There Is No Better Adjudicator Than Yourself

Prepare to Be Judged
There Is No Better Adjudicator Than Yourself

 By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl

This article was originally published in the February 2017 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all knowledge.” 
— Aristotle 

As an educator, I’ve prepared many ensembles for performances. As an adjudicator, I’ve evaluated hundreds of middle and high school bands and orchestras. It’s thrilling to watch an ensemble take the stage with confidence, and it’s magical to hear the players execute their parts with precision. However, it’s frustrating when a group demonstrates little performance etiquette or mastery of musical skills. And when the latter occurs, there’s only one person to blame: the conductor. 

If you’re making excuses for your ensemble’s performance, then you haven’t done your best to prepare your students for success. In my younger teaching days, I may have pegged a judge as being “too hard,” “not understanding” of my school’s schedule, or “inconsiderate” for not taking into account the amount of snow days prior to an adjudication. However, as I blossomed as a band director, matured as a listener, and grew into the role of adjudicator myself, I came to realize that excuses are simply made for lack of preparation.


We must prepare our ensembles for all types of interruptions to learning and challenges of life. Students will get sick. You will get sick. Inclement weather will happen. Schedules will be modified for testing. A family crisis will occur. When preparing for a performance, select music appropriate for the students’ ability levels, music that contains (or can be arranged for) your ensemble’s instrumentation, and music that can be mastered in an adequate timeline. If you don’t, interruptions to learning will deteriorate your ensemble’s performance.

In the winter of 2014, my students and I were asked to perform at our state music conference as the featured middle school band. A 70-minute performance was requested. I felt pride and excitement upon receiving the invitation. I also felt apprehension about performing in front of so many educators—so many adjudicators! Preparing a program of that quantity in the middle of February was unheard of for a middle school band. At that time of year, I was only accustomed to preparing 30 minutes of music for a March adjudication.

As February approached, with the state performance less than three weeks away, bad things began to happen. I caught a horrific head cold. The school schedule was altered to prepare for mandatory state literacy assessments. There were more than 10 days of delayed openings, early dismissals, and closures due to inclement weather. Precious rehearsal time was lost! I began to panic, and to question whether my students would be able to play all the musical selections at a superior level.


One evening at home over dinner, my husband asked me how my students were progressing for the upcoming performance. I said that they hadn’t yet mastered their parts, demonstrated confidence, or expressed passion, implying that they didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what they were doing. I must have sounded quite cynical, because my husband stopped me and asked, “Well, are you speaking to your students in this tone?”

Without comprehending the question, I started to answer. My husband interrupted again, saying, “Because if you talked to them in the same manner you just did to me, I can’t imagine that they’d want to do anything productive.” At first I was upset at my husband. He’s an electrical engineer. His responsibility is to keep our youth safe, not to educate them! How could he possibly understand my role as a conductor?

Later that evening I reconsidered my husband’s question. I began the uncomfortable process of judging myself. What had my teaching philosophy become? Was I fully prepared for each rehearsal? How was I treating my students? Had I lost enthusiasm? When was the last time I’d recited our band motto, “One Band. One Sound. One Family” (see my October 2016 column in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine)? Had I gotten myself so worried about 70 minutes of music that I’d lost the importance of the bigger lesson to be taught?


The next day at school, unbeknownst to my students, I made an audio recording of our rehearsal. I wanted to hear what my students heard—and get a better sense of whether the performance was truly unprepared. When I listened to the recording, I was shocked. I did not recognize myself. I cringed when I heard the negative tone of my voice. My agitation was obvious. I lacked positivity. I offered few compliments. Passion was absent from my teaching. My husband was right. I wasn’t inspiring anyone. I was disappointing my students, and myself.

I never told my students what I had done until after the performance. However, I did make a conscious attempt to improve myself, my teaching strategies, and my responses to students. I took time after each work day to exercise, eat healthier, and keep my spirit sparked. I formulated a more accurate lesson plan in preparation for each rehearsal. During rehearsals I spoke in a more positive tone. I complimented the students more often. I made suggestions for improvement, rather than stating what wasn’t working well. I smiled more. “Story Time with Lori” (see December 2016’s column) made an appearance. I added a high-kick or two during my conducting. I high-fived the students. I enjoyed my time spent with them again.

I did make a conscious attempt to improve myself, my teaching strategies, and my responses to students.

I continued to record the next few rehearsals, even capturing some on video. Listening to these recordings, it was as if a different band had been playing! When my students sensed I was stressed, they performed timidly. When they sensed positivity, they performed with confidence and pride. It was that simple.

The definition of adjudication is “a formal judgment.” Expect adjudicators to assess your ensemble based on the composer’s score. Adjudicators should hear from the performing ensemble what they see printed in the music. Be receptive to all adjudicators’ evaluations and trust their abilities. It’s common practice for a conductor to invite a clinician to assess or guest-conduct a rehearsal before adjudication season. I caution you to not use this practice as the ultimate factor in your ensemble’s preparation. Once you step back on the podium, the same issues will reemerge. Before someone else judges you and your ensemble, take the time to judge yourself. It may be just what you and your students need.

About the author:


NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl is a music educator and writer. Gain inspiration from her at

Lori is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom. As a writer for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, and conductor.  As an avid presenter at conferences, professional development sessions, and universities nationwide, she serves as a resource for building inspiring music programs, developing effective classroom management techniques and rehearsal routines, motivating diverse learners, and achieving unity in ensembles.  Within Maryland, Lori serves as Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University and as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo and Ensemble Festival.  As Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble, she has collaborated with composers Brian Balmages, Tyler S. Grant, Samuel Hazo, Richard Saucedo, Robert Sheldon, and Frank Ticheli.  Learn more about Lori here.

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