The Establishment of Contest
Updated: May 6, 2020
This is the audience we wish for. This is the audience we perform best for.
So why do so many band directors gauge their own success or others' success on ratings at district or state contests? This is NOT reality; this is not a performance in the real world. This is merely an evaluation of that singular experience on stage at that moment. I do not believe the judges are the problem with this experience. For the most part, the judges I have had experiences with have been helpful and compassionate to my ensembles. Our (my and my students') ensembles scores have historically been average or fair. Which, in reality, our ensembles are average compared to schools similar in size. But in the contest world, what band director feels confident with saying to their colleagues and friends, "I'm so proud of my average or fair band. They performed so average today!" Um...really? No.
This is an antiquated tradition that I believe has run its course.
Think about it, all other secondary and post-secondary athletics relate to contests or competitions in the "real world" except for band. There is no olympics for band. There are no contests for professional bands (yeah, yeah...DCI. I know, but that's marching and that IS a sport). So why? I equivocate district and state contests to mandated standardized tests. I am also ready for those to be eliminated as well, but that's a completely different conversation.
Some might say that I am bitter for never earning "Superior" ratings, but nope. I'm not. I decided I would not participate in district contest three years ago. In the time I would normally have been "preparing" for contest, I have had artistic license to explore scores of music (pun entirely intended), compose music with my ensemble, build their technique, develop their musicianship, discover new genres of music, and build the morale of my student body. They are even getting the opportunity to perform as the "pit orchestra" for our school musical. But even more importantly...
I have had the time and energy to spend with my family.
So instead of preparing for a contest that reinforces the concept of standardized performances, maybe we should consider preparing our students for more extra-ordinary performances where there are more than three "important" opinions in the audience, where there is an audience that is there simply to connect with the musicians and the music.
We teach our students that music communicates, music connects people.