Interview with C. Brian Buckley - ABBA Secretary talks with Iwan Fox


Iwan Fox talks to C. Brian Buckley, the Secretary of the Adjudicators Association to find out what opinions they have about the way in which they see their role in banding's future.

Brian BuckleyJust about anyone who is involved in the banding movement has an opinion about adjudicators and adjudication: Open or closed, written or unwritten remarks, points or placings, early or late draws.  It is an almost endless list of gripes and groans, informed or uninformed judgements, but for as long as we have had brass band contests, adjudicators and adjudication has invariably been the pet topic for post result discussion and argument.

So what about the adjudicators themselves and their opinions about the role they have to play in this?

Brian Buckley is the Secretary of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators, the body set up to maintain and improve, protect and enhance the stature of brass band adjudicators. Given that that the adjudicators lot has been a fairly misunderstood one for the past 150 years, you would have thought Brian and his colleagues would have a pretty difficult task on their hands to try and win over notoriously sceptical bandsmen.

Recently however, ABBA and its 65 members have shown themselves to be a rather more progressive and transparent body of professional people than the average bandsman may have given credit to them for. 

"The Association was born out of the panel of adjudicators run for Boosey and Hawkes for the then Regional and National Championships," Brian informed 4BR.

"In the mid 1990's it was decide to look at a way forward to create an autonomous body with a constitution, governing rules, membership and finance that would meet, what we believed were the needs of the movement in terms of adjudication and adjudicators."

This led to ABBA's creation, which has developed into a respected and forthright body that has at its heart the genuine desire to improve the not only the standards of adjudication at brass band contests, but to do so in partnership with contest organisers and promoters.

It is headed by Dr. Roy Newsome as its Chairman, with an experienced six man executive committee working with Brian and the other elected officers such as Malcolm Brownbill. Meetings are well attended whilst the AGM in recent years has been used to initiate debate and understanding of a wide variety of topics through presentations made by the likes of Martin Ellerby and  Simone Rebello, and even members of the media!

Brian believes this to be the key to a better understanding of what ABBA is trying to achieve. "We are a forward thinking body, and that is why we try to be as open about what we do so that people can understand more about the adjudication process. We are continually looking at improving what we do and an integral part of that is the professional development of our members."

He expanded on this. "We have developed a number of initiatives in terms of training by looking at the different skills and disciplines that are required adjudicate on a musical performance. Our members of course need an extensive musical knowledge, an understanding of repertoire and experience either as a performer or conductor to assist them if they are to become good judges, but that is only a small part of what is required."

"There is also the need for criteria setting, the need for constructive comment, comparative assessment and consistency of approach – and it is these areas that in the past number of years we have tried to enhance and develop further through a series of development initiatives that have included peer review, open forums and the training of a new generation of judges."

Examples of this have been seen clearly throughout the UK, with contests in both Yorkshire and Wales for example allowing NABBC in conjunction with ABBA members to use supervised ‘shadow' adjudication training to give invaluable experience to the prospective judges.    

Brian believes these initiatives have proved beneficial both to his members and the banding movement. "By working closely with contest organisers we can provide invaluable training by placing prospective adjudicators in the correct environment in which to gain experience. Nothing beats actually sitting in the box and having to go through the process of developing essential judging skills."

Part of the adjudicators job however is also to explain why they have reached their decision, and this is also something Brian believes that ABBA is now addressing in a progressive manner.

"As adjudicators, we must address a number of other tensions that arise at a contest. An audience must understand that we are judging with what I call ‘an open mind'. We must of course have a constructive critical capacity, but we must be receptive to such things as interpretation. Explaining to an audience why we reached our decision is therefore a vital element to the overall process of adjudication, as there may be many players, conductors or members of the audience who will have just as good a critical capacity, or be accomplished musicians who also will have opinions of their own, as we are."   

This more open approach has been appreciated by the banding movement, as has ABBA's growing progressive influence. Brian expanded on this: "We would like to work much more closely with contest secretaries, including Regional Secretaries and promoters in future, although I would make it very clear that we do not wish to influence them in any way into who they choose to adjudicate at their contests.   We are delighted to adjudicate with non ABBA members (he quoted the example of the composer Michael Ball at the National Finals last year) as we believe this enhances the blend of opinion about performances."

A professional job entails the need for professional working conditions, and Brian feels that working closely with contest organisers over details such as facilities, the positioning of the judge in the contest hall, costs and expenses, as well as a process of addressing concerns over poor adjudication standards will also be beneficial for all concerned.

It appears then that ABBA is certainly on the right road. 

Iwan Fox

This interview first appeared in the British Bandsman 28th July


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