The NCBF Adjudication and Feedback
I have been adjudicating festivals both regional and national for the National Concert Band Festival for over 10 years now and there have been some very positive developments in the area of adjudication in that time.
Bands deserve the best possible feedback and they also deserve a level playing field throughout the country and throughout the categories.
There have been some very good initiatives designed to give adjudicators the power of consistency and the means to show how their decisions have been made. A meeting of minds a few years ago with Richard Jones in the chair was a useful session and the tick sheets that we developed in the 90s with Brian Duguid have been a step forward.
Unfortunately the sheets were still in the developmental stages when they were reproduced for use in every festival since then. We had intended to fix some of the anomalies that still exist in that system. They still need to be refined before we can truly put them to best use.
In America the customer gets a good deal at a festival. Often an adjudicator will write up the comments whilst a second takes the conductor away for feedback and advice. Meanwhile, a third adjudicator takes a short session with the band in order to show the audience and the players what could have been approached better. In Quebec a few years ago I enjoyed almost 20 hours of this system. As adjudicators, we shared the conducting, feedback and writing, so it was varied and fascinating work.
I find that the most difficult part of the process happens when the group plays quite well but the conductor shows that he/she is clearly not up to the job. Sometimes it is a lack of technique; the ability to pull it off on the day. Sometimes it is clear that the conductor has little understanding or connection with the music, or has not worked on the issues that matter in rehearsal.
Usually this type of performance falls into a particular award easily. However, in the past bands have played extremely well in a performance that was so far from a good reading of the score in terms of interpretation that the adjudicators have had to mark it down for no other reason that the conductor simply has not read the score properly.
How does one critique such a performance without damaging the credibility of the one person in the group who needs credibility the most?
Clearly the American model would help here. The conductor can be told quite clearly where he has gone wrong. The band can be given a good award, in the knowledge that the next performance, perhaps at the finals, will be vastly improved.
If I hear a note-perfect, precise, clean performance which lacks life, sparkle, and interpretive art, I usually give it Gold but with a very long and detailed description of where improvements must be made. “Why did you give us Gold if it was so far from what you like?” I hear. Well, in the case of one very good, well run band in Scotland, I heard a very disciplined well rehearsed and well executed performance which was quite boring. The same band played the work a few years later and all of my suggestions had been worked on. It was so pleasing to hear and the difference was like 2D black and white to 3D colour with surround sound.
The NCBF is there to advance the rehearsal, conducting, playing and performing of good music for wind and jazz groups. We must always remember who the customers are and give them what they need. They may not always appreciate criticism but it will never be harsh, insulting, negative or demeaning. It should be positive, tactful, focussed and relevant. It should also be clear and straight forward.
Recently, I have been trying to formulate a system for accurately assessing the quality of a group against fixed and balanced criteria which would account for different types of bands and the different levels that they work at in rehearsal and performance. This system would result in a percentage mark which when checked against a set of boundaries would show which level a band is aspiring to and what award would be given when the category of the group has been taken into consideration. Soon I will publish this information in the hope that musical directors, adjudicators, and organisers can comment on the system.
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