If you have considered judging for festivals or competitions but felt you did not have the right background or advancement, think again. Most festivals have many more students who are beginner or intermediate level. If you feel that is as advanced as you can judge there could still be plenty of chances for you to broaden your scope of work and earn a little more money.
Competitions sometimes have a very young division. Yes, sometimes these students are amazingly far advanced but you were trained to hear good playing and that can be readily apparent no matter how advanced the student. You could prepare for this work by listening to several recordings of the same work by different pianists. With the internet, this is now quite easy. Listen to the subtle differences in each performance. We will assume all the performers are playing the correct notes and rhythm. See if you can verbalize or write down the differences. The ability to write down quickly what you perceive is in need of improvement in a performance is the beginning of becoming an effective judge particularly for festivals.
You should probably have about 10 years of teaching experience before you offer to judge for an event. You will have a better understanding of both the literature and the children. The literature is vast but children are children. They may come in different shapes and sizes but experience gives you the eyes to see who is too nervous, underprepared, over confident, shy or even on the autism spectrum. Experience will give you the edge to see all of that in a blink. Smile and help them make sure the bench is at a good height and a comfortable distance from the piano. They feel much happier if the judge is “nice.”
Usually the judge chair of any event will send you the guidelines for that particular occasion. There is a rating form which will have the name or number of each student along with the literature they will play. Check to see which piece they are playing first so the comments align with the correct piece. Always make sure you understand the purpose of the event and your role in it. Festivals are usually not competitive so your job is simply to give a rating. Just like any other evaluation your comments are very important. Make sure you can say something positive about the playing and be specific. They can play half the notes wrong with the right rhythm so you can say their eighth notes were even or they kept a nice steady beat. Then remark on what can be improved.
The form our Main Line Association uses for the Constance Murray Festival is quite good. All the important qualities are listed with a place for each to be evaluated and space for comments both suggesting improvements and
recognizing what was prepared well. Other forms only give you space to write. Sometimes the hardest part is deciding how much to write. On a few occasions I have heard playing that was so poorly prepared I could only write about half of what I felt should be addressed. While you may give a few low ratings for festival students competition is another matter. The forms are usually just an open page with the pieces listed at the top. Competitors are given time constraints and repertoire requirements. It might be best to create a personal rating system. After listening to many performers, it’s helpful to have a small guideline of your past thoughts in order to choose the best.
On the day of the event make sure you arrive on time. The judge chair is usually prepared to remind you of the intent of the event and what you are expected to do. Dress appropriately. Everyone respects the judge more if they look professional. Students may arrive in shorts and flip flops (you may comment on that if you wish) but we need to look the part of the judge. After all, we do not have robes. Occasionally I have been in a situation where pencils were not provided. Bring some along just in case. There is usually time left between performances but it is rarely enough so be prepared to write while they are playing. I know some students are disturbed by that but it is important that you get to say everything necessary and have a little time to think about additional comments in between. Keep an eye on the time and the schedule. Make every effort to stay on time. There are many people involved in this production. The judge’s part is important but there is a great deal for everyone to do so make sure you are prepared and ready to work. It can be a fun and rewarding experience.