Festivals and Contests: What For? Part 2

MENC member Chris Bruya, jazz curriculum officer for the Washington Music Educators Association, shares what he’s learned about festival judges and clinics over the years.

What about the judges?

The perception at festivals is that the evaluations are all about the students. Let’s get real: the evaluation is about you, the director.

At every festival I adjudicate, I hear groups attempt charts that are way above the students’ abilities. I’m guilty of this, too. Challenging students helps them grow musically, but music shouldn’t be so difficult that students can’t perform rhythms, pitch, and basic dynamics.

Choose literature your students can play. Prepare them to actually make music, and coach them on communicating the music’s expressive elements.

It’s a real treat to hear a group that really communicates the music. They’ve participated in the music-making process at the highest level. No matter what the rating, they can feel satisfied with their performance.

What about the clinics?

As a festival clinician, I’m often surprised that some groups are so fearful, and don’t know why they’re at a clinic. It’s an opportunity for them to gain musical insight.

Directors often telegraphs their feelings about the clinic to their students. They should prepare their students for the clinic experience and model engaged behavior. This is usually the case, but I’ve had directors argue with me or glaze over when the subject is raised.

Remember, a clinician’s perceptions are based on a snapshot of your group. If the clinician says he/she is hearing something objectionable, there’s probably something to it.

If your clinics are always focused on the basics, maybe you haven’t prepared your group to communicate musically. Maybe the literature is too difficult. Again, as with the ratings and critiques, clinicians are really talking to you, the director.

Should you go?

Of course, you should take your students to contests and festivals. We all need to be evaluated. Your students need this experience of sharing music with their peers. It’s a learning opportunity and a capstone event to your long hours of preparation. If you keep the focus on your students and creating great music, success should become the norm, and they’ll be educational experiences that improve performance.

Chris Bruya is director of jazz studies and associate department chair at central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. His jazz band has consistently been recognized as one of the best in the Northwest, appearing often at the MENC All-Northwest, WIBC and WMEA conventions. Their CD entitled In A Mellow Tone was released to wide acclaim in 2008 on SeaBreeze Records. Chris is often called upon to adjudicate festivals, present clinics, lead workshops and guest direct jazz ensembles throughout the region.

This article has been adapted from an article of the same title by Chris Bruya, Jazz Curriculum Officer. It originally appeared in the March 2008 VOICE, a publication of the Washington Music Educators Association. Used by permission.

–Anne Wagener, September 28, 2010, © National Association for Music Education