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Bill Allred’s Festival and Contest Tips

Mike Lawson • Performance • May 19, 2014

Having extensive experience both as a director and as a festival and contest adjudicator, Bill Allred has gained perspective that informs his decision making and his instruction. “As an adjudicator, it’s your job to recognize whatever great things the groups onstage are doing, and also to recognize mistakes or problems, as well as fundamental development issues,” says Allred. “We have two partners – fellow adjudicators on the panel – with whom we can confer and compare notes (after the contest). A collegial discussion about the performances you’ve seen can really help fill in the gaps. When I’m on the podium, I have a real good idea of what adjudicators are looking for both in terms of what might be most offensive, but also what might be most appreciated.”

Focus on Fundamentals

In terms of how participating as an adjudicator has impacted his own instruction, Allred points to both repertoire selection and an overall focus in fundamental development. “First of all, select appropriate literature that fits the group,” he says. “Also, the thing that I talk a lot about as I’ve gained more experience as an adjudicator is fundamental development – embouchures, hand positions, quality of sounds, quality of reeds, mouthpieces, being able to manipulate the pitch, playing in tune, and listening skills. If the basics are not developed, then kids aren’t able to play in tune, or play well. A lot of folks are going for the musicality – which is great, and what we need to do – but if the fundamentals are not in place, the out-of-tune sound, precision problems, and gaps in quality playing will negate any attempts at musicality. It’s something my staff and I work on feverishly, to improve in our instruction. If there’s a lack of fundamentals, it hurts every area of performance.”

Manage Anxiety

Building solid musical skills in areas like tone production and dynamics is an ongoing process, but there are things that the director can do on the day of the event to help ensure that even after the weeks and months of preparation, the students have the best opportunity for an optimal performance. “As a band director and an adjudicator, I’ve learned that it’s really important that there are no emergencies on performance day,” confides Allred. “And what I mean by that is no matter what happens, we have to handle everything calmly. What constitutes an emergency is how we react. If the band director is stressed out or showing anxiety, the kids will read that and it will impact their performance. The director needs to be calm, cool, and collected, even in moments of despair and difficulty. When there are kids who don’t look comfortable onstage, who aren’t confident in what they’re doing, you can look at the band director and he’s typically sweating and stressed out. Everybody is stressed out, but you have to keep that internal and not let the kids see it. And things will happen – instruments break, kids forget their reeds or their shoes, someone shows up late. Still, never let it bother you externally. If the adults are panicking, the kids are going to be scared and they’re not going to perform as well as they might otherwise. It’s our job to put them in the best position to perform. We want to prepare as best we can, but things always happen on performance day and we need to handle that without making the situation worse.

“The other detail to keep in mind is that the presentation on the stage is so important. It doesn’t have to be tuxedos and dresses – although those are wonderful – but there are adjudication forms that get marked about whether or not the dress is appropriate and the presentation is clean. I know that socioeconomic factors can play a part in that, but it makes such a difference, even little things like having all kids in same colored shoes, and presenting the group in chairs that are in clean, even rows, kids at the ends never having their back to the audience, and so on.”

Allred’s final tip is to be sure to acknowledge the audience and give them the same courtesy you would during any other performance. “Even though at contest there may not be very many people in the audience, go ahead and acknowledge the audience like it’s a school performance. That can make a big difference in the presentation.”

 

Music Performance Assessment

Although contest and festival standards vary from state to state, they can still be a critical benchmark in terms of measuring progress. “In New Mexico, what was formerly known as ‘Concert and Sight Reading’ is now called the ‘Music Performance Assessment,’” says Allred. “In this Music Performance Assessment, each band is given a numerical score, on top of the Roman numeral rating of Superior in division one, two, three, four, or five. This is brand new, and the numerical score is now also a factor in the assessment of the educator. The overall assessment also looks at things like attendance in school and principal evaluation scores. This MPA is something that every educator has to participate in as a part of their overall assessment by the Public Education Department. All that said, I’m curious what impact this will have on the level of literature performed at these events. If a teacher is in fear of his or her job, will it mean he or she only gives grade 1 literature to their students? That’s what I fear. But this is the first year in existence. Even though it’s just a trial period, we haven’t seen that yet. No one’s job is in jeopardy or anything like that. But next year, that MPA is going to go on each teacher’s record. The idea is to increase accountability, and how that plays out is certainly something to watch over time.”

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