A really nice piece of writing, describing the experience of being a judge at a VSA Competition

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This is indeed a very down to earth and constructive article.  Bravo.  It ought to be a very good "word to the wise" for future entrants who understand what he said.  Nothing that can't be beneficial to violinmakers, too.

I thought it particularly interesting this statement, but I bet it must be VERRRY hard to actually invoke the rule:

"The rules now state that judges can give a lower-rated bow a gold medal without giving a medal to bows that rated higher technically. I think this is a very good rule, as a technically “perfect” bow can end up looking sterile. In our case, this rule didn’t come into effect, but I can imagine in some competitions it might."


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Hemingway would have told us what happened with the bow they spent two hours on.  In fact the whole story would have been about that...

I was one of many judges for a science fair, Jr High through high, seemed like all brilliant kids and a large auditorium full of entries.  What I came away with was different judges or just a different day and the outcomes would have been totally different.  Just makes me feel bad.

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A while ago I was asked to judge at Jugend Musiziert / Jeunesse musicales. It was very stressful. Competing ensemble members where 6 to 20 yeas old. In theory, the judges each had to give a mark, then discuss the marks and then come to a consensus. In some cases, this proved to be very hard. One category was Cello Quartet, and two ensembles were participating. One all boys quartet aged 14-16, one all girls same age. The boys all were from the same teacher, consequently played in a very similar way. They had  a beautiful warm sound, and a rich and lush vibrato. Very pleasing to the ear. The girls were totally different. Each had an quite personal style of playing, which was not always equally polished. Not all had a great vibrato, and also their instruments were of varieing quality, which lead to a less homogenous sound. However, the girls quartet had much more different styles (Baroque, modern and romantic music), and they clearly tried and to a great degree succeeded in interpreting the different styles as would be appropriate. The repertoire was also partly more difficult than that which the boys played. They were not affraid of playing a whole piece (by Arvo Pärt) practically non vibrato. Also, the girls were playing together, whereas the boys had one clear leader who was practically conducting, and always playing "the melody", as most of the time the music was such that there was a melody supported by harmony in the lower three voices. The boys had mainly romantic stuff, but also a piece by Dowland. Nonetheless all pieces sounded exactly the same: nice warm, vibrant, all were slow. At the end of their performance, I was bored and happy it was over. Also, the second cellist was tending to playing just a very little bit too high all the time, especially major thirds (which I hate).

When judging, two of the judges found the boys much better. They were of the opinion that stylistic differentiation was not important (even though it was specifically mentioned as one of the things to judge a performance by). They judged that one of the girls had a too short an end pin and therefore lacking proper technique, looking unpleasant. In other words, we had great differences of opinion on these Ensembles. I found them equal, one quite lacking in interpretation, other lacking in technical perfection, and found both should be given a chance in the next round, so I gave my score accordingly. One other judge was with me, the other two were not. The chairman of the comittee, who was one of those not agreeing with me, started pressuring me to revise my judgement, so the boys would get a higher score and the girls would not get through. He was completely disagreeing with me. This was very unpleasant. In explaining my reasoning, I used the term "vibrato-sauce", half jokingly, to describe how I felt the boys quartet was playing. This was not appreciated and, as I later heard, had in fact infuriated the chairman. He was of the opinion that cello has to always have the same kind of vibrato on every note, and lack thereof is a major technical and artistic faillure. As I did not change my opinion, in the end both quartets got through to the next round. I don't now how they fared there.

I heard later that the chairman had complained about my judgment regarding these two ensembles, and specifically mentioned my "vibrato-sauce". In any case, judging was on the one hand fun to do, on the other hand extremely unpleasant due to differences of opinion on what matters more. I don't know if I would do it again, even if I do think I did a good thing by making sure the girls quartet got to the next round too, and were given a chance to grow further as an ensemble, and that I did add something important to the total result. In any case I found judging a far worse experience than competing (and I as never very good at competing!).

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Out of curiosity I checked how the ensembles fared in the second round. Both received the exact same amount of points, and both were forwarded to the national competition for the whole of Germany. Without me (or someone else with an opinion similar to my own), the girls would have ended on regional level. That is very gratifieing knowledge. Maybe I will take part of the jury next time, if I get asked again.

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