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Right or wrong?
That thorny topic of trust

Brass band writer Christopher Thomas adds his thoughts on adjudication trust and integrity and how he believes we all have a part to play in its reform and modernisation.

If there is a topic of conversation in the banding world that remains pertinent in its intensity as we enter 2024, it is the ever-thorny issue of adjudication and more specifically, its need for reform and modernisation. 

It is a subject that continues to plague the broader development of the movement - a situation many believe will prevail until decisive judgements are made on, or at the very least, new ways forward are trialled. 

Food for thought

4BR Editor Iwan Fox gave considerable food for thought on the matter in his recent article 'Pause for Thought: Time to trust our judges'https://www.4barsrest.com/articles/2023/2041.asp )

Right or wrong (not everyone will fully agree with him of course) he may be, yet despite the urgency of his arguments and seemingly endless previous debates on the same subject, no changes of direction or new initiatives have emerged.

Perhaps we are happy with the status quo, yet it seems telling that we continue to endlessly revolve within a highly damaging, vicious circle of conspiratorial doubt, suspicion, and at its worst, contempt for those that sit in competitive judgement.  

Perhaps we are happy with the status quo, yet it seems telling that we continue to endlessly revolve within a highly damaging, vicious circle of conspiratorial doubt, suspicion, and at its worst, contempt for those that sit in competitive judgement.  

For myself, the basic issues involved can effectively be broken into three areas; trust and integrity, the role of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators (AoBBA) in policing and if necessary, enforcing rules amongst its own members, and finally, the question of how we consider reform of adjudication in both its format (open or closed) and structure.  

Linked

The first two issues are inextricably linked. 

Let me say that on a personal level, I do not believe that any adjudicator with whom I am acquainted has ever ‘rigged’ or ‘fixed' a contest result. 

The fundamental wrong here is that until the recent change in policy from AoBBA, conspiracy theories were able to flourish freely as the responsibility concerning conflicts of interest were wrongly left to contest organisers and the adjudicators themselves to resolve. 

The fundamental wrong here is that until the recent change in policy from AoBBA, conspiracy theories were able to flourish freely as the responsibility concerning conflicts of interest were wrongly left to contest organisers and the adjudicators themselves to resolve. 

It was an outdated unresponsive policy that effectively (if perhaps inadvertently until fully recognised) absolved AoBBA of responsibility over its own members in terms of disclosure. 

Welcome response

The new directive of personal disclosure was therefore welcome, if long overdue. 

However, if it had been initiated some time ago though it would have ensured that recent events following the London National Championships Final were quashed before they were able to throw out their damaging, conspiratorial shoots in the first place. 

Common sense

Of course, no system is perfect, and those that are successful are also moderated in conjunction with a liberal dose of common sense. 

For instance, professional bodies such as solicitors and estate agents (the latter having been my own profession for over thirty years), have had safeguards in place in this respect for many years. 

Personal interest in a property sale must be disclosed from the start. If an agent is selling a house for a sibling or other close relative, a clear statement must be made in writing to that effect to any interested parties. 

Personal interest in a property sale must be disclosed from the start. If an agent is selling a house for a sibling or other close relative, a clear statement must be made in writing to that effect to any interested parties. 

This does have its boundaries, and there is an unwritten element that limits this disclosure to relatives rather than for instance a mate that you happened to have a beer with a few months ago. 

The line must of course be drawn somewhere, and it is then down to the governing body to invigilate sensibly and if necessary, to enforce diligently and fairly if for instance a party to the sale feels that something is fundamentally wrong. 

Same applies

Surely the same applies with brass band contesting - and a proactive, responsive AoBBA is a welcome key to that. 

It would be foolish to expect an adjudicator to have to disclose that he or she played in the same band as several players that they might count amongst their friends, but outlawing judgment of close relatives is a start, even if it is not the final word.

The questioning of trust and integrity is not something that will disappear overnight or is unique to brass bands of course. Whilst Iwan Fox used the analogy of football, it can equally be applied to politics and a whole raft of other situations.

The distinctions between fact and fiction, reality and unreality are increasingly blurred by the manipulation of social media and the need for echo chamber responses. As a result ‘disinformation’ is everywhere. 

Never has there been a time when trust and integrity must be earned to the degree that they must be in our 21st century society – the commitment to the pursuit of which is essential. 

Open or closed?

As to the question of open or closed adjudication, and the sources from which we draw our judging talent, Iwan Fox made the case that we cannot limit ourselves only to judges that have been brought up within brass bands. 

Indeed, we mustn’t. Greater diversity is essential, but never at the expense of knowledge and experience. It is something though we should never shy away from being brave enough to address.

Greater diversity is essential, but never at the expense of knowledge and experience. It is something though we should never shy away from being brave enough to address.

In terms of closed or open adjudication, the purpose of this commentary is not to cast a vote in favour of one or the other, but rather to state that there must be an unshakeable desire and trust in our judges to pioneer new adjudication methods - whether that be open, closed or combinations and variations of both.  

What matters most

What matters most is the willingness to accept the need to explore progressive change, allied to the courage and foresight that it is to be hoped will see our foremost contest organisers take the right decision in pioneering (or at least looking closely at) new ways forward.     

That said, none of the foregoing theories on their own provide a definitive solution to the issues that we must face up too. 

But as Iwan Fox argued, if banding is to survive and be taken seriously by the wider musical world, then the least we should do is to robustly explore different opinions and possible ways forward before it is too late.   

Christopher Thomas


Christopher Thomas played bass trombone with William Davis Construction and Desford Colliery Bands before becoming interested in extending his writing about music. 

Although he still occasionally plays, he has been the chief contributor and writer for Brass Band World magazine for several years as well as writing and presenting in a freelance capacity from major brass band events. 

He has also written extensively for the Musicweb International classical music website and is a proactive trustee of the Leamington classical music society which promotes annual concerts and events in the town. 

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