Smiling on the Judges

May 29, 2009 on 1:43 pm by Michael Grey | In Humour, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Stories, Tips | Comments Off on Smiling on the Judges

I am not a big fan of judging. I mean by that, that I don’t generally get a lot of heel-clicking, raise-your-glass glee out of judging, assessing, pipe band (or solo piping) competitions. Done well, judging, or “adjudicating”, takes great concentration – in fact, its damned hard work. Hats off to those who have for years undertaken the judging challenge with aplomb and undisputable fairness.

Adjudicating: Listening, assessing and delivering a fair assessment of performance; all with supporting words that don’t offend, yet justify, and still illuminate – well, I say, that’s seriously hard work – hard work needed to be done well. And how many want to sign up for that on a day off work?

Stepping up to the role of pipe band/piping/drumming judge is a service. In fact, it’s an obligation. For people with piping and drumming credentials – meaning proven in-the-trenches-experience – it is a service. The competition system is currently at the core of pipe band and solo piping excellence and depends on the good service of engaged – and qualified – adjudicators.

But, man, it ain’t easy.

I was hard at it (doing my best) judging a contest in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, last Saturday and, following the contest, someone came up to me and said, “I could guess your result, in the grade X, I saw you smile when ______ band played “Fleshmarket Close” [a tune I made]“).

Holy #%$@. I smiled, apparently! Arrest me. That comment reminded me or, “sowed home”, as the late, great, Scott MacAulay might’ve said, that no matter what action, decision or, it seems, facial expression, a judge makes, an outside assessment of perceived ulterior motivation will almost always be made. This truth makes the role even less attractive.

But let’s remember one of the core realities of our competitive game: judges are always perceived to have bias – even if that bias is for a style or particular performance approach.

I suggest that it’s that “good” bias for which we hire judges. We want them to draw on their proven experience, their understanding of what makes up a performance of merit, their ability to know the difference between good and excellent musical interpretation. We look for that and we look for them to deliver an even-handed assessment.

Simply put: We hire judges for their musical perspective and their considered musical judgement. We don’t hire judges for their poker faces.

Afterall, maybe a smile increases a judge’s face value? 🙂


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