Giving feedback at competitions

14th September 2023 | Musings | 3 comments

At the competition in Munich last week (I was on the jury) I encountered a very modern problem.

The way the competition was run was similar to most of the other competitions I’ve been involved with: at the end of each round, the results were announced. Those who were not passing through to the next round were entitled to ask members of the jury for feedback.

For that reason, members of the jury keep notes on all the candidates. If someone comes up to you seeking advice and explanation, it’s not good enough to say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t remember.’ You have to be able to tell them something useful. I and my fellow jurors had folders full of notes on the performances.

In previous competitions, the announcement of results at the end of rounds has been done either by someone reading out successful candidates’ names in the foyer of the concert hall, or by an administrator pinning up a list on a board. Participants gather in person to hear/see the results, and are therefore on the spot to speak to members of the jury. Of course it is a difficult moment psychologically, just after you’ve learned that you are not progressing to the next round, to seek advice about why you didn’t, but there is no other time to do it. Candidates who are eliminated usually go home as soon as they can, to save on expenses (and morale).

So we were ready to give feedback. But we had reckoned without new customs. I hadn’t been on a jury since before the pandemic. This time, when it was time for the announcement of results, the foyers were basically empty – a few brave souls were there, but the majority had evidently stayed in their Airbnb flats, hotel rooms or cafes to see the results on their phones or laptops. And why wouldn’t they? Much easier to get results when no-one else is staring at you.

However, it also meant that the possibility of giving or getting feedback had vanished.

When we got to the semi-finals, I was asked to read out the results. I went down from the jury room to stand on the stairs of the Hochschule (see photo) and read the names to the crowd waiting below. My fellow jurors came too with their folders of notes. But when we went down, there was literally nobody there. The foyer was deserted. Nobody wished to hear the results in person – and so nobody got any feedback either.

At the end of the competition, I put my notes in my suitcase and brought them home, because I couldn’t bear to think that writing those notes had been pointless.

In the past, I have occasionally written out my comments for the benefit of someone who asked long after the competition. But that is actually an arduous task, and by then I may not remember in detail the sound and look of the candidates. Giving feedback has to be done while we’re all still in the thick of things. But how to do it?

3 Comments

  1. Piotr

    It seems to me that the main issue is that the candidates did not want to hear the feedback. If that is the case, there’s little point trying to find ways of giving it to them: they simply won’t be receptive. Does that tell us something about today’s competition participants and their expectations?

    Reply
  2. Mary Cohen

    Sadly, I agree with Piotr.

    Reply
  3. James

    Quite aside from the issue of modern technology it seems incredible that the young competitors don’t realise the value of hearing comments from established and experienced musicians. I’m very thankful to have grown up in an era preceding the internet.

    Reply

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