Soapbox opinions - Number 2: Dave Payn


Dave Payn, Principal Cornet of the Fulham Brass Band and conductor of the Merton Concert Band gets on his soapbox and gives his fourpenneth worth on adjudication at lower section contests.

David PaynAdjudication at lower section contests.

I can't work out whether it's a case of me putting on my rose tinted spectacles or not but I feel I have noticed a definite lowering in standards of adjudication at lower section level in recent years. I should add, at this point, that I'm not necessarily saying the same about the abilities of the adjudicators themselves, but the actual adjudications.

When I first started contesting back in 1985, and as someone who was largely playing, but just starting out as a budding conductor, I was often impressed at the constructive nature of the adjudicators' notes at the various contests I participated in and have tried to take a lot of them on board over the years to further my banding experience, both in conducting and playing. Nowadays, the adjudicators' crits by and large, seem little more than a few jotted down notes about how that particular performance went; good, bad or plain ugly and they sometimes bear little relation to the bands' placings.  Rarely do I see the snippets of constructive advice that I used to see in the comments of old.

I do realise, particularly when it gets to the 4th section areas at London and Southern Counties for instance, which have, in recent years, consisted of some 35 bands,  that it's a bit of a nightmare for adjudicators trying to sort out which band should go where AND provide useful comments in their notes. So how about this for a suggestion:

All lower section adjudicators should learn the scores of the pieces they are adjudicating thoroughly and some time before the contest, issue a missive to all bands' conductors, outlining the sorts of things he or she will be looking out for and what would be considered ‘no-no's (after all, why not when ‘he or she' will ultimately be judging us?) 

No, I don't suggest they should issue a diet of hard and fast rules from bar one to the end, as conductors and musical directors should still be given leeway to add their own personal musical credo to the piece/s but if lower section bands are ambitious about wanting to improve, then whoever judges us should be allowed to give us the benefit of their own insight and past experience before we subject ourselves to their scrutiny. After all, how many bandsmen and women have gnashed their teeth in anger at some smart-arsed adjudicator who gets up at the end of the contest, and addresses the assembled throng imparting such gems as ‘I was looking for x interpretation or y tempos to be adhered to.' Or (as I have heard) ‘The band that won didn't necessarily play the best but sound as though they might do well in the finals' Etc. Like, er, thanks for telling us AFTER we've played!

Sure, that could be seen as giving us ‘constructive advice' for future contests but those particular instances sound like shutting the door after the horse has bolted! And the one down side to the aforementioned ‘constructive' crits which I was praising earlier, is that sometimes, you take those comments on board to the next contest, only for the next adjudicator to have a totally different agenda (which of course, you don't know about until it's too late….), so….. once the judge/s has/have been chosen, let's get some ideas about what THEY will be judging us on.

‘Ah yes, that's all very well but what about own choice contests?' you might be thinking…. Yes indeed, this plan wouldn't work for those, but if you enter an own choice contest you're in the lap of the Gods anyway. Most adjudicators have advised us over the years at own choice contests to ‘pick pieces that suit the band'. If we don't take that advice on board it's asking for trouble, I reckon.

Yes, I know there has been the occasional inconsistency where the odd adjudicator (should I rephrase that?)  has praised a band for stretching (or indeed, ‘overstretching') themselves, and rewarded them accordingly, but I do think that if a band (particularly a lower section band) generally enters own choice contests, playing ‘safe' isn't a bad idea.(I speak as someone who played in an own choice contest recently, having to suffer the sop part of Diadem of Gold which I simply wasn't up to…..)

I should add that I don't necessarily think that adjudicators' missives at set piece contests would work at top section level as most of the conductors there double up as adjudicators anyway, but certainly for say, 2nd section downwards, prior snippets of advice from he/she that judgeth us would be quite useful. But there again, maybe adjudicators' fees don't justify that level of commitment, who knows?  Maybe some of those who regularly get asked to judge lower section contests, particularly at national regional/final level, could offer their side of the story.

Once again I wish to stress that this is NOT a criticism of anybody's ability or right to adjudicate, (I do try to realise that it IS a thankless task!) merely to offer a suggestion to avoid lower section results occasionally being announced to a chorus of boos,( only to be swiftly followed by bandsmen and women retiring to the bar drowning in a chorus of booze!)

Dave Payn
Principal Cornet Fulham Brass Band and conductor of Merton Concert Band
Brass band tutor for the Workers' Music Association Summer School

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