When does a performance become a great performance?



If there is a thread on this topic already then I do apologise.

I just have a few questions that I hope some of you can help me with. Here they are:-

1) As a player on the contest stage do you actually know when a performance is Average, Good or Very Good ? If you do, what reasons can you give for knowing ?

2) At the end of a performance have you ever looked around at your fellow players to see how they seem to feel about the performance ?

3) Are there specific signs that players display that can emit whether the bands performance was as they'd expected or not ? (This can be answered from a player or audience member)

4) At the end of some performances in the past I have felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Have you ever had that happen to you and can you pin point why ?

I know you might be getting rather bored of my posts so I promise I will try to get myself off the addiction soon,


Well-Known Member
I am obviously a very bad judge of a performance, whenever i have come of stage thinking we played well we come nowhere adn vice versa.

Now i just keep quiet and hope !
Sometimes, when you and the band are playing particularly well, you just know. You feel that everything seems to be going right and fitting in, and that shows through your own playing, and of the band as a whole. If you know things are going well, the whole band gains confidence and things only tend to improve.

I always have a look round at everyone at the end of the piece. You can tell what other people think of the performance from their faces and their body language. I for one tend to grin like a monkey when I know we've played well! If it's better than expected, the band as a whole tend to look in high spirits, again from both expression and body laguage, and often adopt a kind of 'swagger' when leaving the stage. I don't know about specific signs, as everyone reacts in different ways, but generally everyone tends to look satisfied and happy.

The hairs on the back of the neck thing, I find not just limited to contesting, but certain pieces always do this to me, and when I listen to or play a particularly 'nice' passage I feel that tingling on the back of my neck.

I for one am not bored of your posts, they provoke some interesting discussion, and that's of course why we're on here!


Supporting Member
I think its really hard to tell how things are going during a contest preformance (unless its really pants and you want to crawl off the stage!) because you're so focused! Sometimes I'll get to the end of a piece and not remember playing the middle page or something....

Generally if it does go well, the whole band leaves the stage grinning like idiots. This happened for us at Dundee - all the solos were great (and to answer another question, the cornet opener made the hairs on my neck stand up cos it was so lovely), none of the bits that could have gone belly up did, and we thought we sounded pretty good - scenes of euphoria, hugs for soloists, quality bar time etc....... and then we came about 3rd from the bottom. D'oh!

From an audience point of view, it seems like the bands who are playing really well look up and smile at each other more, and if its gone badly most bands seem to slink off stage without looking at the audience. Obviously this is a big generalisation though! :lol:

midwalesman said:
I know you might be getting rather bored of my posts so I promise I will try to get myself off the addiction soon
Naaaa - keep them coming!


Well-Known Member
midwalesman said:
I know you might be getting rather bored of my posts so I promise I will try to get myself off the addiction soon

No! Things are a lot more interesting when you're active...

1) Broadly, yes, but more specifically, it is variable, and, I think, depends on how consistently important my individual role in the performance is; to illustrate, I've generally been more aware of the merits or otherwise of a brass band performance from the Bass Trom seat than either of the Euph seats (these being the two areas in which I have most BB experience). This could simply be due to the fact that the BT is sat in a better position to appreciate the music (virtually all my time on Euph has been spent in sections that sit in the middle of the band, not in front of the Troms), but I suspect has a lot more to do with the lack of trust that writers show in the technical abilities of the Bass Trom (I feel a separate topic coming on!).
To pick an example, at the areas three years ago, we played 'Jazz', and I and most of the rest of the band came off stage thinking that we had not really done ourselves justice, mostly because of one or two prominent splats. To be announced 2nd was a huge (if enjoyable) surprise, but when we listened to the CD, it astonished me - we had in fact played it very well (with the exception of the minor blips noted), and, in fact, I cannot understand how Aveley came to be placed above us having listened to them in the auditorium. Anyway; I hope that was a useful illustration of my point.

2) Canvassing of other's opinions as you come off stage is often informative - it shows you how much people's opinions of the overall quality of performance are tied up with how well they have personally performed. I think it's absolutely standard for a band to be totally divergent in its opinions on this issue coming off stage.

3) Already covered, I think.

4) It's a satisfaction thing, isn't it? At the end of a cracking performance, you know you've done something well, and nobody can ever take that away from you, and the effect is intensified if, as with a difficult piece, you've invested quite a bit of time and effort in its preparation. The audience can help to produce this effect too; as a performer, you can't fail to be lifted by a really keen and supportive set of listeners in a packed hall - in fact, out of curiosity I was re-listening to a performance that I think fell into this category the other day, and moreover, one that I think that you were playing in too - The NYBB Denis Wright Centenary concert at the RAM in August 1995. It's not always the tidiest playing (partly my fault - there's a bit in the Mastersingers that always makes me cringe where Geoffrey Brand unexpectedly picked a slower tempo than in rehearsal, and I wasn't looking :oops: Very loudly. :oops: Oh, the shame...), but the intense feel that the audience gave made it a very special concert.
However, this 'tingling' isn't just a personal-performance phenomenon - I think everyone who takes time to appreciate a range of music can put their finger on a moment or two in the repertoire that just wires straight into the brain and presses the shiver button - a usual one is the first choir entry in 'Zadok the Priest', but my personal favourite must be the final section of (Giovanni) Gabrieli's 33-part Magnificat, where the dramatic breaks between the massive quasi-polyphonic phrases create such moments several times in succession - the penultimate one, leading to the impossibly grand ending, is the masterstroke, with just a few parts on the unison A holding over from the previous cadence on F major to the A major acting as the dominant entry to the next phrase. This sequence of moments blows me away reliably every time!

Anyway, enough waffle!
1. No
2. Yes
2. Yes
2. Yes

Should i expand on that?

1. Ok. As a player on the contest stage, i tend to be so focused on my own performance that, although i am constantly listening (obviously), i do not hear the quality of other's playing unless it sticks out as being terrible or unbelievably good. When i play well i tend to assume that the performance had been good, but i am often wrong. I try therefore not to make a judgement on the entire performance as i'm usually wrong!

2. I always look around the band to try and judge how they think it went, see if anyone had a blinder or a nightmare. Then when you come off you know who you can talk to without getting your head bitten off!

3. The response of the conductor. Usually in the first bar. Or, when people cannot stop grinning as they come off stage.

4. That happens a lot to me. It happens particularly at the end of performances as the piece is usually building up in dynamic and harmonic tension, and people feel this more in a tense situation such as a contest stage. I think that the 'shudder factor' of a piece of music varies greatly from person to person, as everyone likes different things. For me, although a loud finish always gives you a great feeling, i find that harmonic dissonance always has nore of 'shudder factor'. There is usually at least one bar in every piece which does this- and the harmonic reason could be as simple as a 4-3 suspension or an augmented 6th chord. Examples i can remember particularly from the contest stage were Leonardo (just the one bar somewhere in Wilby's normal quiet middle section), and Paganini (many times in this). However, if you like pieces that give you that feeling i suggest you listen to Britten's Ballad of Heroes. If you like the entry of Zadok the Priest you will love this- some bits are kind of similar, but with much more harmonic tension which increases the feeling. Great stuff.

Whew. back to work now...

Okiedokie of Oz

Active Member
Let me answer this slowly....and hope I don't give 2 or 3 opinions ion one sentence!

My interpretations for any performance, being from a smaller area, is judged on how close to a professional standard it could have been. It a piece is played to a level where everything just seems to click in a way where it's awe-inspiring, it has to be great. If it doesn't have that click, it's only good.

I used to always looks to the people I admired trying to judge it. As I grew up, I realised sometimes we judge ourselves on someone else's standards. I mean you wouldn't rip a 4th section band to bits because the soprano cornet player was out of tune on one note? And sometimes that's what happened. My teacher would sometimes judge himself on that professional level, when at the time he was a small town teacher. He still gets himself down over little things, despite giving good performances. Maybe not the best example.....

Same music techer would become very heavy and forceful in his gestures, and sometimes in your face. But he always appeared passionate about his music and greatful for out efforts.
I made references to having the performance "click". I can't describe. God knows I can't even come close to getting it in a rehearsal, which is why I often find myself beating myself up over my conducting. but I know when it does happen, it is great. It makes oyu want to work harder, and improve on performance....sometimes it's just a fluke of the accoustics...


Account Suspended
I'm relatively new to contesting only having done a few now.
The first few I was part of seemed to just fly by without incident and felt 'average' while we were playing them, not spectacular and not rubbish, just as we'd been playing up to that point.

But in the most recent own choice contest we played a test piece and it as we went through it dawned on me that we hadn't put a foot wrong so far and everything seemed to fit (acoustics, sound, balance etc) and was on course for a winning performance, as we neared the end you got the sense that all the players were willing everyone else on to get to the end (quite a strange feeling actually like you knew what everyone was thinking!) and we played really well, and by looking round everyone wasn't so much beaming smiles but jaws on the floor in amazement, the first thing I wanted to do was get off the stage and go "OMFG!!" (wont say what it stands for on here!), I'm sure all these contest veterans will say thats just part of the contest experience but I'd never seen/felt/heard anything like it until then, what a rush! :)

It wasn't even a big contest, just a local association contest and it just shows what a blind bit of difference standard is in own choice contests as the adjudicator placed us last simply because he openly admitted he didn't know the piece!! :evil:

Since then I'm definately really looking forward to the areas! :p


Maybe I'm speaking out of turn here, but aren't the best people to judge a performance the audience?

I have been at many a contest and competition as a supporter and have spoken to band members about their perfomances. I can guarantee that when the think the band as a whole believe they have played well, the adjudicators have heard something different. To push that point home, I have seen a band member awarded 'Best Soloist' when the piece played contained no solo parts!

My thoughts basically lie with the opinion that musicians themselves aren't the best to judge a performance as a whole. For example, when I watch my partner listening to a performance, he is quietly ripping it apart in his head. He is listening to notes, tones, tempo, melody, harmony, phrasing etc, where as I can listen to a piece unhindered by all this and relax and enjoy it. I guess this is a true case where ignorance is bliss and is in no way a criticism of musicians. I enjoy painting as a pastime, my partner can look at a painting and say whether he likes it or not, where as I will look at colour, perspective, texture etc.

I am not suggesting for one minute that Bands at contests should be judged by their audience. I actually stood up and 'Boooed" at the 2002 Nationals.. very unprofessional! On the other hand, should the audience be totally excluded? If there were no audiences to play to, would their even be contests?

This brings me to another point - do some bands exist purely for contesting and the prestige that comes with it? It seems to me they do and I find that quite sad. Surely music itself as a performance art is there to be played to the masses and not just for the odd weekends up and down the country? For the amount of Brass Bands there are in this country, concerts purely for enjoyment and pleasure are all to rare, but maybe this is because I live in the South.


Supporting Member
As a rough guide towards the end of a piece, look at the conductor. If he's relaxed, has a big grin on his face and is dancing along on stage you know the band has played well.

Product tMP members are discussing