Judging violin contestants online ... Help!!
The coronavirus emergency in Lombardy, Italy, has not stopped the 26th edition of the Enrico Arisi competition for young musicians from happening, but the auditions will be online via a private YouTube channel.
I've been on the panel of judges for several years now, but I have not ever encountered a similar situation. Ranking kids playing one after the other is hard enough, but if you start factoring video and sound quality (or lack thereof) it sounds like a nightmare. Not to mention that there will be less stage fright and I suppose if a contestant isn't happy with a video performance they will just make a new one.
So, I know many of you teach online and therefore have experience in exactly this kind of situation. Can anyone please give me some advice, whereby my ratings can be as fair as possible? Thank you in advance, also on behalf of the students!
I don't envy you having to judge such a competition!
I am personally disappointed to see national competition finals moving online. Not only is there too much variability between recording setups and venues as David describes (how am I supposed to book a hall for recording these days, or rehearse with an accompanist or group); it also eliminates the moment-in-time magic of a convincing or even brilliant live performance under pressure. We wait until 2021 for the Olympics, and don't have everyone send a video of their best performance at home.
Have you started judging yet or are you anticipating the issues?
I agree with Mary Ellen. Music Festivals have been using video/audio recordings to judges admissions for years. Conservatories and Universities have also been using videos for pre-screenings and/or admissions for years. Clearly video recordings have been deemed sufficient for judging performances at many levels. Is it ideal? Of course not, but it allows competitions to continue, ensuring that young musicians have a chance to share their hard work. It's not the same as in-person, but it allows the music making to continue while we wait for effective treatments/vaccines/mitigation measures to work.
I don't think it will be as hard as you think, assuming that you are not judging the absolute tippy top professional level. We've done contests that are video submission only, and one time our camera failed completely, which we didn't realize until after the accompanist went home and we left the hall we were recording in. It wasn't a major contest, so I just ended up sending in my backup iPhone SE video that was really horrible. We did get a comment on the judging form about how the quality comparatively stunk, but they were easily able to tell ability. Interpretation, intonation, etc. all still come through. You may lose tone and some cameras/phones blunt dynamic range, which is why at the very top levels judging becomes more problematic, but for most situations it is still pretty obvious who plays well and who doesn't.
You won't be able to compare tone quality or volume, but everything else should be possible; intonation, vibrato, rhythm, etc.
You can compare tone quality and dynamics using recordings. Perhaps Joel is thinking of Zoom or similar apps but that’s not what this is.
These aren't going to be synchronous performances. These videos are going to be done in professional studios with $10000 microphones and such.
Thank you everyone, indeed. Very appreciated.
Please keep us posted as the competition moves forward as to how varied the quality of the submissions is and also how easy/hard it is for the judges to discern the differences in musical ability.
@David, I will be please to do so, especially given the time you dedicated to your post above :-)
The competition has been held and then winners selected, so as requested I can give some feedback as to how easy/difficult it was to judge young talents via online videos.
Thank you for sharing your experience - it turns out my worries were not that important after all. I'm glad it was an acceptable compromise.
Thanks for telling us how it went! One of my biggest concerns was (and is in regards to digital entrance exams) how the question of finding a pianist was handled. I might have missed it somewhere in this thread, but did they all have to find a pianist themselves, or did they all play without one? I imagine this to be a possible disadvantage for those who play with their "own" pianist instead of one provided by the competition if it was that kind of competition, anyway. Would love to hear your opinion on its impact.
@Benjamin all of the video recordings we have done for various requirements or auditions since COVID have specified that no accompanist is to be used. Instrumental solo only to level the playing field. My state is still sheltering in place, so many kids don't have access to pianos or accompanists. My kids are younger, so we are talking about youth symphony auditions, scholarship auditions, and pre-college program juries for the most part, but from what I have heard from the older kids in my son's program, the same has been true for conservatory and university auditions.
@Susan That's very interesting! Does that mean that they have to prepare actual solo repertoire, or are they allowed to perform the solo parts of pieces intended for multiple musicians? I imagine everybody who's prepared any type of (Duo) sonata must be much more frustrated than the lucky ones that went for Bach and Paganini, either way.
I'm also interested in Susan's comment because I think part of being a good violinist is your interaction with your accompanist. Still, I do also see the point that not all accompanists are created equal, and you don't want to be judging them, even unwittingly.
In most cases, they have not had to prepare solo repertoire, though my older one has often chosen that just because so much rep sounds empty without accompaniment. He's done all Bach and Paganini for virtual recitals, except for one collab with a pianist on a Mozart Sonata. They recorded their parts separately. It was extremely hard and rather unsatisfying from his perspective.
All of my daughter's college auditions last year were unaccompanied--this includes the Jacobs School at Indiana University--and the local youth orchestra auditions are never accompanied. Lalo, Bruch, or less difficult student works sound just fine without accompaniment and at any rate give us the information we need to rank applicants.
I wonder if this quarantine is going to result in composers thoughtfully turning their focus to solo instruments and their possibilities. I guess with electronic production, a lot of different things are possible, so maybe that's kind of an afterthought.
If there is a permanent trend toward no-accompaniment in auditions for conservatory, important summer camps, and competitions, then I wonder if that will significantly skew what top students study as they progress, or even how they play. Will see see twice many recordings of the Ysaye Sonatas every year from now on, because everyone prepared them in their pursuit of conservatory admission?
@Susan and Mary: Thanks for clearing that up! I'm genuinely amazed, as I had no idea that was even possible. I have no experience with auditions for scholarships or youth orchestras, but I don't think there's a single conservatory here in Germany where applicants do not get the chance to perform their audition program with a pianist. That's so much of a given that there's not even a question about it, just as at masterclasses. Now, competitions are a different story, at least the smaller ones for young musicians. There you need to bring an accompanist, no matter whether you're competing in the ensemble or solo category, but the bigger competitions definitely provide professional accompanists, as did at least one competition in Romania. Does that mean that there are no professional accompanists assigned to the conservatory classes, either, or do they just not have to play during the auditions?
It really varies here. My son's advanced pre-college program does EVERYTHING with an accompanist (at least pre-COVID). Every audition, masterclass, studio class, performance. Even most service performances. They believe in this so strongly that they decided to postpone both new-student auditions and old student juries to August in hopes that the kids can play live with an accompanist. On the other hand, his scholarship program (for underrepresented groups) is mandating juries without an accompanist.
My son went through the audition process this year. He is so relieved he made it through the audition process before stay in place orders were issued. I can share that Colburn, NEC, and Juilliard all required a pianist for the audition. A list of collaborative pianists was shared and he arranged for a rehearsal and audition. Cost was between $180-$200 dollars. Auditions at Oberlin, Rice and Eastman did not require a collaborator. All auditions were 10 minutes in length.
Once you're in a conservatory, all performances, studio classes, competitions, etc., are with accompaniment.
Likewise my university orchestra's auditions are not with accompaniment. I played a page and a half of the F-major Beethoven Romance and was immediately promised a seat, and I auditioned early. Eventually my seat wound up next to the principal violist, but still.
The local university orchestra appropriated the community orchestra as a second orchestra for music majors, so they have two orchestras now, and the community orchestra no longer exits. That really sucks. I understand why it happened, but it hurts.
My university does not have a music program comparable to any of the top conservatories, by any stretch. Players who are too marginal to join the university orchestra are recommended to join the community orchestra, and in our case, it is a great benefit to the community orchestra when they do. So it can work both ways.
“It surprises me that a place like Jacobs would audition its violin majors for their orchestra, but that's because I don't know the numbers: Let's say they have 12 stands of violins, that's 24 people -- how many performance majors are there at a time? Do they have a second orchestra for those who don't make it? How's it going to school for a performance major and then not getting into the orchestra?“
Congrats @Mary Ellen! That is a big accomplishment.
Susan, thank you! I was so proud.
Wow it's great to understand all that better. It makes sense. I'm not surprised a place like Jacobs would have it figured out. Congrats to your daughter too.
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