Concluding Excerpt from Report on Pipe Band Judging

Today we print the final part of the special report into pipe band judging commissioned by the RSPBA Adjudicator’s Panel. The 2018 report was conducted by Ms Anne Crookston of the Association of Brass Band Adjudicators. We do not have the tables which accompanied Ms Crookston’s report unfortunately, but nevertheless believe her findings will be of interest to all pipe band followers. As with the first excerpt we print the report without any editing. Readers might like to refresh their memory by reading the first part of Ms Crookston’s report. They can do so here.

I have to confess that when Kenny and I listened at Paisley and then again in Belfast, we had a bit of a go at judging ourselves. Of course, we are not the subject experts – interestingly, however, the one thing we did agree with the judges, was the placings of the bands that were the lowest ranked. In the Juvenile section in Belfast we both separately came up with exactly the same result as the judges.

What we both agreed on was that the margins between the bands at the very top seemed incredibly fine. My question is – how confident are you as a body of adjudicators that you ALL will always get it right?

You have a beautifully transparent system of allocating judges across every major equally. Are you assuming then, that every judge is of equal skill? Are you confident that every single judge is able to identify, articulate and rank all of the bands, at every level, consistently?

Does everybody agree on the criteria you listen for? Which ones are the ones that separate the bands at the very top? You couldn’t do it with brass bands – we couldn’t do it with your elite grade 1 bands – so what is it that separates these bands, and do you ALL agree on that?

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Going back for a moment to your judging panel and scoring system: Questions…The first is purely arithmetic – are you confident that an equal weighting and equal division of the scores of each judge always leads to the best performance winning the contest?

You have two separate piping judges – why?

If, by giving the pipes more importance, in terms of adjudication, are you not diluting the weight of the score? The piping judges have two separate scores – it seems like they very rarely agree, and more often than not are fairly far apart in terms of result. Each one is subjective – neither compare – if they don’t agree with each other – do they not just cancel each other out, therefore what is the point?

I have taken all of the results of the 2017 season, from every competition and played around with the results on a spreadsheet. The coloured boxes show where the results have changes from the original result and the grey squares show no change to the original position.

Table 1 shows all of the actual results for every band – no changes made.

Each of the following tables shows what the result would have looked like without the result of one of the judges.

In a very crude way it shows that in almost every single case, taking away one or two of the judges’ scores makes no difference to the position of the bands at the top and the bands at the bottom. Only in one or two competitions is the result the very same as the original.

It is clear that certainly in the 2017 season, the top bands were always going to be the top bands; the same can be said for the bottom bands. 

Whilst I haven’t done any real forensic analysis of the results with and without certain judges – you can see for yourselves that taking away various combinations of piping/ ensemble judges, does nothing to the overall winning band’s position (mostly). What the results comparison does do, is perhaps allow you to monitor good judging practice across a season.

I’m going to leave you with what I think are the main questions for discussion:

  • What is your purpose as adjudicators?
  • As individual adjudicators, are you absolutely certain that your judgements are formed only on the musical performance and without any other influences whatsoever?
  • If you have an agreed set of criteria for judging a competition – are they the same for an MSR as they are for a Medley?
  • If you have an agreed set of criteria – are you confident that every adjudicator is able to apply them with the highest degree of skill in order that the best performance wins?
  • Why does the differences in opinion between individual piping judges appear to effectively dilute the overall contribution of what you consider the most important element?
  • Without being at all simplistic, ask yourselves what is the point of the competition?

Finally, there are easy comparisons to make between both our worlds; essentially what we do is exactly the same – we make comparative judgements about a performance. How we do things may be different – that comes down simply to our respective cultural heritage, but by and large we are both seeking out and rewarding the best quality. 

Where we differ is in your willingness to be reflective; it’s why we are here this evening. You are a very open body, willing to talk about the quality of what you do, and prepared to make change, where change is for the better – that is very rare.

Your commitment, over a number of years, to train your adjudicators, is a number of years ahead of brass bands, although they are beginning to think more seriously about this now. 

You are connected to the bands in a way that brass band adjudicators are not – you all come under one umbrella association. In brass bands, the adjudicators’ association is splintered, and this has led in the past (and perhaps still does to a degree) to a sense of isolation and defensiveness that prevents healthy reflection on its own practice.

If we all want to maintain high standards and serve the bands to the best of our ability, it may be worth thinking about how we can maintain our good practice. In most professional walks of life, people undergo continuous professional learning or reflect on their practice by means of moderation. 

Whatever the case, I commend your commitment to quality and reflection, openness and transparency and I thank you once again for the warmth of your welcome and your generosity, particularly to you, Cameron [Edgar], for guiding us through a hugely impressive event in Paisley and for your hospitality in Belfast.

The following details of Ms Crookston’s career can be found online: Anne Crookston was born in Glasgow and has enjoyed a wide-ranging musical career having been involved in choirs, brass bands, orchestras and wind bands throughout her career. Her earliest musical training was on tenor horn, moving to baritone aged 14.

At the same time, Anne started playing oboe, later going on to study the instrument at Glasgow University, where she also conducted the Brass Ensemble, Wind Band and Orchestra before graduating with a B.Mus. (Hons) degree in Music. Her brass band career began at Newmains in Lanarkshire. She moved to CWS (Glasgow) in 1986 and success soon followed when, in 1990, the band became the first from Scotland to win the National Championship title at the Royal Albert Hall.

Anne Crookston

Anne moved to Whitburn Band in 1992 and remained solo baritone there until 2010, when she left to pursue a career in conducting. Following a short spell conducting Kingdom Brass, Anne was appointed Musical Director of Whitburn in 2011 and to the same positions with West Lothian Schools in 2013 and Bathgate Band in 2014.

As an adjudicator, Anne has a wealth of experience having judged at local music festivals and solo and ensemble contests, as well as throughout Europe at contests including the European Youth Championship, Siddis Brass (Norway) and regional and national events in Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. Away from brass bands, Anne is Head of the Performing Arts Faculty at St. Margaret’s Academy in Livingston and has completed a Master’s degree in Education.

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