Adjudicator Perspective: How To Prepare For Your Festival Performance

Planning a festival should be a fun and rewarding experience. At WorldStrides OnStage, we take care of every single detail so our directors can focus on the most important part – the music! Adjudicated festival performance can feel intimidating, so we talked to several of our adjudicators to get the inside scoop on how you should prepare yourself and your group for your music festival.

What do the adjudicators think the festival is all about?

Adjudicators emphasized the fact that their role at the festival is one of a colleague-mentor who is there to support you as the director, and to help your ensemble improve by offering another musical perspective. Most of them have stood in your shoes and all have a keen understanding of music as a process; the festival is one more step on the journey. The performance should be a strong demonstration of where the ensemble is, and  the post-performance on-stage clinic is an opportunity for the clinician to offer suggestions as to how your group can get to the next level. Our adjudicators want to provide a positive and meaningful educational experience for you and your students.

How can I get the most out of my festival and clinic experience?

  • Be ready to learn: We are life-long learners. Our most experienced adjudicators pick up new techniques, methods, analogies, and ways to listen from their fellow clinicians during the festivals. They encourage directors to plan to be as engaged as their students during the clinic. Not only will you set an example and be able to reinforce concepts later, but you’ll also learn new things!
  • Observe: Watch the performances and clinics of groups from other schools. Not only is it a great to hear other ensembles perform, you get to experience the clinic from the observer side which can help your students put their clinic in context.
  • Be receptive: Be open to feedback and be flexible. Everyone has room for improvement! You don’t necessarily have to accept everything that the adjudicators suggest, but take the time to listen.
  • Stay calm: Don’t panic! Adjudicators are there to support you and help your groups improve. Don’t worry about impressing the adjudicators; simply present where your ensemble is in their journey.
  • Time limits: Be aware of time limits and plan your program accordingly. In order to maximize time with your clinician, consider your program length carefully.
  • Set up expectations: Coach your students on how the festival will run and what it should mean to them musically and educationally. The festival shouldn’t be about trophies; music isn’t a sporting event!

What missteps have adjudicators seen over the years that I can try to avoid?

  • Programming: Often, the adjudicators see directors who program above their ensemble’s ability level, selections that don’t demonstrate contrasting styles, and groups that perform pieces that are inappropriate for their instrumentation or voicing. Several composers on our adjudication panel recommended rewriting parts for the instruments or voices you have available –don’t forget to send a note in the score!
  • Defensiveness: Letting your ego get in the way was an issue echoed by several adjudicators. They reiterated that their purpose is not to make you or your groups “look bad,” but to provide suggestions and help everyone improve.

What comments do the adjudicators give most often to festival ensembles?

  • Fundamentals: Remember your fundamentals – intonation, articulation, diction (for choral ensembles), pulse, rhythm, balance, dynamics, phrasing, and posture. Our adjudicators stress that these are lifelong skills individual musicians and ensembles hone, but also that they’re important to comment upon for a festival performance.
  • Sound production: How your students are producing their sound is crucial to their musical education and your ensemble’s sound.
  • Musicality: In directors’ attempts to get it “right,” they may neglect making music. Some adjudicators said an emotional performance was far preferable to a technically precise presentation without feeling.

What defines a successful clinic?

  • Aha!: Lights going on, “wow” moments, or “aha!” experiences – no matter how the adjudicators described the phenomenon, they all agree that there is no greater feeling of success in a clinic than when their suggestions inspire a change and the students and director clearly “get” it.
  • Mastery: Our adjudicators feel like they’ve done their job when they’ve left students and teachers with at least one take-away that can be utilized at home.
  • Engagement: Clinicians know a clinic is going well when students and directors are engaged and responding to them. What can make an even bigger impression on an ensemble is when a supportive audience full of students, parents, and chaperones react to changes they hear or see.

In summary, our adjudicators recommend that you prepare your students musically and mentally for their festival experience, approach the clinic with an open mind, and remember that both you and they belong to a larger musical community; getting to work with the adjudicators is part of that membership.

Learn more about our WorldStrides Onstage Programs.

The author would like to thank the following WorldStrides OnStage adjudicators who contributed to this post: Barry Bernhardt, Dr. Matt Brunner, Dianna Campbell, Dr. Mary Ann Craig, Dr. Ron Hufstader, Robert Mayes, Dr. M. Scott McBride, Dr. Amy Mills, Dr. Marti Newland, and Carl Strommen.