Processing adjudication festivals

Tuesday was awesome!  I was able to take all 3 of the concert bands at Mercer to the PMEA Instrumental Adjudication festival at Westminster College.  I am very pleased with the groups and their performance.  Pennsylvania’s adjudication circuit allows directors to choose music from the state list (which NEEDS serious revamping PMEA!!! Not that I dwell on the problems within the list…) and prepare 2 to 3 selections.  Those selections are then evaluated by a panel of judges, usually a group of collegiate educators.  After the prepared selections are completed, the group is then asked to perform a sight-reading session.  In a nutshell this is what happens: The ensemble is given music one grade level below what they performed on the prepared section.  The director and ensemble have 2 minutes to silently read the piece.  After that time passes, the director can talk with the ensemble for 3 minutes.  They may speak parts, sing parts, clap parts, talk about key and time changes, tempo, style – whatever – but they cannot play a note.  At the end of that time, the ensemble is to play the piece from start to finish.  It is a really great exercise and one that I prepped my groups for by doing regularly over the last two months (I even had my Middle School group do it in that format for a live audience at our February concert).

When preparing for this (which is probably similar to Contest Festivals in other states), there is no cramming and last minute “throwing things together”.  The performance should reflect a significant amount of time studying the piece to deliver the composer’s intent for the music.  That being said, there is another side to the coin which I feel can be dangerous for student growth and appreciation of music.  While I understand that for some schools a good rating at a festival is of paramount importance (and sometimes is oddly tied to their continued support and funding…), I don’t believe necessarily in a “drop everything else so we can get this rating” mentality.  There is a fine line of process and product to be walked in this kind of endeavor, and it is certainly worth the walk to elevate the expectations for your program.  I do my best to emphasize the importance of what we can learn by presenting a part of the product as part of the process.  I will gladly acknowledge that preparing and performing at a very high level for some of our students creates a meaningful connection with music that alters their life perspective (and maybe their career choice to become a music teacher or performer!).  They may experience the ultimate success at this level (or a similar situation).  They could also experience a degree of failure.  Be mindful of how they pick themselves up, and be active in helping them assimilate and analyze what happened.  You could be Bowling for Mozart and not even realize it.

Talking with a couple of friends who also had groups at the festival, I was in agreement that we definitely learned things about our groups on Tuesday.  More importantly, the students learned things about themselves and their ensemble as well.  When we return from our Easter break, there are a number of comments from the judges that I can share that will hopefully guide us on the next path of our journey.  Our students sometimes end up unconciously “tuning us out” (sorry, no pun, put away your Korg….) because they hear us day after day address things like:

  • Key Signature
  • Accidentals
  • Rhythms 
  • Tuning
  • Intonation
  • Phrasing
  • Balance
  • Expression
  • Trombones, it’s A natural! Second position! (Ok, so perhaps I tipped my own frustrated baton on this one….)

But throw the comments of an outside observer at them, and suddenly their perspective is refreshed (Not to mention our own!).  Knowing the adjudicators we had on Tuesday, they have all been in the position during their career that the directors are currently working.  Their comments will be very useful, because they will reinforce to the students to commit to quality and strive to make your next performance better.  They will tell a group where the strength lies, but also where the weaknesses are as well.  Their comments will be practical for everyday use in rehearsal, and they will not be condescending to the point it would damage the group’s self-esteem or confidence.  As I have said before, the ears of an outside observer – whether a colleague, a student teacher, a friend – can lend a perspective that can be helpful in evaluating our instruction.

I was proud of all my students for accepting the challenge of the music we studied, and for giving the music their best possible effort.  I have a list of things that we will continue to build upon.  I also have a list of things I know that we will be able to incorporate, work on in our daily rehearsal, and thereby improve the quality of the ensemble as well.  This was part of the on-going process that by engaging our students and ourself we will ultimatley improve our product.  

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  1. Travis,

    Great article! I think think the mus-ed people are knee deep in concert season right now… they’ve been quiet on most of the blogs lately.

    You offer some great insights to the thought process behind adudications -why we do it, why we should do it, and what it should be.

    I agree PMEA does need to spend some time re-visting their list. Something you might be able to visit when you become president of District V this year? 🙂

    Oh, yeah and congratulations on the killer, amazing, super music related accomplishment that I”M NOT SUPPOSED TO TELL ANYONE ABOUT YET!!! Even though it’s “killing me”. 😀

    J. Pisano

  2. I will be taking my Intermediate Orchestra to Mars H.S this weekend for my first adjudication. Quite honestly, I am terrified.

    I inherited this group a year ago and have a LOT of building to do. The former teahcer (and our Junior High director) and I have a very different idea of education. I believe in reading notes, counting, intonation, musicality. In other words, PLAYING MUSIC. She believes in fun, candy, and teaching by rote.

    Sight reading has been a HUGE challenge since I had to teach them to read first. I am most worried about that part of the process.

    Even though I pretty much know I am going to get my back side handed to me, I am giving this a shot. I told the kids it is my “PSSA”. Or maybe my “PITA” (pain in the ass).

    No matter what happens, I am going to use this to help the students and myself grow. In some ways, it is exciting because it is the first time in a while I am well beyond a little nervous.

    So….. here we go

    BTW… I didn’t even pick my music off the state list because the list was weak for String Orchestra. I am doing Sandra Dackows 1812 Overture and a very nice version of “The Barber of Seville”.

  3. I survived my first adjudication and I AM HOOKED. I took my orchestra and they received a superior from each of the judges (including sight reading). The judges were amazing in how they made comments on the tapes for the students that help me as an educator continue moving forward with the group.

    I went into this kicking and screaming thanks to Mike Holupka and now I am sold on the entire process. I will be a better teacher and even more accountable to details even on days I would rather just do “play throughs” just to fill the time.

  4. Jeff,

    Great to hear about your success! The great part about this system it provides a unique festival experience for ALL the students in your program, and gives them something to work towards. It does hold us to a higher standard, and I think it is a great motivational tool for an entire ensemble to keep students every reaching higher for the next rung on the ladder. Good luck to you through the rest of the year, and congratulations to your ensemble!!!


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