The adjudicator - by Trevor Walmsley


The late and great Trevor Walmsley DFC gave this personal appraisal of the adjudicators art back in 1986.

The late Trevor Walmsley combined with Harry Mortimer in 1986 and produced a book entitled, 'You and Your Band' - a short series of articles about every aspect of the brass band.

The book covered eveything from his personal views on players, conductors, contest organisers, the band secretary and librarian and even this piece about the adjudicator.

This is what the former MD of the Yorkshire Imps and resident conductor of Black Dyke, as well as Distinguished Flying Cross thought about the art of being in the tent.

The Adjudicator:

The adjudicator's lot is not a happy one.  Rule one is to get the car as near to the stage door as possible, for a quick getaway.  There will be few friends and many not quite so friendly at the end of the day.  I cannot think why anybody does it.

An adjudicator is not God or Pope.  Most aspects of music criticism or appreciation are not matters or fact, but matters of opinion, so no adjudicator can do other than express opinion.  It is not the refereeing of a football match, seeing the ball go into the net and awarding a goal – those with most goals win.  Competitors, as well as adjudicators would do well to remember this.

A band contest, however lowly, is the culmination of scores of hours of work by scores of conductors and players, so the adjudicator bears a very serious responsibility to prepare, to judge and find a result.  These requirements therefore, lay a heavy duty upon the chosen individual.  It demands certain disciplines.

Before starting any job, it is well to know what it is, so the first requirement is to study the score in detail so as to know what to expect.  Better still, if at all possible, rehearse the piece with a band to find out what needs to be done.  (I much prefer to be judged by my fellow conductors, because I know that they, more than anyone else, are likely to understand the difficulties and give due credit to their being overcome).  Usually there is plenty of time to make a study of the score, but there are all sorts of other details to get clear and not be left to chance.  They may sound silly and obvious, but they still matter and they are frequently overlooked.

Check the address of the contest (some funny things happen – adjudicators have been known to go to the wrong town – I did myself once, through no fault of my own – even the Committee didn't quite know) and check the starting time.  Leave plenty of time for the journey and its possible delays.  No adjudicator can be late, with all the consequent problems which would ensue.

Check the rules carefully with the officials before the draw takes place.  Is percussion obligatory or optional?  If obligatory, then you are bound to take it fully into account when deciding the result and don't forget to listen to and comment about percussion just as you would any other instrument in the band.

Find out if there are any special prizes to be awarded – Best cornet player etc.  and make a note before you go into the box.  It is most embarrassing to get on to the stage at the end of a contest to be asked ‘Who won the Best Trombone Section Award?' and have to reply ‘Which Trombone Section award?' These things happen.

How many prizes to be awarded?  An awkward situation can arise if you have only given four and there should be six.

Try to persuade contest organisers not to accept more than twenty bands into a section you are asked to judge.  More than twenty or so and you are unlikely to do justice to the competitors.

Insist on closed adjudication.  We all live in each other's pockets in the Brass Band Movement and we should not be asked to judge our friends.  We do not want to know who is on we want to hear what is done.  Open adjudication creates all sorts of problems from the judge and the judged, which we can well do without. 

There are enough imponderables without adding this further factor for discussion, argument and accusation.  Almost invariably, you will be asked to ‘say a few words' to the assembly before the draw is taken.  The operative word is ‘few'.  It's a bit late to be telling them what you will be ‘watching out for' especially when those you are telling are, for the most part, non players who don't know a note of music.  Take care not say ‘may the best band win'.  You might not give first prize to the best band.  Your job is to give it for the best ‘performance' which might be a vastly different thing.

Go to the gents if you're a feller – if not you'll have to make some other arrangement.  Do not be intimidated by three large, policemen sized chaps (if you're a feller) accompanying you, as though they've arrested you.  They mean well and are your fellow bandsmen and are your friends until the result is announced.  They will lock you in the box and by about half past four, you'll think they'd thrown away the key.

Establish a friendly relationship with (usually) the man appointed to sit outside your door.  He's probably the oldest inhabitant and you'll get his name and family history in a matter of minutes.  If his wife's granddad didn't play for St. Hildas and his uncle solo cornet for Black Dyke, I've got the wrong chap.  He's there as adjudicator's assistant, to keep order around the box.  He'll probably nod off at about one thirty, but don't you.

Check your kit carefully, score, whistle, several pens, pencils for rough notes and plenty of paper for remarks.  Aspirins, in a quantity appropriate to the standard of playing to be expected.

Get comfortable, with all your materials laid out so that you can follow the score and write as conveniently as possible.  Make sure the lighting is adequate.  Don't forget it gets harder as the day goes by.

The first band almost invariably plays the National Anthem.  Frequently it is played badly, or will be an astonishing, new arrangement by an ambitious conductor, determined to impress and which will point your ears and set your patriotic soul in revolt.  Don't let this interfere with your judgement.  Well, try not to.  Keep your voice down when talking to yourself about it.

Give the band time to settle down before blowing the whistle (and don't forget to tongue it).  Usually you can tell when the band is ready when the gale of wind, blowing water out and the shuffling of stands and chairs ceases.  An early blowing of the whistle before the band is ready agitates them and upsets the start.

Listen for a while before starting to write (and this applies to all performances).  You are listening for tone, tuning, balance, dynamics, tempo, general styling like the ends of phrases, articulation and so on.  Write your impressions in a concise fashion, because there is insufficient time to write reams if you are to keep up with the score.  Don't forget you are expressing an OPINION.  

Avoid, at all costs, lecturing competing bands, like telling them ‘Don't do so and so', or ‘You should' do.  It is not unusual for an adjudicator to give instructions to a lower section band only to find that it was conducted by an eminent conductor of one of our top bands, better at the job than the critic.

Be careful about identifying instruments in your remarks.  Some players can obtain astonishing sounds out of their chosen life's work – a horn player can sometimes sound like a trombone, a euphonium can imitate a baritone, even though it's not meant to.  Better to say ‘the horn part' or the ‘baritone part.'  You can easily identify the wrong instrument, creating much merriment at the next rehearsal – ‘We pulled his leg, didn't we?'  It is not unknown for the soprano medal to be given to a band that didn't have one.

Try to write good English and be descriptive without being voluble.  The word ‘good' is probably the most used in the adjudicator's language, next to ‘tuning'.  Look up in Roget's Thesaurus the alternative words available.  I sometimes envy the adjudicator who, at Belle Vue, many years ago, confined his marks to two simple words – Rascally Bad.  Don't, I repeat, lay down the law – your law.

By far the most efficient method I have experienced is to dictate remarks.  This enables a running commentary to be given as the music progresses, rather than be writing above what happened at Letter C when the band is already at Letter F.  This method, however, demands the services of a highly competent shorthand typist, who not only has to write at a very fast rate but also understands musical and brass band terminology.  It has the drawback that the notes need to be transcribed the following day and also needs a competent contest secretary to distribute them quickly to the competitors.

Keep a separate sheet for remarks and write them in pencil.  Do not put the marks on to the remarks sheets until you have reached the end of the contest and you are sure you have fixed the relative positions of the bands.

Marking is the subject of much comment and argument and again, is a matter of opinion and not of fact.  What you are really doing is expressing the relative merits of various performances in figures.  Generally speaking, it is better to mart out of 200 so as to give a wider scope for the range and to avoid having to give say, 92½. 

If marking out of 200, then, in my view, 200 represents perfection in all aspects of the performance and would rarely be obtained by the finest band in the land.  Therefore, as a rough guide the marks for a fourth section performance are unlikely to be as high as, say, a second section (though there are sometimes exceptions).  Leave some spacing between the relative marks to allow for a performance to come between those already assessed.  Never overlook the fact that the band playing No. 1 could be the winner and has as much right to proper assessment as the band playing No. 20. 

There is often a strong psychological feeling that No. 1 is a warm up and that things must get better.  This is not so.  At that stage, there is no comparison upon which to draw, but an adjudicator will not hesitate to give due credit to early performances just as much as to those drawn late.  As you have listed on your sheet Nos. 1 to 20, or however many entrants there are, place your marks in pencil at the end of each performance against the number played.  I repeat, leave enough space between points to allow for a performance coming in between.

Some adjudicators tend to be swayed by audience applause and others, just as silly, are swayed in the opposite direction on the grounds that they know better than the audience and will teach them a lesson.  Audiences, often mostly composed of players, tend to applaud because of partisan factors and have not the adjudicators dispassionate view of the proceedings.  The adjudicator must stick to convictions and be true to conscience.  You are not looking for popularity – you won't get it anyway, irrespective of the decision.

At the end of the contest, the last, vital part of the job is the ‘office work' and here, I am convinced, results are sometimes muddled by inaccurate checking and panic.  It requires a cool head to sort out ‘The Band placed 3rd with 186 points played No 8' and the ‘Band placed 2nd with 188 points played No. 2', when you are sorting out of maybe twenty sets of figures, so never be rushed.  Check and re-check.  Having decided on the final points, put them on the remarks sheets.

There is, unfortunately, a certain of hooliganism creeping into audiences who whistle, shout and give slow handclaps whilst the adjudicator is finalising the work.  Then there is the added confusion of the growing practice of organisers keeping the audience ‘entertained' whilst waiting.  All this is a serious distraction for the adjudicator, trying to do the sums whilst this racket is taking place. 

Just as the crucial point of the contest is reached and the hard work of hundreds of players and conductors is to have its final assessment, the person responsible for the final decision is subjected to conditions of chaos.  Ideally, the adjudicator should be taken out of the box as soon as the last band has played and taken to a private room, to be left in peace.  The chaos could then continue.

It is usual for the adjudicator to be asked to ‘Say a few words' on the platform.  The operative word again is ‘few'.  Usually discretion is the better part of valour, but try to be honest without being offensive, otherwise you might wish you'd got the car even nearer to the door.  Try not to lecture and once more make clear that you are expressing an opinion.

If at all possible, announce the result yourself.  Some terrible things happen when a member of the ‘Committee' takes over the job and gets the numbers mixed up.  If this happens – and it does at times – insist on the correction.  It is your result and no one should alter it.

Occasionally, very occasionally, I am happy to say, some disgruntled individual will try to make a point with the adjudicator, perhaps in an offensive way.  This must never be allowed to happen.  Do not discuss your results and if anyone persists in this objectionable way, get the officials to deal with the problem.

The ‘Own Choice' contest presents additional hazards to the adjudicator.  In this type of contest, the base line has been removed so there is one more factor to consider in the already complicated array.  Should more credit be awarded to the band which plays a simpler piece of music well, or should favour be given to the more difficult piece performed not so well? 

It is impossible to lay down any rule to cover this situation though I personally prefer to err on the side of the piece played well, working under the ‘Get no medals for trying' rule.  It is surprising how many bands, with optimistic conductors attempt music which would test the very top bands – perhaps they work on the principal that the Lord will provide.  It doesn't often happen and some attempts are nothing short of catastrophic, with players struggling pathetically. 

There are some conductors among us who get so carried away with what they think is happening, they fail completely to hear what is actually going on.  This type of conductor often relies on some gimmick or gross distortion of what is written to gain cheap notoriety.  The adjudicator should not fall for it.

The so called ‘Entertainment' contest presents yet another complication.  Sometimes another adjudicator is used to assess the ‘entertainment' value and the marks added together.  All things being equal, it is simply not possible to give a thoroughly convincing decision at this type of contest, though there is nothing wrong with it for fun and for audiences enjoyment. 

All too often, unfortunately, the programmes offered contain some form of gimmick many rely on a considerable extension to the percussion department for effect.  Good quality usually shows through though and the adjudicator should always pay due regard to the standard of performance.

The same basic rules of adjudicating apply to ‘Own Choice' and ‘Entertainment' contests as apply to the ‘Set Piece'.  Tone, tuning, balance, note values, sensible tempi, artistic playing without distortion, phrasing, dynamic contrast – all these things count and must be taken into consideration when reaching a decision.

Adjudicating musical performances is a mystical occupation.  I cannot repeat often enough that it is a matter of opinion.  Two people may look at a painting or read a book – one likes it, the other doesn't.  That is adjudicating – but ours goes further.  The same two people can go back and have another look and further discussion.  With a musical performance no such luxury is afforded.  Once the sound has been made it is gone forever and is just a memory.  Since people tend to hear what they want to hear, there is no wonder that adjudicating is the subject of so much argument.

With all these weaknesses readily admitted by any sensible musician, adjudicators and competitors need to approach the whole question of contesting in the correct frame of mind.  Conductors and players must prepare themselves to the very best of their ability and adjudicators must distance themselves from the bands and think only of the performances. 

If, at the end of the day, competitors are not prepared to accept the decision with good grace, however much they might disagree, they should not be competing.  This chapter on adjudicating has been written as much for the benefit of competitors, so that they might be aware of the problems involved, as it has been for people who might be interested in taking up adjudicating.

There is a scarcity of experienced adjudicators.  It is difficult, especially at major contests to find adjudicators of the standard of experience required, because most of them are competing.  We therefore need to encourage people to take up this thankless task. 

Most of us just picked it up as we went along but I feel sure that, if any player or conductor wanted to gain experience, an approach to the organising committee of local contests would result in a ‘trainee' being allowed to sit outside the box (preferably behind it and out of sight of the bands) to adjudicate.  The results could be compared afterwards and I believe that the official adjudicator would always be ready to compare notes and give advice.

When you have done it all, you'll get little thanks at the end of the day.  As I said at the beginning of this chapter, you will be extremely popular with one or two bands but you'll be equally unpopular with a good many who were your friends at ten o'clock in the morning.  I can't think why we do it, except, as I keep saying, all brass band enthusiasts are masochists – we love punishment.


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