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Association of Brass Band Adjudicators AGM
British Federation of Brass Bands Headquarters, Barnsley
Sunday 4th January

Malcolm Brownbill reports on Derek Broadbent's seminar about the role of the adjudicator at today's brass band contests.

During the last twelve months, Derek Broadbent has travelled around the country speaking to various brass band associations, on the subject of adjudication. What was the motivation for this unprecedented course of action? In Derek’s, own words. “I held these seminars in order to search out band problems and concerns in an effort to procure a more trustworthy atmosphere in our world of contesting.”

The Association of Brass Band Adjudicators held its Annual General Meeting at The Headquarters of The British Federation in Barnsley on Sunday 4th January 2004, and Derek was invited to address the meeting with the results of his findings.

In his opening remarks, Derek stated that there was no secret mystique about how adjudicators judged performances. They simply hoped to hear a good standard of performance containing the basic quality essentials of sound, tuning, rhythm and balance. Only when these vital ingredients were achieved did additional items such as interpretation and musical shape enter the equation. He had stressed these points to delegates attending his seminars. However, on his trips around the country, a number of questions had been raised. Derek had decided to bring the main concerns to the attention of ABBA members, and these were discussed hoping to clarify the situation. Members of Association bands raised questions at Association level, and answers given by ABBA were directed primarily towards them.

I have listed the ten points that Derek raised, and attempted to answer each one capturing the thoughts and feelings of the meeting.

One: The Concern of bands receiving early draws, particularly number one and two.

Answer: At the highest level an early draw is currently perceived to be a disadvantage. Adjudicators are aware of this and it is a problem, which is being addressed by ABBA. However, instances of success from early draws in lower section contests are quite common. Bands in these sections should have no fears about an early draw, as a perusal of results from a spread of these proves.

Two: Observance of metronome marks by adjudicators. (Some appear to stick to them rigidly while some appear to take no notice).

Answer: Following serious discussion of this point, the consensus of ABBA members was that reasonable licence should be allowed regarding metronome marks. It was noted that the use of circa alongside the marks was on the increase and this was seen as sensible. It was also noted that wide deviation from the given mark could change the character of the music and may well be penalised. Indications which appear alongside temp marks, e.g. Andante maestoso, Allegro spiritoso, etc., should be strictly observed.

Three: The lack of consistency in adjudicating.

Answer: This point was also discussed at length. Consistency between adjudicators is an ideal, but not a very practical one. ABBA periodically organises mock adjudication sessions, followed by interactive discussion in an attempt to establish a unity. However, it is always likely that there will be some difference of opinion.

Four: The need for more explicit and helpful remarks.

Answer: Bands should be aware that comments are written during the actual performance. Detailed comment is difficult, if not impossible, but remarks ought to reflect both the good and the bad elements of a performance. Often, the first person to read the remarks is the adjudicator, who may need to refer to them in the later stages of the contest. ‘Untidy at C’ may not convey the full picture to the band but will help the adjudicator as he or she tries to ‘place’ the band in the correct order. ABBA does not subscribe to the view held in some quarters that written remarks are superfluous to requirements. They are a valuable reference to assist greatly in establishing an order of merit. ABBA also feels that bands are entitled to have access to the thoughts of the adjudicator – whether or not they agree with them! It should be the aim of adjudicators to be constructive and encouraging in their comments.

Five: Too often adjudicators’ stage comments differ from their actual result.

Answer: It must be appreciated that at the end of an exacting day adjudicating performances, speaking from the stage can be quite an ordeal. However, it is an essential and important part of an adjudicators’ role at the majority of contests. At our A.G.M. this year, there was a lecture on this subject by Brian Buckley. He emphasised the importance of communicating to an audience the thoughts of an adjudicator on the day’s performances in relation to the remarks that he had written and the actual result.

It was also vital he said that the audience clearly understood what the adjudicator was saying. Too often, they can perceive something completely different. The wise adjudicator organises his thoughts before actually speaking from the stage.

Six: The assessment of adjudicators’ (Who judges the judges).

Answer: As an association, we have internal educational discussions to assist all members. This helps to enhance standards. We expect all members to act in a professional manner and will investigate any legitimate shortcomings brought to our notice. If administrators and contest promoters are completely satisfied with the services provided by an adjudicator they would almost certainly re-employ them on a future occasion. If this is not the situation, the exact opposite will apply.

Seven: The problem of putting all the bands in the correct order.

Answer: Following each performance the adjudicator awards his points and, even more importantly, builds up an order of merit. In simple terms, after one band has played you have a winner. After two bands have played you have a 1st and 2nd, and so on throughout the contest. Referring where necessary to earlier remarks, each performance is ‘placed’ relative to others already heard. This is part of the ‘mechanics’ of adjudicating, though it is dependent on the artistic judgment of the adjudicator in deciding precisely where to place the performance.

Eight: Own-choice contests – assessment of difficult and easier pieces.

Answer: As in a set piece contest the basic qualities of sound, tuning, rhythm, balance, etc., still apply, but the degree of difficulty of the piece is also a factor. In discussion, the consensus of the members of ABBA was that prizes should not be awarded merely in accordance with the difficulty of the music. Though a fine performance of a difficult piece should be rewarded, a good performance of a less difficult piece should have every chance of being placed higher than a less good performance of a more difficult one. The balance between the two is obviously a question of judgement. ‘Own Choice’ pieces should be chosen with the strengths and weaknesses of the band in mind. Obviously, the best performance should always win.

Nine: Concerns over the issue of part swapping.

Answer: Though there are differences of opinion amongst adjudicators about the ethics of part-swapping the majority of members accept that it does happen, that it would be very difficult to police and that basically, it is up to the conductor to produce the best possible performance with the material available. If the changing of parts or the unauthorised use of mutes detracts from the musical quality of the performance then it should expect to be penalised.

Ten: Concerns about how bands can legitimately raise questions over the behaviour or ability of adjudicators.

Answer: If a band has a genuine reason to question the behaviour or ability of an adjudicator, it can make representation though its association or directly to the contest promoter. ABBA’s position is quite clear. It will not discuss individual results given by an adjudicator, because every adjudicator is entitled to give his or her honest opinion. However, it will certainly examine any complaints against members if it is thought that they have not displayed professional standards expected as members of the Association.

The Association of Brass Band Adjudicators fully supported the efforts of Derek Broadbent in
spreading the gospel on the subject of adjudication. We are continually striving to improve overall standards of adjudication and foster good relationships with all brass band contest promoters and other bodies who support and encourage brass band activities. We trust that in offering our thoughts on the important points raised during the various seminars held throughout the country, we have removed a little of the air of mystery surrounding the subject of adjudication.

A number of other important items concerning contesting were discussed at the AGM, and it is requested that they be published for general information.

One: It was essential that the practice of adjudicators supplying comprehensive written remarks continue. It was also felt necessary to only award points to the prizewinners in contests, the remaining bands being placed in order of merit. It was considered that in contests with large entries that it was perfectly acceptable on occasions to award ties, outside the prizewinners.

Two: For the information of all bands, it was felt necessary to publish the fact that there is in existence a recommended table of maximum points normally to be awarded in Regional Contests. There are:
Championship Sec, 197. First Sec, 192. 2nd Sec, 188. 3rd Sec, 184. 4th Sec, 180.

Three: The practice of some contests in requiring adjudicators to complete ‘tick boxes’ qualifying performances in such qualities as dynamics, rhythm, balance, and soloist, etc., was not favoured. It was felt that properly written remarks were all that was required.

Four: It was considered ‘to be good practice’, for adjudicators to be informed in advance of the event, of the titles of pieces to be used in ‘own choice’ contests.

Mal Brownbill

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