Becoming a Candidate Music Judge


So went the chant in the judge meeting room as the eight Music judge candidates lined up to accept their red badges. But I can hardly think of a more touching sign of respect.

All the new candidates, whether in Music, Performance, Singing, and of course Contest Administrators, had a very intense few days at Belmont University in Nashville, because the Society relies on judges to be great at a few important things, for example scoring contests accurately. That’s why it takes three years to get certified! Just getting to Candidate school in the first place means the higher-ups think you have what it takes.

If you’re not familiar with barbershop judging, this is going to seem nuts to you, I guarantee it. To even get considered as a candidate Music judge, you have to submit two of your own contest arrangements, create an arrangement of a standard song, pass two dictation tests…

Why the dictation tests, you might ask? Music judges are the guardians of the barbershop style, so to be an effective BHS music judge you must be able to tell in real time whether an arrangement is following the rules of barbershop. For a start, you have to be able to tell whether the chords are “in the vocabulary” and whether the song has sufficient “circle of fifths” movement. Folk songs? No go. Jazz songs? Again, probably not. And training judges to be good at this is critically important, because it means singing new songs in contest is safe! If the music judges couldn’t do this in real time, the only safe thing for a contestant to do would be to sing a previously well-known safe song. Can you imagine how repetitive that would make the contests? Yeech.

Anyway once you’ve passed the filters, you get invited to Candidate school. That’s basically three intense days of training, including many hours of watching contest videos, coming up with scores, and comparing the scores with each other and with the accepted “reference score” that was established by highly trained judges.

Our class started off, predictably, with scores all over the map on Friday but by Sunday we were mostly all in agreement with each other, and the reference scores. That’s good, because contestants get really upset if everyone has them around a 72 and you gave them a 58! We owe them consistent, correct scores, and the whole system is set up to get as close to that goal as humanly possible.

Thanks for reading. More on this topic later!

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