4BR Interview - ABBA Secretary C. Brian Buckley


4BR talks to C. Brian Buckley to find out more about the self catergorisation process instituted by the Assocation of Brass Band Adjudicators.

BuckleyThe Association of Brass Band Adjudicators recently revealed the first results of the organisation’s self categorisation process, intended to help the ongoing development of their members adjudication skills.

The results have raised a few eyebrows in the brass band community, but as 4BR found out from ABBA Secretary C. Brian Buckley (right), the organisation believes the process to be a starting point and not just a means to an end.

The first results of the ABBA self-categorisation process have now been published. 

What did the process entail for each existing ABBA member?

ABBA was formed in 1999 from a list of adjudicators who had officiated at the National and Regional contests held annually under the auspices of Boosey and Hawkes Ltd. 

This list was managed by BFBB on behalf of the contest organisers, with each name having been approved by an expert panel of leading adjudicators in the brass band fraternity.

Having been in existence for several years, the Executive Committee of ABBA recognised the importance of ensuring that the membership of ABBA continued to remain open to scrutiny, to enable the high standard of assessment that is necessary for those who officiate at all levels of competition to be demonstrated. 

Coincidentally, ABBA were also aware from dialogue with contest managements that some members had not, as yet, fully developed the expertise that is essential to officiate at the very highest level of competition, both in the UK and overseas. 

A subgroup, consisting of highly experienced ABBA members - Stan Lippeatt, Alan Morrison and Kevin Wadsworth gave lengthy consideration to the most equitable manner by which the existing membership of ABBA could assist contest organizers in selecting adjudicators for the wide range of contests held in the UK each year.

Clearly the way forward was to produce a dual tiered system of membership to reflect the varying levels of experience and frequency of appointments enjoyed by the membership during and prior to 2009. 

The process of self-categorisation was considered to be the most effective way forward, requiring the 2009 membership (several of whom had been admitted into membership by peer review during the decade that ABBA had been in existence), to categorise themselves as either a Member or an Associate Member, based upon their personal assessment of their experience and current capability. 

The category of Members being specific to those existing members who consider they are sufficiently experienced to adjudicate at the pinnacle of major Brass Band competitions in the UK and overseas.

The new category of Associate Member was devised to specifically apply to those existing members who did not consider that, at present; they possessed the experience to categorise themselves as a Member. 

Some members were asked for additional information to support their self-categorisation status.  This self categorisation process has been used in many professions, seeking to modernise membership grades to more fully equate with changing skills and competences. 

It is commonly called exercising Grandfather Rights – but can only be used once to start the new approach to membership.  Consequently the process of self-categorisation of ABBA members has now ended. 

This background information was essential to help to understand the process. 

Self-categorisation required a personal direct appraisal of each member’s ability and experience.

Does the process of self-categorisation differ for new or prospective, ABBA members?

As indicated the self-categorisation process has ended.  It was only used to carry out an essential change to the membership structure.

Since 1999, all new members have been peer-reviewed and this process will continue.  This currently takes the form of a personal application accompanied by a C.V. with particular reference to experience in performance assessment and adjudication at competitive events. 

These aspects are linked but require different competences to be demonstrated.  In the future, candidates may be required to attend a personal interview to support their application.

Self-categorisation is used by many organizations to help ongoing development of professional skills.  Do you believe it is an appropriate and effective tool to be utilised in what is essentially an amateur body?

It is an appropriate way forward to develop the process of demonstrating competency.  It has been effective in other organisations and whilst brass bands may be an amateur activity – professional standards of adjudication are essential to help ensure a creditable order of merit. 

At all brass band contests, an order of merit is required. 

This is not always the situation in other spheres where categories of achievement are awarded with no order of merit published, simply a series of awards such as platinum, gold, silver and bronze being allocated to competitors.

The current membership structure of ABBA will enable those gaining additional demonstrable experience to be transferred to a higher level of membership, following peer review.

Do you feel the initial results are an accurate reflection of the current ‘status and ability’ of ABBA’s existing membership? 

Over 80% of members being deemed able to adjudicate at the very highest level seems a high percentage to many observers?

The initial results did not really surprise me, given the tendency to use ‘Grandfather Rights’ to claim a membership level as I have previously explained (Question 1). 

This simply highlights that almost 20% of the membership involved in the self categorisation process acknowledged that they required more adjudicating experience before officiating at all levels of contests. 

Many well informed observers will be aware that the membership grade claimed initially by the existing membership in 2009 may only be endorsed eventually by contest organisers.

Was there any specific criteria that existing members had to meet to be deemed able to do this?

The broad criteria were highlighted in the background information given in answer to Q1. 

The range and type of experience assimilated by members were obviously the critical factors, with recent knowledge of repertoire being an essential aspect.

Is it right that the self-categorisation process is ‘peer led’?  Who assesses the assessors?

The process was person and not peer led, being dependent on the integrity of each member. 

Where queries emerged, when the draft listing of the new membership structure was discussed by the Executive Committee, appropriate action was taken. 

This follows the procedures used elsewhere in developing a new membership structure that required the use of the previously explained Grandfather Rights.

Who assesses the assessors is always a vexed issue.  There may be experienced adjudicators who are not members of ABBA, who could act as independent assessors, but who will verify their credentials?

Would the assessment process benefit from being independently led?

This would not have been a viable option. 

Again for the simple reason that only those who are experienced and knowledgeable of the competitive adjudicating role have the competency to carry out such a task. 

Others may have a theoretical approach, but would the outcome be more beneficial to what is acknowledged as only the first step in a development process?

How does ABBA justify the assertion that the process now enable members to adjudicate anywhere in the banding world?  Was there any dialogue with other bodies or contest organisers from outside the UK?

It is widely acknowledged that whilst standards of performance are rapidly improving elsewhere in the world, the level of performance achieved by the best of UK based bands remains extremely high by comparison – I am tempted to state – second to none!

Members of ABBA, adjudicate regularly at the high level events in the UK, with several of them, officiating at events elsewhere in the world. 

Indeed, two ABBA members live and work in Europe, they are not UK citizens.  The EBBA list of adjudicators include ABBA members. 

The critical appraisal of a performance is common to all countries, but the method of recording and comparing the critiques may differ.  The critical skills are however, constant. 

The comparative assessment aspect is adjusted according to the requirements of the contest organisers and is easily coped with by experienced adjudicators.

This question, as posed, implies that adjudicators selected to officiate at events outside the UK are more effective and better equipped than ABBA members to carry out such tasks. 

Are you aware of any evidence to support such an hypothesis?

You have been clear that self-categorisation is an ongoing process, what timescales will be involved in terms of re-assessment for individual members, and how will this process work?

There are no specific timescales laid down, but it is unlikely that re-assessment of the membership category of individuals will be made within the next two years.  T

he onus is on the individual to apply for re-categorisation, together with evidence to support the changes in the levels and types of experience gained subsequent to the award of the current category of membership.  

ABBA regard the training of future adjudicators as extremely important.  This is why the category of Associate Member (Designate) has been added to the membership structure. 

Arrangements are being made to enable ‘trainees’ to attend major contests to gain experience.  This requires current ABBA members to act as mentors to aid this development. 

Consideration of re-introducing the Adjudicating Diploma is also at the planning stage.

ABBA Chairman Stan Lippeatt, stated that the membership category of each member will be published. 

When will this occur, and will a list of recent adjudication appointments each adjudicator has undertaken in the past 12 months be published?

The categories of membership will be published in the Autumn, following the next meeting of the Executive Committee. 

The ABBA listing of Members and Associate Members will include CVs and contact details. At this stage, a specific list of recent appointments will not be published.

Where do you see the self-categorisation process developing over the coming years?

The self-categorisation process was the initial phase in implementing more fully the concept of Continuing Professional Development for the membership of ABBA. 

A significant proportion of ABBA members are also engaged in conducting and teaching, with many heavily involved at undergraduate and post graduate levels. 

There are those who direct the brass learning pathways from beginner stages to professional status, coupled with recording outputs, concert tours and commissioning of new music.  The list is almost endless. 

I am mindful of the need for all members and prospective members to remain aware of developments in repertoire, as well as the presentation aspects of music.  The debate regarding ‘open vs. closed’ adjudication will rage on.  It will be ultimately decided by the bands. 

The adjudicator must remain free of external influences in arriving at the order of merit at a contest.

Do you believe that in time, self-categorisation will lead to improved standards of brass band adjudication, and greater understanding of the role of the adjudicator?

As standards of performance improve, so must the ability to effectively and objectively assess performance levels. 

This is why continuing professional development remains so important in sustaining personal ability to carry out the role of the adjudicator in a responsible and accountable manner.

I have two concerns for the future:-

The focus is quite properly upon ABBA and its activities in leading the adjudication role into the future.  However, ABBA is not, and should not be a closed shop!

The role of adjudicator requires competency and skill in adjudication. ABBA fully recognises this and the need to develop such competency in those who exhibit potential for the future.

Who is expressing concern about the skills and experience “as adjudicators” of these people who are appointed to adjudicate but are not attached to ABBA?

Should such appointments be subject to a similar intensity of scrutiny as is currently applied to the ABBA membership?

Constructive criticism is an information tool of society generally and is     welcomed since it contributes to the process of improvement and development. 

What is not sustainable nor acceptable is the tirade of destructive opinion and ill informed comments or allegations hurled at adjudicators generally via electronic media when the results of contests are deemed to be unacceptable by those who were not avid listeners at the contest.

Constructive comments, Yes! Acrimonious abuse, No!

I am reminded of a statement made to me many years ago.  “The best performance should win the contest, but it may not be played by the best band!”


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