If the band director or music teacher world had political parties, I would probably be placed in the ultra-liberal, radical party. I have ideas, and views, and ways of doing things that are not always traditional. I do them in search of additional avenues of teaching my students and guiding them to be musicians, not to make waves in the music education community. But it seems as if the waves are a natural side-effect of my choices.
My latest wave-making idea is the "Comments-Only" festival attendance. For the first time, my band participated in our county festival for comments-only, no rating given by the panel of judges.
I believe my students do need the ears and eyes of other music professionals to help them progress and improve. I absolutely LOVE band clinics, where the "clinicians" listen to the band perform then work with them to make the performance even better. I am no so in love with the festival which keeps the "judges" and the band separate. I do not feel the comments have as great of an effect when they are written and recorded as when they are personally delivered and immediately performed.
I explained to the students about the "comments-only"status and we discussed as a group how that can be beneficial to us: instead of having just 3 judges, we will have 48 - each student in our band will be a judge, plus we will have the comments from the 3 official judges.
While performing at the festival, I made a "clean" recording of our performance using a digital recording device on the conductor's podium. Not the greatest placement for getting a good sound, but at least I had something to immediately share with the students. I then received the recorded comments on CD and written comment sheets from each judge following our performance.
The next class, the students received a "Compliments & Critiques" sheet to use while listening to the clean recording. As they heard great aspects of our playing, they would jot down these thoughts under Compliments. As they heard aspects of our playing that were not so great, they would write them under Critiques. I have worked with them all year learning how to write specific thoughts: "we played good" is not a compliment, instead we write "the trumpets entered at the right time with good volume."
After listening to the entire clean recording, the students turned to the back of the Compliments & Critiques page where they found a ratings chart. It is the same concept as what the judges complete, however simplified for a middle school student to complete. The students places a mark (check, star, shade-it-in) for the letter grade (A, B, C, F) they would give the band for each category (intonation, tone quality, etc.). Then they completed some quick math (add, multiply, & add some more) to find our overall rating.
It was amazing to find that 95% of the group had the same result, with 3% rating slightly higher and 2% rating slightly lower. The students believed this rating had more weight and meaning than when it comes from a judge they don't even know or have not met.
During the next class, we listened to parts of the judges recordings (not the entire performance from each judge due to time constraints) and I shared all of the comments from the recordings and comment sheets. The students placed a mark (star, check, underline) on their Compliment & Critique sheet if a judge mentioned the same thing they had written. Every students had multiple items with these additional marks. Definitely an eye-opening experience for many of them.
The students kept these sheets in their folders to refer to whenever we play these selections in preparation for our spring concert. Although my method breaks with tradition, it seems that my students gained musicianship skills from this experience: better listening skills, a more discerning ear, better use of performance-based vocabulary, and improved problem-solving skills (how to fix what they critiqued).