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Musical Stares
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 06/01/2015

Eyes open The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

As kids, almost every one of us had staring contests. For the very few who have never done this, it is easily explained. A staring contest happens when two parties stare directly into each other's eyes. This is basically a battle of the wills. Sometimes, both potential starers agree to such a contest in advance. Other times, each party seems to catch the eye of the other simultaneously. Whatever the origin, the first person to look away loses.

In Michigan, one of the verb infinitives used as current slang is "to marquette." It means to stare unblinkingly at another person for the purpose of intimidation. Allow me to use it in a sentence: "Bouchard, are you marquetting me? Quit trying to stare me down!" Bouchard, the subject, seems to stare directly at another person who does not wish for a staring contest. Incidentally, marquetting is derived from Marquette Branch Prison, one of Michigan's oldest correctional institutions.

In the corrections profession, there is a lot of "marquetting" going on. This exercise is designed to test participants for when this happens. It is not designed to turn staff into non-communicative, intimidation machines. One could call this a physical training, of sorts. And this is an excellent segue into any communications module.

This exercise requires a CD or tape player and some music. Participants are placed in two lines facing each other. They partner up with the person directly across from them. The instructor starts by telling participants that they must stare directly at the person across from them while the music is playing. If anyone smiles, laughs, makes a noise, or looks away, they are out. No party may touch the other. (No Touchie!)

The facilitator will keep a few students out of the lines and use them as observers. They keep those in the lines honest. They may dismiss those who laugh, smile, look away or make noises. The facilitator will decide if adversaries may make faces at one another as a demoralization tactic.

The instructor plays some music for a trial time of 30 seconds. When the music is shut off, the instructor says, "Break eye contact!" The lines will get smaller and smaller until there are just two starers left. The last person standing, the king or queen of marquetting, may select a prize from the "Dubious Box of Awards."

The choice of music is up to the instructor. Some of this could be silly music, child's music or zany sound effects. These can be incorporated into the lesson to break the serious mood of the starers and to test concentration.

After the exercise, it is crucial to tie the communication aspect into the physical part of the icebreaker. The facilitator can ask the participants the following questions:
  1. What sort of offenders are prone to stare?
  2. Is there more than one reason that an offender will stare?
  3. Will staff sometimes engage in this staring contest?
  4. Is it important for starers to have audiences when they do this?
  5. Can escalation occur from a staring contest?
  6. Is this ever used as a diversion?
  7. What are the rules regarding this sort of behavior in your institution?
Of course, as professionals, we know that verbal communication is much better than intimidating stares. Yet, it does happen between offenders, between staff, and between staff and offenders. Every now and again, it is prudent to test these skills and to review the best ways to communicate well.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


  1. StephanieCasey on 05/03/2020:

    Joe Bouchard, thanks a lot for sharing this article about musical promise here. If you think that your music is not coming out good, then you should buy beats, because the music on these beats is amazing, and it will have a positive effect on your life.

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