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Contest & Judging prepares for open contests

Contest & Judging prepares for open contests

Years of preparation and training have prepared contest judges to fairly and accurately score all ensemble types.

by Steven Armstrong, Society Chair of Contest and Judging

Welcome back to contest!

As we return to International qualifying competitions this spring, it is a good time to reach out on behalf of the Contest & Judging program and let you know what we’ve been up to for the last couple of years, including how we’ve prepared for the new contest changes that will be in place for Charlotte. I know I speak for all judges when I say that we have missed our conventions as much as you have, and we can’t wait to hear you perform. We hope that you will participate in either a contest or festival. We truly just want to hear you sing! Even if you’re a little rusty, we are certain that you will find the experience gratifying and the feedback from the judges helpful as we all strive to return to and surpass previous performance levels.

First, let me state this very clearly: The Contest & Judging program did not know in advance what the decision of the Society Board would be regarding the 2022 International Quartet and Chorus Contests in Charlotte and the prelims leading into it. We did know that we would be judging women’s and all-voice ensembles in addition to men’s and that we’d better be prepared to do it well.

We’ve been preparing for this for many years. High-level competitors in women’s and all-voice quartets have said repeatedly that they want to compete in what had traditionally been a men’s-only contest, and be measured to the same standards. That is precisely our objective as a judging community, and we are confident that the judges selected for Charlotte are particularly equipped to do this. This means that there will be no adjusting of the standards for different ensemble types to try to have an equitable outcome among our champions, medalists, finalists or semi-finalists. The scores will be assigned on merit according to our existing standard. That means if there are more or fewer groups of a particular ensemble type that achieve those successes, that is simply a reflection of differing strengths of the field of competitors of each type in that particular contest.

It is important to note that groups that achieved a certain score or ranking in non-BHS contests will not necessarily achieve the same when the field of competitors is vastly different and particularly when the judging system is different. Each judging system values and weights elements of a performance differently and it is natural to expect that the final scores, while likely somewhat similar (after all, good is good) will also reflect significant differences.

Pandemic time meant additional training

So, exactly how have we been preparing with no in-person contests to judge? What exactly has C&J been doing? Well, we’ve increased our skill sets and shared ideas to improve the judging system. Throughout the pandemic, the C&J program:

  • Utilized the C&J video library with several thousand performances and kept scoring skills sharp by scoring hundreds of songs.
  • Received reports that showed scoring accuracy compared to peers and any tendencies or biases (Note: We have done this for several years now leading up to contest weekends and we will continue to do that).
  • Gathered frequently just to watch and discuss performances.
  • Brought in guests to speak on different topics (both from inside and outside the barbershop community).
  • Visited chorus zoom rehearsals to talk about our categories.
  • Connected with choruses and watched video of their performance and offered suggestions.
  • Reached out to groups that don’t compete often to see if we could watch a video of them performing on a singout and offered suggestions.
  • Rebuilt the Contest Entry system inside the new Member Center. (Note: We are currently working on the remaining piece of Barberscore called Scoring Manager, which the Contest Administrators will use when running the contest).

There still is a lot of work to be done (including updating the contest manual which is very complex with many references), but all in all, we’ve been busy and we hope to be better and more equipped to serve you when you return to the contest stage.

Well-prepared individuals

BHS Contest Judges are ready to fairly judge all ensemble types during a contest. Most of our judges already have experience with all ensemble types from coaching, directing, arranging, teaching at schools and even judging them in other barbershop organizations.

As most are aware, it takes a few years for someone to go through the judging applicant and candidate phases. We are thrilled that our earlier judging leaders had the wisdom to accept non-male candidates. We now have several non-male certified judges and many more as candidates! Note: We won’t see any of them on the judging panel in Charlotte, but that is entirely because they are still very newly certified BHS judges, reaching that status in July of 2019 - just in time to judge a contest in the Fall and then be shut down by the pandemic. The International judging panel is required to have some years of experience in addition to being very skilled. You’ll see these newer judges on International panels in the future once they’ve had the chance to gain experience by judging more BHS contests.

Preparing for the first open International contest

Speaking of that Charlotte panel, we’ve selected them very carefully given the historic nature of this contest. Last fall, all judges scored a playlist full of International caliber quartets of each ensemble (we compiled video performances of outstanding women’s and mixed quartets to add to similar caliber men’s quartet performances from the Salt Lake City International). With this playlist, we ran all the usual reports that show tendencies and biases and fed that information back to our judges. That information was also used when selecting the Charlotte panel. In case you’re worried that this exercise pre-judges or pigeon-holes these groups into a particular scoring level, our judging history has shown this is not the case and we have been doing this as an educational component of judging for decades. As recently as 2015, Instant Classic jumped from 8th the previous year all the way to first while using three of the same songs. Judges discuss performances to learn and then approach each future performance of that group with fresh ears, prepared to score higher or lower based on that performance - sometimes dramatically so.

Supporting the volunteers who are supporting you

Our judges are volunteers who freely give a great deal of their time to build their skills and serve as judges. Every human being has biases and tendencies, and C&J training and processes are built to help us identify these and learn to not let them affect our scores. The judges are 100% ready to fairly judge all voicing compositions, and we will continue to get better at it.

If a group in Charlotte places higher or lower than you believe they should, that is fine. It is fun to second-guess the judges, and that is as traditional to us as ringing a chord! However, please remember that judges are assessed on character and scoring ability (among other things) and what they want to do more than anything is give every competitor the most accurate score possible. That is far more important to us than any particular personal preference for what the system should or should not be and who should or should not be singing in the contest. Please continue to positively support our volunteer judges, as we will positively continue to support people singing and performing barbershop.

Steven Armstrong is Society Chair of Contest and Judging.