Festivals and Contests: What For? Part 3

With festival experience as a director, adjudicator, and clinician, MENC member Chris Bruya offers his advice on preparing students to perform at festivals and contests.

Selecting Repertoire

“This is by far the most important aspect of what a director does, not only for festivals, but for all performances,” says Bruya. “I usually go by a formula that was shown to me by the late John Moawad — do a blues, bebop, and a ballad. If there is time for a 4th selection, choose something a little different or against the grain.”

In all circumstances, use music that

  • emphasizes the strengths of the ensemble
  • downplays the weaknesses of the ensemble
  • has educational value for the players
  • inspires you and your students.

“If I’m not moved by a particular chart, I don’t use it,” says Bruya. Revisiting past favorites and standards is one way to tap into that inspiration. “There are a lot of pieces out there that younger directors and students have never been exposed to. Dig through your library and rediscover the chestnuts from long ago.”

Preparing for the Performance

Bruya approaches festivals as he does any performance, with a focus on giving the best performance possible and having fun.

When rehearsing with students, Bruya recommends:

  • Follow in the steps of jazz greats. “Listen to and analyze what the masters have done with a particular tune and try to emulate it. A musically correct style, based on the recorded history of the music, will come into play naturally.”
  • Remind students jazz is about groove, rhythm, and entertainment. “If the audience doesn’t want to move to what we are doing, then we aren’t doing our jobs.”
  • Focus on how to communicate the music to the audience (and by extension, the judges). “If we prepare and perform to the best of our abilities, then the judging and ratings will usually turn out positively anyway.”


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.

–Anne Wagener, October 12, 2010, © National Association for Music Education