DCI's voting membership recently passed new policies on safety. One of them includes having the 3 on field judges (visual, brass, and percussion) held to the front sideline and 2 yards in field. While myself and many others believe this will have the largest impact on the battery, it will still affect brass and individual visual scores as well.
When I first heard about this, it left me scratching my head. I totally understand keeping performers safe and avoiding unnecessary injuries. Especially in an activity that's so physically demanding. However, it's very difficult to try and gather stats on how many instances there has actually been of a performer sustaining a significant injury because of colliding into a judge. It definitely happens but the frequency is tough to nail down. DCI presumably hasn't tracked that either considering they'd likely publish it to support their new position. If there was a large volume of data that showed on field judges were specifically responsible for a certain amount of say performer hospital visits, I would be more on board with the change. Has there ever been a case of a performer's marching career being ended because of a physical run in with an adjudicator?
Restricting a percussion judge to the front sideline is probably good news for front ensembles. I've long thought that they usually don't get the credit they should. A great judge moves back and forth between them and the battery as evenly as possible. But being up close and personal with the drumline allows you to see firsthand the nuance and musicality of the passages they pull off. You can FEEL the cleanliness of a triplet roll at mezzo piano. They NOTICE the skill of keeping hands consistent while completely changing lower body direction at fast tempi, as will a visual judge. The brass judge can hear individual intonation and how that contributes to the overall power of the section. Put those judges on the front sideline and you potentially lose all of that or at least hinder it greatly. How is a judge on field level supposed to determine how clean a line is playing from 30 yards away with winds and guard mixed in between them?
In an interview with Kevin Shah about the change, he mentions groups writing drill differently to accommodate this. I'm sure many corps will have contrasting ways to approach it, but what would stop them from doing the opposite? If you know your battery might be in a rebuilding year or perhaps not the cleanest, just keep them backfield away from the judge. Shelter them from the professional criticism. Is that something they'll take into consideration when it comes to scoring? I'd much rather an adjudicator get a solid read on all the groups and reward the best performances instead of penalizing some for staying too far away to get a clear enough read. That may not happen, but the incentive is there in a way it wasn't previously.
Another part that confuses me is that these performers, most of which are high school and college aged, spend entire summers rehearsing. They spend 12+ hours a day, every day, often in extreme heat, being pushed and working ridiculously hard while also sleeping on gym floors and buses as they travel the country. This isn't a great source since it's a forum and over 6 years old, but it's the closest thing I could find attempting to research injuries in DCI.
Unless someone can reach out and show me harder, recent evidence of judges causing more injuries to performers than their regular day to day; how can anyone make the argument that putting a judge on the field for 15 minutes every other night during a show run is a much higher risk and more dangerous for these corps and their performers? I'm not saying they need to change their rehearsal structure. I'm very much on the side of them continuing to work as hard as they do considering the incredible shows they put on and as a fan for nearly 15 years, I love being amazed at what they accomplish. Plus, being a percussion instructor, I think it's GREAT for young students to have that insane work ethic instilled since it'll suit them better later on in life. But DCI isn't suggesting changes to rehearsals and performers often times push through injuries which don't always heal correctly. I know from marching WGI, my knees will most likely be a problem later on in my life. They cramp and are sore easily and I can hear them move when I stand up from a squatting position. That's just from weekend rehearsals, not every day.
Also add in the fact you're now preventing moments like the 2 videos below from happening altogether. I've referred back to that clip of Jeff Prosperie's tape from Cadets in 2013 consistently with friends and students of mine. Imagine making a highly respected rock star of the marching percussion community absolutely lose his mind like this! Do we honestly think the energy he has here would be the same if he was on the front sideline? He would have had the same experience? The clip from Crown is Allan Kristensen not letting a simple equipment slip ruin an age out performer's finals run. Judges frequently pick up sticks and other equipment, in this case a drum, to help out the performers because of the high amount of respect they have for the art. Sadly, this won't happen any longer either.
Obviously I'm not a voting member, I didn't even march DCI, and the higher ups can do as they wish. But as a fan and supporter, I hope they reconsider or realize how bringing on this new limitation will detract from accurately scoring the quality of an entire ensemble.
What's more beneficial for young, developing musicians? Avoiding a very low risk of injury or having professional commentators up close and personal dissecting, critiquing, and crediting their tireless body of work?