration” (which I’ll explain in a later article) to make it more confusing.

Like many things, when you really boil it all down, design is a pretty simple concept.

I’m going to give you the (REALLY) simple truth about what design is: It’s finding the RELATIONSHIP between different components of a composition and managing those relationships to create a unified whole.

It’s that simple.

It doesn’t matter what you’re designing. You start with an idea or a vision for your living room or your color guard show or an outfit. Then you look at different combinations of stuff and decide if you like the way they work together or not. “Is the painting over the couch too small?” (SCALE). “Does the color of the flags stand out enough against the band uniforms?” (CONTRAST). “Dark colors are slimming.” (VALUE).  As you start looking at all the possible combinations it can be overwhelming. Knowing the simple concept at the center of it all can help you make good choices.

So the objective of the EA judge is to interpret what your idea is, value the merit of that idea, and tell you how successful you were in realizing your idea on the floor or field. That’s composition or the WHAT. We’ll talk about the HOW another time.

So, now that you know all there is to know about design, you’re an expert (sort of). Everyone has some innate sense of design. Some are more sophisticated than others. The good news is that you can always learn more. Get a book, take a class, or just start paying attention to things you see. The key is in developing your observation skills. For this, you have to go past just liking something or not liking it, but understanding the reason why. You’ve got to look under the hood (so to speak) to see what makes a particular design work or not.

And this, my friends, is what Ensemble Analysis is all about.

Until next time, Happy Designing!

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Category: Adjudication, Design, Drill & Staging, Ensemble Analysis, General, Joe Paul: Ensemble Analysis, Performance, Professional Development

About the Author (Author Profile)

Joe Paul has had a long and varied engagement with the “marching arts” as a designer, instructor, director and judge. He was both a performing member and instructor for Avatar Winter Guard from Southern California and The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps from Rosemont, IL. More recently he has taught a number of high school color guards, as well as Allusion Winter Guard from Thousand Oaks, CA. He has been a judge for the SCSBOA, WBA, WGASC, UWGA, WTCGA & CIPA. He is currently the drill writer for Valencia High School in Valencia, Ca, staging designer for the Chino High School Winter Guards and tour manager for The Cavaliers.

Joe holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from California State University, Northridge and lives and works in Los Angeles as a freelance graphic designer.

Comments (6)

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. EA Series: “Outside In” : colorguardeducator.com | January 9, 2012
  1. Great explanation, Joe! This really lays out a difficult caption in everyday, easy-to-understand terms. Well done.

  2. Joe Paul says:

    Thanks John!

  3. Tim says:

    I love you for this Joe. You helped me solidify some ideas in my head. 😉

  4. Keiley says:

    I am still rather confused by this caption as it pertains to winter guard. There have been major inconsistencies with my team’s scoring this season. For example, at one competition, we were ranked 5th out of 13 by one judge, and one week later, another judge ranked us in 18th place (dead last) competing against many of the same guards. Our design has not changed and we performed even better. Is there any insight you might could offer as to how this could happen?

    • Joe says:

      Judging inconsistencies can be frustrating. I don’t know your specific competitive situation so I’ll try to to address this in a broader sense.

      It’s always a challenge to place an “objective” valuation on a creative process. At all levels, our activity struggles with this issue (and always have). We’re talking about how individuals value the efforts of designers, instructors and performers. This is a hugely complex issue. We all interpret and respond to things differently. We prioritize and value aspects of what we see and hear differently.

      If you’re competing in a circuit with a “closed” pool of judges, the problem may be a lack of education. Many organizations have annual training/education programs for their judges to try to get everyone on the same page. (Some don’t.) These vary widely in effectiveness from one organization to the next, and it’s a daunting task.

      Some organizations rely on judges from outside their geographic location. They bring in judges from a variety of surrounding areas. This opens the door for a widely varying opinions since people come from different perspectives and philosophies and have varying levels of training.

      Some organizations are a hybrid and do both.

      I’ve been a judge for more than 20 years and have been through countless training programs and I still look at recaps and wonder how a certain judge arrived at a particular decision. At the end of the day, you can’t let it make you crazy. Talk to your circuit administrators and express your frustration. Ask them how they can improve judge’s education and consistency. Progress can be made, but you need to know it will never be a perfect system.

      What you can do is take whatever feedback you do get and see what usable information there is. In your teaching focus on your students growth and the successful mastery of the program. (This article may offer some useful insights: http://colorguardeducator.com/blog/who-are-you-writing-for/)

      I hope this is useful to you. Please feel free to write again if I can be of any further help.

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