Independent Music Competitions

Mike Lawson • Choral • June 9, 2018

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The impetus for this article came from continually discovering that many of the most accomplished and recognized school music programs were actively participating in various independent music competitions.

What is an independent music competition?

When my high school band directors, Al Wright and Otto Kraushaar, took the Miami Senior High band to competition it was the district and state events operated and sanctioned by the Florida Bandmasters Association. There were no other competitions around in which we could participate. Most states have operated in a similar fashion with either bandmasters or music educators associations sponsoring all music education competitions.

While many of these “official” competitions are still in operation, they have been joined by a variety of independent music competitions.

Many of these independent competitions are organized and operated by commercial businesses that are also tour companies, theme parks, or other non-educational entities. Still, others have been created by high school music education departments to either supplement existing official competitions or to provide competitions where none exist.

A number of different competitions with different participation and operational approaches will be explored. Previous SBO feature articles have exposed some of these competitions as integral to a school’s educational music program’s repertoire of both evaluation and reward options.

The Florida Marching Band Championships (FMBC) came into existence in 1997 with an emphasis on consistency of adjudication. Jon Kersten, who passed away in 2010, developed and refined an adjudication system with all appropriate forms that has been used over the twenty-year life of this competition. This methodology approaches evaluation from both the musical and the visual-presentation perspectives. In practice the judging teams and clerks at FMBC make significant use of cell phone and wi-fi communications during a subject band’s performance evaluation. FMBC has a very focused and clearly stated goal, “to promote the entertaining and educational activity of high school marching bands.” This goal, published on the FMBC website,, as part of the FMBC philosophy, is then supported by additional comments and details.

How does all that actually come together in practice. The 2017 championships held at the Tropicana Bowl in St. Petersburg, Florida last November recognized the overall winners well after midnight that night. Thirty-two high school bands along with their on-field support teams and in-the-stands community cheering sections were still exuberant after that long day. The day closed with all finalist bands on the field for the announcement of the top awards.

Benicia, California-based World Projects has blended the functions of travel and tour management, festival, and special event management with a passion for music education and performance.

Last month’s issue of SBO featured the New York Wind Band Festival at Carnegie Hall. That festival is one of nine annual music festivals held in world class venues by World Projects.

Among these are the Australian International Music Festival in the Sydney Opera House, the Washington, D.C. International Music Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Sounds of Summer Festival at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Pacific Basin Music Festival at the Hawaii Theatre, the

Chicago International Music Festival at the Chicago Symphony Center, and four festivals at Carnegie Hall. They have also coordinated music festivals at a number of olympics. Information about all World Projects functions and services is available at

Music in the Parks is a single day band, orchestra, and choral event that is a combination competition and reward experience that takes place each year at one of the major theme parks across the country. These events emphasize year-end timing to provide a year-end assessment by an outside panel and reinforces the music skills that have been presented by the participating band’s faculty.

In addition, the musical organization’s festival performance in a national event increases the visibility of that community and their school’s music program. Year-end events also couple reward for participants, motivation and retention for the next year and also aids in the music program’s recruitment for the following year. The school faculty and the organization can opt for performance-only participation with no competition and adjudication. Music in the Parks website is

The Dougherty County Youth Orchestra in Albany, Georgia, has participated in the Music in the Parks events as part of their annual schedule each year. The group is a small string ensemble directed by an experienced concert violinist. With once-a-week rehearsals and only two formal concerts, the Music in the Parks festivals have provided an annual performance and reward trip. Their events have included Dollywood in Tennessee, Carowinds in North Carolina, Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida and Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Virginia this year where they were the top ranked orchestra! The orchestra’s website is

There are states that do not have sanctioned, or “official” music competitions. Among these is Alabama, which does have an Alabama Bandmasters Association, which operates as a division of the Alabama Music Educators Association. Neither the Alabama Bandmasters or Music Educators Associations sponsor any direct band competitions, but rather an Alabama All Star Band.

Curiously, the Alabama Orchestra Association, also a division of the Alabama Music Educators, does conduct an annual music performance assessment of individual school organizations. A future SBO feature may explore the different approaches and organizational structures of various state music education groups. The website for the Alabama Music Educators Association is with their various division’s websites available through that.

In part to fill that gap, the Hoover High School Band in Hoover, Alabama offers the Hoover Invitational Marching Festival each October in the municipal stadium. Hoover, a Birmingham suburban community, demonstrates its support of their high school music program by this participation in the festival. Bands are classified by number of playing band members excluding percussion. A band may choose to compete at a higher classification level. Five judges employ olympic scoring style, highest and lowest scores dropped, and the three remaining scores are averaged. Ratings and scores are given for the band, percussion, drum majors and auxiliary units. Separate best in class trophies are awarded for the highest point achievement by a band, drum major(s), color guard, majorette, and dance line. In addition, a trophy is awarded to the top three bands in each of the four size classifications. The evaluation period is a fifteen minute on-the-field performance time. The Hoover Invitational website is

A somewhat similar competition is also held in the fall by the Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia. Their Battle on the Border takes its name from proximity to the Florida-Georgia state line. This competition uses a team of ten judges, including dedicated drum major, percussion, color guard and majorette/dance line judges. Bands and judges are primarily drawn from central, northern and panhandle Florida, southern Alabama, and south Georgia.

The day begins with a preliminary competition which is virtually identical to the Hoover Invitational, but then the top eight bands (band score only) will perform in the finals.

The day ends with a finals award ceremony which recognizes the top eight and additionally, the Best Music, Best Marching, and Best General Effect performances. This structure limits the number of bands to 18. The 14th Annual Battle on the Border is October 20, 2018. Their website is

A significant aspect of many of the independent competitions is support to the overall music education community through scholarships and other support. The Florida Marching Band Championships awarded 15 college scholarships in 2017. These included five each from the Jon C. Kersten (FMBC co-founder in 1997 along with executive director Cathy Kersten) Scholarship, the John Rusnak Scholarship, and the Music ‘in Motion Auxiliary Scholarship. These were awarded to college-bound graduating seniors with academic achievement, financial need, school band or auxiliary involvement who are pursuing music and/or performance education.

World Projects has incorporated their Gives Back Initiative. This initiative includes direct donations and sponsorships, facilitates in-kind and other support from other vendors of products and services, and travel scholarships to young musicians in financial need. They have also sponsored music educators and artists to major clinics and conferences. Among their past donations are some of the basic tools of music education, such as music stands!

Regardless of whether a competition is official and sanctioned or independent of any state bandmasters or music educators, the overriding fact is the positive impact that all competitions bring to music education. Both formats, official or independent, contribute by stressing honest adjudication performed by recognized music education professionals. In many cases these adjudicators may not have been available to more localized competitions. Many of the independent competitions also break geographic boundaries exposing the participating students and faculty alike to more diverse performance techniques and practices.

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