Philip Sparke's reply on 4barsrest

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by JR, Sep 27, 2004.

  1. JR

    JR Member

    I found Philip Sparke's response to criticism of the Open results and adjudication fascinating reading.
    I think this gave the best insight yet into the way a composer approaches the job as opposed to other judges. Clearly Philip (and presumably Michael Ball, - David Read I'm not sure) was looking for a totally different approach to Contest Music compared with St Magnus/Montage based on the fact that the piece was written 30 years earlier. In his opinion too many bands tried to make Contest Music sound like the other two i.e they went over the top in search of effects.
    I remember Edward Gregson saying much the same at the Yorks Area when he controversially judged his own "Essay" in 1982 - needless to say the bands giving it the big licks got nothing
    All this raises questions in my mind - e.g
    Was this approach agreed in advance with the other judges?
    Why did he feel it was necessary to defend his decision?
    Should his criteria have been made public before the event - that really would be controversial....
    Presumably all the bands who chose the Heaton (except Fodens!!) now wished they hadnt!

    john roberts
  2. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    Part of playing the music properly has to be understanding the context in which it was written. A band that shows that they have a proper understanding of the context should get a higher score than one that simply plays the notes. Emotion and meaning are essential to the performance of any music (even absolute music). If the composer was trying to evoke a particular emotion, and the band successfully demonstrates that they can evoke that emotion, then they have made a better performance of the piece than a band that plays all of the notes in the correct technical place, with perfect intonation, etc, that does not evoke the emotion.

    In a pure sense, any performance, even a contest performance, must be about who makes the best music as a whole, not have technically wonderful or dazzling the playing is.

    Looking at the whole Open from afar (and from a non-contesting perspective), it seems to me that some feel that contests such as this are a demonstration of the technical ability to execute the music and nothing else. But good music is much more than technical perfection - otherwise we would all have been replaced by machines years ago, and contests would simply be won on the basis of the most skilled synthesiser programming.
  3. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    This comes as a surprise to me as being a composer makes no difference to how I judge; I judge as a musician. I'm not using different criteria from other judges (at least, not the ones I've worked with (and that is most of the 'big names'). Playing a piece successfully is a question of getting the right notes in the right place, at the right time and in the right style, with a balanced and quality sound - plus the X factor.

    The idea of judges saying what they are looking for before a contest is a nonsense. What else CAN we be looking for other than an inspired performance that gets the piece right?

    I felt it necessary to 'spout forth' because of 4barsrest's assertion that we didn't do the job properly. I found that insulting. Also it seems to be a mystery to most what goes on 'in the box' and was just trying to make the process clearer. We're certainly NOT trying to find the big names to make the results look good, just trying to judge the best performance.
  4. jpbray

    jpbray Member

    This may be naive, but intended to be serious question, could ajudicators judge on technical merit and artistic impression. But, after saying this Gregson does not like is music being "tinkered" with but played according to the score. This begs another question if the score is the "datum" for a peice of music, how much artistic liscence is given to band.
  5. JR

    JR Member

    I'm really not sure that it is nonsense to specify your criteria in advance - I remember Alan Morrison advocating precisely this approach a couple of years ago though I would think it would apply more generally outside the top section.
    Philip - I'm still interested to find out if your approach to the reading of Contest Music was decided in advance or unfolded during the contest itself?
    Clearly only one reading (the winners) met your criteria - or am I mis-interpreting your response?

    john r
  6. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    To be honest, I was surprised. I had heard CM at Cambridge a few years ago and there were some stunning performances (notably YBS who gave what is still (for me) the best contest performance I have heard). So I was surprised that so many bands approached the piece the way they did in Birmingham. As I said in my reply to 4Br, I had the feeling they were not content to play the piece for what it is worth (priceless!) but to try to compete with the other two pieces in terms of colour and effect. Some of the percussion playing was unbelievable, to the point of being offensive in the context.

    The reason I used the word 'nonsense' is that I would have thought it was obvious what we are looking for! ;)
  7. BassoProfundo

    BassoProfundo Member

    " So I was surprised that so many bands approached the piece the way they did in Birmingham." (Quote Anglo Music Press)

    Then aren't you in danger of judging the MD rather than the band - as surely the MD decides how the piece is played.
  8. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    We're judging the PERFORMANCE. MD and band both have an influence.
  9. tim

    tim Member

    Hi philip

    Earlier in the week someone posted that they felt the quiet playing was poor in the contest in that there wasn't very much of it now I don't agree with that and in many performances i heard some fab quiet playing and I am curious to see what your perception was from inside the box???
  10. BassoProfundo

    BassoProfundo Member

    But the MD's influence on the style of the performance is surely greater.
  11. ian perks

    ian perks Active Member

    In responce to Phillip Sparkes remarks:

    It would be interesting how he would take CONTEST MUSIC if he was to take a band to a contest.
    Wopuld it be different to how FODENS played it?
    For me the Fodens performance did not do anything for me fair enough it was played but well
    but i was not in the box!!!
  12. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    So if he takes it a four times the marked tempo, and the band plays it brilliantly, what should be the verdict? :D

    The job of an adjudicator is to balance all factors. That's where judgement comes into it.
  13. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    For me the MD should take the accolades and criticism that come with the result anyway. The players in the band only need to be happy with the way they played. If they've done everything the MD asks of them, then the placing is entirely down to the man with the waggly stick. Musicianship should be as much a part of contesting as technical ability! (sounds obvious but sometimes I think people forget!) So personally I agree with Phillip. Bands in the top section (or for that matter in other sections, in my humble opinion) shouldn't need to be given guidelines as to how to play the piece for the best marks. As long as the MD and adjudicator are competent musicians, then that should be obvious!
  14. fitzy

    fitzy Active Member

    We had a similar controversy down here at our Nationals at Easter earlier this year. The adjudicator canned a lot of band because they simply did not follow the score closely.
    What we try to do in my band is follow as closely as we can what our conductor wants. He always tries to stick closely to a score (where possible) but he gives us plenty of room to be individually musical. Most of the modern (and older) band pieces I have played give you plenty of room to be individual within the boundaries of what written on the score. Basic things like tempo's and dynamics should never really be altered without good reason. The composer has put them there for a reason.
    If an adjudicator got up before a contest and told us what he was looking for, we would roll our eyes and keep playing the way we think it the score should sound. We have had adjudicators do that before and when the results have come out, they have gone against the criteria that they set.

    Isn't this supposed to be a hobby in the end? I know it is mine. I play to enjoy myself and some of the great music that we have the privelidge to play.

    It music that matters........... ;)
  15. Lauradoll

    Lauradoll Active Member

    I can't believe that adjudicators are having to justify the reasons behind their decisions. Either accept their opinion (after all they are the only ones who REALLY count) or stop contesting! The presecution of adjudicators is ridiculous. I honestly can't believe the backlash after the open. So what if "everyone" thought another band was going to win, the fact is that the adjudicators had a job to do so did it in the way they saw best. If this sort of rubbish carries on I can see no- one wanting to judge contests in the future as their integrity is in question everytime they make a decision.
  16. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    I couldn't have put it better myself! :D
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 28, 2004
  17. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I think this also gives the lie to that school of thought that said multiple adjudicators would solve contest problems! :) (including me)

    Personally, I think if you are not happy with adjudicators' decisions you might try doing it for real yourself.

    But that would probably be too much effort, hard work and dedication - not to mention professionalism for a lot of people.
  18. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Whilst I would in no way condone any sort of witch hunt or persecution of adjudicators, I've found the discussion surrounding the Open quite illuminating in understanding something of what the adjudicators are looking for, and how they go about making their decisions. I've always felt it is important to hear at least a few words from the adjudicators before the results are announced, and the publication of some of the remarks sheets handed to the bands also helps to put a clearer picture together.
  19. jpbray

    jpbray Member

    I think there is quite a distinct difference between accepting an adjudicators decisision and having them justify their reasons. I agree the adjudicators decisions has to be final otherwise you will finish up with a free for all; and at times it must seem a thankless task. Nevertheless considering the amount of committment and hard work by a band that goes into a contest, surely bands especially in top section should be given some indication of the reasoning beind an adjudicators decisions.

    Just a minute, what about the bit of paper with the adjudicators remarks, is this not sufficient justification of their decisions; or if we are paying for professional services, should we expect a more professional job when it comes to the written adjudication, that more clearly sets out the adjudicators decisision making process.
  20. JR

    JR Member

    I agree entirely
    I was fascinated by Philip Sparke's reply because I am both a conductor and an adjudicator. It has always been my contention - and I have put this forward at ABBA meetings - that different adjudicators lend more weight to certain aspects of playing than others, in other words the notion that we're all looking for precisely the same things is ridiculous - how else would you account for the massive differences in some of the Cambridge results? e.g. 1998 when 2 judges had YBS to win and the other had them 13th!!
    I do not question anyone's integrity - that's not the point - I just feel that we need as much information as possible and at least Philip Sparke has laid his cards on the table.

    john r