Piping Press Obtains Copy of Pipe Band Judging Survey

Last year the RSPBA Adjudicator’s Panel asked Anne Crookston, a senior member of the brass band judging community, to conduct a survey of pipe band major championships and commissioned a report of her findings. A copy of the report has been obtained by Piping Press and we print the first excerpt today.


Before we even discuss any questions regarding adjudication it is important to ask what is the point of it all? What are the actual purposes of the events and where are the musical priorities?

  • The nature of competition?
  • The standard of other bands?
  • Is your purpose to ensure the best band wins?
  • Are you simply making comparative judgements?
  • Should, ultimately, the judges set the agenda?

Of all the research I have undertaken to support this presentation, including talking to people in our respective worlds, articles published in the banding press and various other journals, what I have discovered is that the majority of the debate centres on basically centres on these things:

  • The quality of the judges
  • The quality of their decision
  • The process itself

The Quality of the Judges: I have already touched on this point – although the AoBBA [Association of Brass Band Adjudicators] website lists around 88 judges, not all will be used for every contest. There are a core number of judges who are regularly seen on the ‘circuit’ judging the more established contests that take place around the country and the ‘Area’ and ‘Grand Shield’ contests.

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However – you will not find any of these judges on the panel for our major competitions. These positions are reserved for judges who are seen to be working at the top of the profession, i.e. those that are working with the top bands around the world and in this country.

That is the ideal position for contest controllers – does it always happen? No – and the biggest complaint that bands level at contest controllers is that there are judges in the box who aren’t good enough – in terms of their listening ability/ musicianship/ integrity to be judging bands at the top of the game. 

Perhaps a controversial point of view – but, as the conductor of an elite band in Scotland, I don’t want a judge in the box who doesn’t know the music as intimately as I do, or who isn’t working at least at the same level as I am or better.

I’ve worked with judges this year that I know are judging because they played in a top band years ago. They are on the circuit, they get regular work and they are seen to be a ‘safe pair of hands’ – NOT GOOD ENOUGH. 

This raises two problems for me:

  • Is their ‘working knowledge’ of bands and the repertoire current enough?
  • Everyone is different – everyone listens to music differently, NOT everyone is equally gifted as a listener – the same is true for adjudicators – we are not all as good as each other. Why? Because we bring with us our own background as musicians, our experiences in bands and with great players and conductors, and most importantly – our own ears (in good working order, I may say).

Let me now take the second point – the quality of the judges’ decisions – DID THEY GET IT RIGHT?? Ah, but I hear you say – it’s all subjective anyway!!

Yes – if you are applying all of your criteria in equal measure to every band – but that is never the case, because every performance will have its own faults and merits – and the question then is – which performance has the MOST merit. 

This I think raises more questions for you than it does for brass bands, because where you have to have consensus on a band’s placing, you have to agree the merits of each performance and which outweighs the other. Therefore any of your own personal biases (and we all have them) can be put to one side and a true agreement can be reached. 

What then is the debate for you in the piping world? It seems to me that in both of our highly competitive cultures there are a more than a few unasked (and therefore unanswered) questions. 

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Here’s a direct comparison from my perspective:

Panel – you have one ensemble judge, two piping judges and one drumming judge. I know there has been debate around the merits of having an ensemble judge. In brass bands – ALL of the judges are ensemble judges, we judge the PERFORMANCE as a whole.

Conferring – you have only recently I think begun to confer with each other – but you don’t then come to a consensus opinion – in brass bands the entire point of conferring IS to come to a consensus and therefore a more robust conclusion about the placing of the band.

Perspective – as Robert [Mathieson] pointed out – you move around each of your bands, your positioning isn’t the same for each band – it’s relatively the same, but everyone seems to do it differently – only the drumming judge is in the same place for each one. In brass bands the panel is in the same front perspective for every band – a level playing field.

Two Piping Judges – the only comparison I can think of in brass bands is if you put each of the three judges in completely separate boxes, took their placings added them up and gave an average overall.  It has been tried before in brass banding and bands hated it – it would always throw up some wildly differing results.

Subjectivity has its place – each one of us is absolutely entitled to our opinion of a performance – BUT we have to answer these questions about our own judgement: What is your purpose as adjudicators? Is your decision absolutely unimpeachable?

  • To be concluded. Read the Editor’s article on pipe band judging posted yesterday.
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