Up Close and Personal with a NJNJ Judge — Michaelene Kumer

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With the new season comes a new face to NJNJ, although she is certainly not new to the Pittsburgh and Boston areas. Michaelene Kumer grew up in the marching activity. She spent 20 years performing with various units in the Pittsburgh area – perfecting her skills in baton twirling, flag, saber, rifle and dance – before moving on to the prestigious Point Park University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in dance. This was followed by a multi- year stint performing professionally at Busch Gardens Tampa, where in addition to being a lead dancer/vocalist, she served as dance captain. She then returned to Pittsburgh, where she spent the next several years teaching, designing, and choreographing for several local units, in addition to judging. In April 2014, Michaelene relocated to Boston, where she continues to judge. She is a member of MJA and is a recently appointed member of their executive board.

Some people still might like to find out more as to what makes her “tick” and keep going. Here’s some additional insight:

Who was responsible for your becoming involved in the activity?

That would be my mother. Since the early 60’s, she has been involved as a performer/instructor/director of the Pittsburgh based Golden Triangle Performance Ensemble. This organization began as a drum and baton corps, and over the years morphed into its current form. Though performing primarily as a winter guard, they also perform during the summer months at local parades and other venues. My mom also spent several years judging on the national level. In addition to being under her tutelage at the Golden Triangles, I was also a member of the East Allegheny HS Visual Ensemble, where she has served as the director since the mid 70’s.

I have been involved in the Golden Triangles since the age of five, and hold the record for being the longest performing member – over 17 years! After “graduating” from the program, I continued to be active as an instructor/designer/assistant director. Even now, I am still extremely engaged through phone calls and video sessions.

The Golden Triangles are an exhibition only winter guard. Can you explain why they choose to not compete?

The intent of the organization is to perform for the beauty of performing, being as artistic as we can be, without bringing the concept of competition into the equation. Though we are “classified” as Independent World and have performers up to the age of 30 who are comparable to performers in WGI’s “upper echelon,” we also have performers as young as the age of 12. In addition, do not turn away members who are unable to pay their monetary dues. If a performer wants to be there and they are willing to work hard, they are accepted. Though this is a wonderful aspect of our organization, it also limits us in terms of having the necessary funds to travel extensively and commit to the props, fees and other significant expenses typically incurred by a guard of this level on the national front.

Finally, in addition to utilizing the standard guard equipment, baton twirling remains a very important part of our repertoire. For that reason, it can be a challenge to fulfill the WGI “standard equipment time” requirements.

mk2You are now judging extensively during both the Fall and Winter seasons. How do you feel about spending the bulk of your weekends during these timeframes away from home?

It can be a challenge. I am typically on a plane following work on Friday evening. Barring the advent of bad weather, I am always on the earliest Sunday morning flight home. Though this typically gets me home by late morning, it does not diminish the exhaustion felt from the previous 36 hours. The events are often long in duration (I’ve judged as many as 50 bands in the course of a day) and include a post-show critique. That being said, if you love judging as I do, you keep coming back. That is where I am right now.

In the winter, you judge IA. To which aspect of those captions do you give special focus?

The IA captions are very objective: talking about vocabulary and excellence. You refer to musicality in terms of “dynamic range.” This can be a challenge for me, as having previously been a musician (I played the flute for over 15 years.) it’s difficult at times to separate the connection of the music and the emotional impact it brings.

That being said, I love the “exactness” of the IA captions. Having been an extremely technique based performer, in addition to understanding the importance of having a significant vocabulary, I believe that I am well skilled in evaluating and rewarding the parameters of the IA captions.