Judge, jury and executioner

I spent most of my Monday afternoon adjudicating conducting exams at the Royal College of Music in London


Since I didn’t study in Britain, I was curious to see how their system resembled or differed from the one I trained in in the US. Also, given the fact that I’m new to the system, I wasn’t entirely sure just how I would end up grading the students. It’s not a challenge to have an opinion of someone else’s conducting, but to express it in a way that is helpful and that fits within the expected framework can be more daunting. 


I needn’t have worried. In more or less complete contrast to my experience as a student and teacher in American universities and music schools, the criteria for grading the students yesterday were incredibly specific. So specific that the three members of the committee were able to come to a unanimous consensus on both grades within minutes, as well as agree on a shared set of comments and feedback. I think it’s good that the student hears the committee speaking with one voice. At one of my schools we would get a separate grade from each member of the jury committee, each of whom were free to grade us according to their own set of expectations. I once did a cello jury were I got four A’s, a B- from someone I’d stupidly pissed off and a D+ from the one guy on the string faculty who played an instrument that didn’t use a bow. Did he want me to play the whole Bach pizzicato? Perhaps he didn’t like my nails…. It didn’t matter in the end, as the actual grade that went on my transcript was just determined by my teacher. What’s the point? 


Each student had thirty minutes to rehearse and then time for a run through. One conducted the first movement of the Suk string serenade and the other an extended excerpt from Sibelius 7. Funnily enough, the score I was given to the Sibelius belonged to the late “Doctor Malcom Sargent.” Apparently, the maestro paid six shillings and sixpence for it. Stuff like that only happens in London


Three hours later, after driving through the flooded plains of England from London across to Hereford, it was my turn to wave my arms. I was certainly conscious of wanting to walk as I’d talked earlier as we made our way through Bruckner 4. Conscious, that is, until we got going on the piece. Fantastic stuff. 

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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2 comments on “Judge, jury and executioner”

  1. michelle

    I once had a jury where I received glowing praise from the clarinet professor (who was not prone to praise anyone) and lukewarm from the horn and trumpet faculty. I had no idea what to make of that – what do you do when you play horn the way a clarinetist thinks you should sound?

  2. Kenneth Woods

    I think almost all music students go to music school looking for a better sense of how things are really supposed to sound and many leave more confused. Once you get out in the world and realize those mighty teachers were just hustling for work like everyone else, you can take or leave their ideas on the merits.

    Hope you three are well!


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