Will Brass Band Adjudication ever change? 1

Should the adjudication of band contests be changed? I think it worth observing that the core rules of band contests have remained broadly the same for many years – some of the conventions seem to have roots in the 1800s, and in the post-war period the trend of participation in contests, particularly by younger players has gone down and down – year on year.

No serious banding person wants to see this – it’s widely acknowledged that contests have contributed significantly to the driving of standards upwards in banding, but I think one thing is certain, if nothing about contests changes then they will continue to decline – so something has to be tried, and nearly everything in my suggestions below has been tried in other forms of musical contests or in other banding countries and shown to work, so I think the risks in trying these out are much less than the risks of doing nothing.

There are some rule changes, which I think if allowed, would improve the contest experience for bands and perhaps stabilise or even improve contest attendance:

1. Pre-draws so bands know when they will play. This makes so many things easier for bands – organising rehearsals on the day, getting player availability sorted around work and family commitments (now players have to allocate a whole day for a 15minute play), and cheaper transport as busses could be hired for shorter times. Younger people in particular seem to resent giving up what amounts to a whole day for 15 minutes on stage. This system is adopted in other forms of musical contests across the UK (eg Wind Bands) and in other countries for Brass Bands and works well – they seem to have growing contest entries outside the UK and in non-brass band contests. The suggestion that traders would boycott events if this were adopted is not likely to be the case in my view – I’ve just been to the a wind-band festival in Glasgow which was full of the same band traders we see at Brass Band contests.

2. a. Open Adjudication. If pre-draws are adopted there is no logical reason to have closed adjudication. Open adjudication works elsewhere in major musical competitions – Singer of the World, Leeds Piano Competition, BBC Young Musician (I could go on). If we trust the adjudicator enough to hire them then they can be in the open – if we don’t trust them don’t hire them in the first place. I don’t see any valid objection from the band adjudication community – I’ve seen many of the same band adjudicators judging in the open in non-brass band contests, or in BB contests in other (more advanced?) countries.

2. b. Multiple Adjudicators. I sense much pressure from players I know to see more than one adjudicator for major contests at least – particularly when much is at stake as in the Area Contests. If multiple adjudicators then they should adjudicate separately and their adjudications added together independently at the end of the contest to give the final result

2. c. Adjudication Criteria. Would help to introduce some consistency – useful in a national contest with local (area) heats. Range of Brass Band personalities have produced reasonable models and UK Wind Bands have a working system too. Adds credibility – so (good) adjudicators should welcome it.

2. d. Recorded Adjudication. Brass Bands abroad do this (eg US Nationals) and so do (UK) Wind Bands – adds credibility to the adjudication so good adjudicators will not find this problematic – with multiple adjudicators one can give verbal adjudication – the other give a written result sheet if needed.

2. e. Non-Brass Band Adjudicators. There are many very capable musicians from other spheres of music absolutely capable of making musical judgements on band performances – they could and would (in my view) re-focus assesement on musicality aspects of performance, rather than the trend among (some) of the current crop of Brass Band adjudicators to reduce adjudication to an error counting exercise which gives no weight to actual performance values.

2. f. Younger Adjudicators. There are many composers, arrangers, band directors, players, teachers and academics under 40, or even 50, in the UK perfectly capable of delivering a well judged assessment of a performance (for many teachers it is their daily job!). Most Brass Band adjudicators seem to be older than me (at 60) – for goodness sake lets get some younger blood in and give a respected retirement to the hard of hearing and over-tired cohorts in the ‘box’ of current day contests

[Is has been suggested that Brass Band adjudicators would not ‘tolerate’ such wholesale changes and without them the system would fall apart. This is foolish thinking, in my view. The only reason for adjudicators to object to these proven approaches is really fear of having ones weaknesses as an adjuducator exposed – those who are not willing to play ball with these suggestions (at least for a trial) need not be employed – the banding world can find other sources.]

3. Test Piece Selection. There have been some notable selections of totally inappropriate tests for various sections in recent years and it continues to happen at all levels – the selection process I conclude is flawed and needs changing. The effects of this has been to see increasing reductions in entries particularly inĀ  the lower sections (where many young players play) when bad choices are made – it’s impossible to justify spending up to 5 months rehearsing an educationally sterile piece which has no appeal in public performance, and which in some cases actually dis-incentivises young players in particular. I suggest a selection panel of conductors / MDs of bands in each section is elected/selected to choose the works rather than what seems to be a self selecting (and again quite old) group – ensuring that people with some current experience of the section’s demands and limitations are involved.

Any thoughts?

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One thought on “Will Brass Band Adjudication ever change?

  • Neil Jopson

    Music is not a sport, it is an art form. In sports, the competition is in real time, i.e. the competitors or teams compete at the same time and you can compare one against the other. I only ever attended one brass band competition. By the time the third band had played the test piece I had forgotten what the previous two sounded like, and, like a News of the World reporter, made my excuses and left.
    In my youth I played the clarinet and my teacher used to enter me for music festivals, where I would play a piece of my, or in reality, her choice. You could remember what a player sounded like by recalling the piece they played, and which one was the best performance.
    To have bands playing the same piece over and over again, to my mind is numbingly pointless, although when I expressed this view to a horn player in a band he got the hump and we have not been in contact since.
    Imagine an X Factor where the contestants all sang the same song.
    By all means have brass band competitions, but let them be on overall presentation and performance and not just technical ability. I might then start going to them.