A Tale of Two Critiques

I recently submitted my piece Hope Rising, for solo flute, to a competition. Surprisingly, I received feedback! Normally, I am lucky if I get notification of the results of a competition or call for scores.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even get past the preliminary round!

Frankly, I was surprised as this piece has already been performed three times and has been well received by the performers and the audiences! That is one of the reasons I submitted it in the first place. It has already been proven. How could it not have even gotten past the first round?

In an effort to be objective, the judges were given a rubric to assess the piece. I will share my results and comment on the judging.

Here is my score from Judge 1, a score of 58 points out of a possible total of 65. That equals 89%, for those of you who don’t like math. That’s a pretty good score!

This judge feels that my piece is pretty solid. The scores on extended techniques and how idiomatic the piece is for the flute tell me that I still have things to learn and improve, but I am well along the right track. This judge also feels that my piece is “very effective”, contains “a lot of contrast through the various sections”, and is suitable for advanced high schoolers or undergraduate flute players who are exploring extended technique and non-traditional notation. (I knew my piece was of this difficulty level; more on that later.) The scores about how much the judge enjoyed listening to the piece or desires to play it are very subjective, so I take those with a grain of salt. Overall, the scores and comments made sense together. I get the vibe of “good job, you’re almost there.”

Now, from Judge 2:

I was given a score of 44 out of a possible 65 points, which rounds up to 68%. That’s quite a difference – 21%! If I were given letter grades, one judge gave me a B+ and the other gave me a D.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever received a score that low in all my years of school, from elementary to college. OK, maybe not just one hand, but definitely not more than two. I just don’t receive scores like this. I knew something was wrong.

So, let me point it out.

In both critiques I circled the two sections about notation in red. The first judge gave me a 4 on extended techniques, and a 5 on score legibility, indications, and information needed. The second judge gave me a score of 3 on extended techniques, a 4 on legibility, and 3s on score indications and information needed.

In this section alone, I lost 10% more points from Judge 2 than Judge 1.

I would try to see what I could learn from this except MY PIECE HAS ALREADY BEEN PERFORMED THREE TIMES! It has passed through selection committees and has been performed by three different flutists who had no questions for me!

Not only that, but in the comments section, Judge 2 remarked, “clearly notated.

Well, which is it?

Is it unclear, with insufficient information and score indicators, worth me losing 10% of my score, or is it clearly notated?

And if it isn’t clearly notated, give me some suggestions of how I could improve it.

But don’t take off points for something you tell me I did well!

Judge 1 and 2 also disagreed quite a bit on the variety within my piece. Judge 1 heard “a lot of variety through the various sections” and Judge 2 didn’t hear enough variety. While I think this is somewhat subjective, I do wonder how many motives Judge 2 thinks I need in a 6-minute piece.

One more comment… the question about difficulty is a bit confusing. According to the rubric, a lower number is easier, and a higher number is more difficult. So, “easier” pieces get fewer points and more “difficult” pieces get higher points. It appears that I lost 5% of my score from Judge 2 for writing a piece that was perceived to be too easy. Or maybe the judge interpreted it oppositely and took off points because it was too difficult to prepare.

Should a piece’s quality be judged on difficulty, anyway?

I had not seen a difficulty rating in the requirements for the competition, so I emailed the coordinator to ask about this. It turns out this is a flaw in the rubric.

Talk about unclear!

(I suggested that they change that line, instead asking if the difficulty level is appropriate to the piece.)

Hope Rising is fine the way it is, even if it wasn’t deemed worthy to pass a preliminary round in competition.

It has already received three performances in its first year and is well on its way to more. Ultimately, connecting with performers and audiences is the real win!

I’d love to hear from you! Please comment or send me a message telling me about yourself!

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