2004 British Open - A contest within a contest proves not to be a contest at all


John James looks at the bare stats from the 2004 British Open and tries to explain how and why it all worked out as it did.


Audio Interview with the adjudicators [WAV 1.71Mb]

2004 British Open programme coverThe 2004 British Open was on the face of it a single contest - just has it has been for the past 152 years, and just (as many would now state) how it should be for the next 152 years as well. However, that of course wasn't quite true was it? The 2004 British Open was in fact three contests mixed up and presented as single one.

The decision to make it a "choice of three" was an idea born not of choice but lack of it. It is well reported that other pieces were in fact earmarked to be used, but when for a variety of reasons they couldn't, this last minute idea came to fruition. At first it was viewed as an exciting, rather brave decision, but come the results at the end of the contest it was perhaps seen as an experiment that didn't work and should not be repeated.   

And the reason for this?

If you want to find out the answer go down the pub. There you will find people arguing about life in general and certain topics in particular. The National Health Service, Asylum Seekers and bringing back the rope are three that do the rounds, and reasoned debate invariably gives way to bigotry in pubs when the drink flows. However there is usually one bloke who will state that the answer to all the problems mentioned is simple: Get rid of managers and give the money direct to Doctors, kick out all those not born in Britain and hang anyone who is found guilty of murder. Make it as simple as that and all your problems are solved - guaranteed.

It is of course complete and utter nonsense, but at the British Open at Symphony Hall, it seemed that the philosophy of solving an almost intractable problem with the most simple of solutions was being used in the adjudicators box.  And Michael Ball became that bloke in the pub who told us just that.

Bringing the simplest of adjudication processes to such a complex contesting problem didn't work, as it was clear that you couldn't just mark one band off against another from band number 1 to band number 19 without any other recourse to debate of the merits of the individual pieces, their strengths and weaknesses and the way each band performed them, as he said they did. Judging one band against another in the order that they played after each other was a recipe for misjudgement, and misjudgement is what we got. The interviews given to 4BR by the judges after the results were announced make interesting listening for sure.

Having two composers, Michael Ball and Philip Sparke in the box perhaps didn't help either, for they surely brought a different approach to the adjudicating process than did the third, David Read, our most experienced and respected judge. With such a controversial experiment taking place at our most important contest, then surely our most experienced adjudicators were needed in the box to try and ensure the most equitable result was reached?

The end result was the booing and jeering and the uncomfortable feeling that this was a watershed moment for the Open. When the audience lose faith in the process of picking the winner, then the contest itself becomes in danger of losing its relevance, and on Saturday the Open was very much in danger of losing a lot of its proudly held integrity.  

Looking more closely at the results you can see why.  Fodens won the overall contest and the "Contest Music" contest. Desford would have been the equivalent of being 6 points behind them on the basis of one point for one place being used, but were Yorkshire Building Society really the equivalent of being 13 points worse?

Were Buy As You View really only the equivalent of being 1 point better than Scottish Co-op and 17 points better than Tredegar on "St. Magnus"?  And were Kirkintilloch really 1 point better than Sellers and 2 points better than Black Dyke on "Montage"?

If the 2004 Open was in fact three separate contests then the argument to say that they were holds water. That it wasn't, and bearing in mind what Michael Ball stated off the stage to the audience was the simple criteria used to reach their decision, then no it doesn't - in fact it holds water no more successfully than a colander on the Titanic.

The reason why the adjudication process didn't work at the Open this year was because the adjudicators decided to use a very simplistic process to try and conquer a very complex problem, and just as the bloke in the pub gets it wrong every time he tries to do it, so did they.  It may infuriate people that a degree of bureaucracy is needed to make things work, but usually a degree of bureaucracy isn't a bad thing and the 2004 Open was a contest that needed of a bit of adjudication management intervention. 

Contest Music

1. Fodens Richardson (1) G.Cutt
2. Desford Colliery (7) P.Parkes
3. Grimethorpe Colliery (UK) Coal (9) F.Renton
4. Brighouse & Rastrick (11) J.Gourlay
5. Fairey FP Music (12) A.Withington
6. Whitburn (13) A.Duncan
7. Yorkshire Building Society (14)  D.King
8. Rothwell Temperance (15) D.Roberts
9. Yorkshire Imps Urquhart Travel (17) J.Hinckley
10. Carlton Main Frickley (18) B.Grant

St. Magnus

1. Buy As You View (2) R.Childs
2. Scottish Co-op (3) I.McElligott
3. Reg Vardy (Ever Ready) (8) R.Farr
4. Tredegar (19) R.Gray


1. Kirkintilloch (4) S.Bastable
2. Sellers International (5) P.McCann
3. Black Dyke (6) N.Childs
4. Dalewool Auckland Brass (10)   N.Weeks
5. Cwmaman Institute (16) J.Hudson


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