Guidance on Adjudicating for Bands

As I often hear bandspeople complaining about the lack of transparency in adjudication and whatjudges are looking for, quite simply they just need to read the PAC (performance assessment criteria) document that can be found at the Website for the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators, in the section called "articles and resources"

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Many judges could well disagree with what I am about to say as judging by its very nature is a personal thing. I have found huge differences between brass band players and those that play in an orchestra and this more so outside of the UK. I have also been lucky in that most judging where there has been two or three people in the box has led to very similar if not identical results, but there have been exceptions to this experience and rather bad ones at that.

 What approach should take place?

 Rob Wiffin puts it like this: He follows the “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” approach in that basics come first then intermediate issues then interpretation and delivery and high-level considerations. This straightforward approach should help most adjudicators.

 This leads to more questions.

 What are the basics, generally for me at least they would be; playing together, being balanced, and most importantly making a good sound. You can play all the right notes, but if it does not sound good then what is the point! Balance and ensemble issues often separate out bands but this for me is the essence of band playing ... “to play as one” band means group, gang, crew, it is not about individual efforts except of course when there are solos and cadenzas to judge.

Often adjudicators are rather than looking at what is good, look for what is not good and take points off for split notes rather than give bands credit for what is good. Personally I do not count split notes but if someone is having a bad day and the performance is nervy then this is a factor.

 Often contests outside of the UK will give adjudicators a brief in terms of an accepted points range and what the contest organizers expect from the adjudicators and what they should be listening for. Judges do not necessarily like this, but it does give an element of consistency year on year.

In Sion at the annual solo contest in Switzerland, judges meet on the Friday night and get a training session listening to performances from the previous years and award points and then discuss so that everyone the next day, “sings from the same hymn sheet”. They have 100s of entrants, so this is a necessary approach.

 What do I look for as a band adjudicator?

A band should

Firstly: Play together, with the same articulation and be balanced (to me this means the relevant tunes come out of the various textures. If a band clearly cannot as a group play the piece in front of them then they are not going to score very highly. Also, if they can play the pieces in front of them but not convincingly then again they are not going to score very highly.

Secondly: tuning and intonation issues should be minimal, and the band should have a consistent sound and approach, and should show dynamic, articulation differences and show musical intention regarding phrasing and musical shape.

Thirdly: I want to go on a journey in a performance, I want to be entertained and moved and for a band to stir emotions and for there to be an element of interpretation and tension present. I do not want to be bored!

How much effort will this take?

 The performance ability of many youth bands from hours and hours of graft, may not be achievable with individuals coming together for a short amount of time before a competition but we all know what good playing sounds like and how it is achieved and that it takes regular interaction as a group of players.

 What should judges be thinking about?

 It is important that judges are constructive and tell bands and players what is good, as well as what they need to improve on, and language is very important in achieving this. Remarks need to be straightforward and clear rather than flowery and open to interpretation. Effort should be rewarded but at the end of the day a great leveller is the standard of playing whatever music is being played and however they interpret it.

 What should bands think about when approaching a competition?

 Conductors and players taking the approach of trying to please an adjudicator and play pieces they like or in a way they think they will like can very much back-fire. I suggest bands play to their strengths, play what they enjoy and aim to impress and entertain without becoming tacky. There will be a fine balance, but in the end, a considered thoughtful and sincere approach will always in my opinion do well.