I have contributed to a new article released in the October edition of Brassband World magazine, released on 16th October, as part of the continuing debate on brass band adjuducation and following on from the criteria judgement experiment that was trialled by myself in conjunction with the popular brass website, www.4barsrest.com at the British Open contest in September. The full report on this is still to come, soon.
Please read this article and if you have strong feelings, please make your voice heard. Too many people have opinions but dont feel it's for them to add to the debate.
‘Open‘ Judging Experiment awaits Report ( BBW Edition issue 198 October 2010)
By BBW editor Philip Harper
Regular readers of Brass Band World will know of our support for an adjudication system which provides transparent and positive feedback to bands and audiences in a way which the current system only occasionally offers. Last year when I suggested through the pages of your magazine a criteria-based system, similar to that proposed by Alan Morrison a few years previously, our postbag was bulging, so it seems that you too have strong views on this long-standing debate.
At September's British Open contest and in collaboration with 4barsrest.com, Steven Mead, perhaps the most vocal of those calling for urgent change, carried out an experiment using his own criteria-based system and, as one of the ‘guinea-pig' conductors, I found the exercise highly successful - perhaps because I very much agreed with the breakdown of the individual marks. It provided focused feedback and gave a detailed appraisal of where, in that particular listener's ears, I should look to improve my band next time.
Steven Mead himself will soon publish a full report on the perceived success and failings of his experiment but, in the meantime, I caught up with him en route from Japan to Austria (via Nuneaton!) and asked him for his opinion on some of the feedback he has already received about the system.
By Steven Mead
There have been some interesting takes on the potential usage of criteria judging in the last few weeks since the ‘Open' contest and many of these points will be discussed and analysed in my full report of the experiment. But perhaps I need to reiterate again what I see to be the benefits of this kind of system.
1. A unified, transparent system of judging does not in any way limit the judge to resort to just box ticking. The best judges will find the system easy, because they can reflect precisely what they hear and incorporate their musical appreciation, not just of the technical elements like a mathematical formula. Those who think the systems handicaps a judge in this way are misguided. Perhaps they didn't read the assessment criteria or take long enough to digest the implications before penning their views.
2. For the first time bands will get a clear appraisal of what was thought of the performance, from top Championship section bands to the most earnest and well meaning Fourth Section performance. Words can be added too, of course, but this system allows for listening without simultaneously attempting to pen aesthetically pleasing comments that will go down well with the academics but could leave the bands and conductors none the wiser! I think critics of the system should remember that tens of thousands of amateur musicians give of their time and energy freely and willingly. Contest organisers and judging associations should seek to give positive feedback to each and every band, whether first or last.
3. Audiences need judges to behave in a transparent way. We need to know and see what they thought. More often than not we simply don't know how they reached their decisions. The ‘lottery' element of judging is clearly alive and well, where a beautiful section of one movement or section of a piece can gain a band the top prize, despite glaring errors elsewhere, clearly deemed forgettable in the light of the ‘lovely' moment or an ear-catching soloist. The current system is a non system. It is not transparent and is unfair. A favourite phrase I hear repeated after contest results ad nauseum is ‘sour grapes'. This is the easiest retort and is levelled quickly with good aim. But the point really is that the ability of judges to pick, at will, elements they may find appealing, or to decide that a band needs to be punished for some particular misdemeanour creates an almost random style of judging which is at best bewildering and, at other times, quite shocking.
Yes, we desperately need some kind of nationwide system to be introduced. I smile at comments made recently by Roy Terry in the British Bandsman who wonders how such a grid system could compare performances of a Mahler symphony by Simon Rattle and Valery Gergiev. For a start such performances by sublime professional musicians are not produced in a competitive environment although that would be fun (you organise it Roy!) Furthermore, they tend to be performances not marred by notational errors, frequent split notes, dodgy percussion ensemble, an over loud 2nd horn, a bass trombone intent on drowning his orchestra, and poor tuning on exposed chords. Yes, they are mercifully above all this. I would urge commentators such as Roy to return to the real world of brass bands and amateur musicians who give of their time and talents in return for fair reward and our own brand of musical justice.
As ever, please let us have your comments on this debate by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org