Watch & Listen Member Center / Docs Shop

Ask a Judge, round 1: Crossing categories?

From Stephanie Dingle:

How are members to handle situations when a judge, during evals, openly admits to crossing categories? A Presentation judge spends more time discussing singing or music ... a Music judge saying there was a lack of musicality but I scored higher because of energy.

These are a few vague issues I've heard myself, but I still question the idea that each category can be judged independently of each other. But the manual does claim this is the process.


Thanks, Stephanie - you ask a great question and one that is often asked.

Ultimately, we all watch exactly the same performance, just with different filters on how we view and evaluate a performance. One of the distinct changes that was made 20 years ago, when we went from the four-category to three-category system, was that we recognized that there is significant overlap in the different viewpoints – each element influences the other.

At times over the past 20 years, the pendulum has swung a lot, from being able to say anything under the claim of “common ground” to “stay in your category.” Neither was appropriate, and I believe we’ve found a balance that recognizes some natural boundaries and yet recognizes that all components come together – that we can’t talk about our own view without recognizing the influence it has from others.

In nearly every performance, a group will score better if they sing better. So, if what I work on as a Music judge doesn’t help them sing better, I’m not helping them out the most. (My challenge is how do I help them and yet teach them something about music they didn’t know before that can help them?) And I’d say the same thing for the Presentation judge. So we’re all working on singing.

Overlap? It depends on how it is handled. We all expect that the Singing judge will talk about the mechanics of singing (breathing, posture, resonance, phonation, etc.). If a Music or Presentation judge acted as if he were a voice teacher, then that would be a potential issue. Even though many Presentation and Music judges are well-qualified to teach vocal techniques, we would expect them to approach their scoring and their evaluations from their own category’s viewpoint.

For example, a Presentation judge could recognize that part of the singing issue was lack of emotional connection; it was stilted, and perhaps that inhibited the singer from realizing the voice already inside him. The Presentation judge could get the group involved in the emotion and thereby improve the singing. A Music judge could talk about flow, and through that work get them singing better. It works in all the other directions as well, such as when a Singing judge discusses an interpretive choice (primarily the Music category's domain) that affected a group's singing quality and blend.

In my experiences as a Music judge, I have often asked “Who are you? What is the emotional story line?” Unlike a Presentation judge (who will help them explore a variety of emotions), I just want their musical delivery to match the emotional story line; and sometimes, what they choose isn’t supported by the arrangement. No other category will be able to provide that feedback. So, a good judge will live in all categories as he attempts to diagnose and help the group improve, but ultimately should provide some guidance that no other category will provide. People learn in different ways, and getting three voices giving you feedback from different perspectives on the same issue is valuable.

I guess I’ll have to re-read the manual to see if it really says that they are independent. If there is a passage or passages, let me know!

Kevin Keller (Society C&J Chairman)