March 27, 2011

10 words that should never appear on score sheets, but do

Competition score sheets, or “crit sheets,” are the primary way that a judge accounts for his or her result. They should provide feedback in a clear, constructive and, perhaps most important, respectful manner. Some judges are better than others at writing score sheets.

Constructing a good sheet takes an ability to multi-task (writing while listening takes practice and skill), and finding the right words with originality and specificity for at times dozens of performances over a day is far more exhausting than competing. Judging with constructive accountability is a hard, hard job.

But what isn’t hard is respecting the competitor. There’s something of a tradition in some quarters, particularly in pipe band judging, of being disrespectful to competitors. It’s like a Simon Cowell approach to “judging,” where the main objective seems to be to put artists in their place, reminding them who’s boss. It’s an old-fashioned and ignorant style of judging that, sadly, still happens today.

It often comes down to single words that can be so demeaning that even using them could be cause for suspension from a panel, reinstatement only after sensitivity training and/or completion of high school English. Alarmingly, the use of a few of these is actually encouraged in some quarters.

Here are 10 destructive words that I’ve seen on actual score sheets. In this day and age they should be banned from further use – the words and the judges.

“Vacuous” – imagine telling a band or soloist that their performance was “mindless” and “lacking in thought or intelligence.” This is what vacuous means. Has a judge stepped into a beer-tent and called a pipe-major “mindless” to his/her face? Didn’t think so.

“Dispassionate” – this $100 word is doing the rounds. It means “emotionally detached” and, perhaps ironically, is used in non-piping/drumming terms to describe someone rational or impartial. Is there a piping, drumming or pipe band competitor who is not passionate about their music? Seriously? How incredibly insulting.

An “exercise” – this seems to be a word that some judges use when they don’t personally prefer or understand a particular rhythm or melody. In this era of Rhythmic Fingerwork exercises does anyone really practice without attempting to be rhythmical?

“Devoid,” “insipid” – can you be more hurtful than telling someone passionate about their music that it’s devoid of something positive? I’m pretty sure judges who use either word don’t really know what they mean but, regardless, they can say the same thing using constructive language.

“Tuneless,” “unmusical” – these are cop-out words by judges who can’t constructively explain why they didn’t prefer a particular score or interpretation. They throw these destructive words with the intention, really, of saying, “Don’t ask me what I mean, it just was, and I know better, so shut up.”

“Mumbo-jumbo” – really? We know you’re tired and full of yourself and all, but you need to resist the temptation to sink to this sort of insulting language.

“Jungle-drumming” – this hyphenation is used by some judges who don’t like certain styles of bass-section drumming. J.K. McAllister I’m pretty sure coined the term “jungle-drumming,” or at least made it famous. Not only is it demeaning, it smacks of racism.

“Ignorant” – the only thing ignorant when it comes to this word being used on a crit-sheet is the judge, who is apparently ignorant of tact and respect and has apparently completely forgotten what it was like to be a competitor. A judge who uses this word may find his/her picture if they look up the definition.

Those are 10 words that seem to be in use by actual piping/drumming/pipe band judges. I hope that you haven’t been the victim of this stuff appearing on score sheets. And if in the future you receive one of these bombs I recommend that you send a copy of the sheet to your association to be sure that they are aware of it and deal with the offender.

When judges use this sort of language they’re really just bullying their way out of facing the truth: they’re not an effective judge of modern piping and drumming music, so they try to block its evolution by putting it down with insulting and demeaning language. Sometimes they might not even know the true meaning of the words they use. They don’t bother to look it up, just as they don’t bother to understand what today’s pipe bands are attempting to accomplish musically.

What other $100 words of judging destruction have you encountered?


  1. My personal favourite was “wooden” , thankfully not on my scoresheet! But “mumbo-jumbo” is right up there as well. Isn’t that a bit racially tinged – I mean it has similarities and connotations consistent with the rightly-criticised “golliwog” of yesteryear. I don’t think we want to go there..

  2. A good list, Andrew. Refreshing to see again after having only last seen most of these late August of last year. You’ll know I mentioned this at yesterday’s judges meeting thing [in Milton, Ontario] but it is true, really, that a lot of people with clip boards view their jobs (the judge people) as more than that: occasionally we encounter people who see themselves as guardians of what they believe to be the real thing, the legit and blessed way to deliver pipe band music. I think it’s this way of looking at things that drives a lot of the embittered words that you so deftly list.

    The other thing judges need to remember: just a pipers, drummer, pipe bands, make their reputation on their last – or best – performance, so, too, do judges. A shame – huge understatement here – to see people who have demonstrated past musical merit ruin it all in bitter, rotten judging. And they have; and they do. And, I guess, they will. Sucks to be them.

    I don’t have any additional word to add. You’ve covered my favourites nicely, though, perhaps, slightly wooden in delivery.

  3. Insulting competitors is not the way to encourage one to improve his or her piping. Most of the judges I’ve played for recognize that, and offer constructive criticism that gives specific things that I can work on. That helps, and I applaud judges for making that effort, especially for lower level competitors.

  4. I agree with the sentiment of this article but not the concept that score sheets should justify or account for the result – and I think you say this in your post, Andrew. There is no way to capture in a score sheet what actually leads to the result or each score sheet would be a comparison of several of the players and not a commentary on a single performance. If competitors get used to the fact that the score sheet is not going to account for many elements that went into the result, and if judges stop justifying the result and focus on constructive criticism and suggestions for future performances then we will see fewer negative reactions and encounter fewer caustic sheets from insecure adjudicators.

  5. A friend got a comment once that her chanter was “F-ing unpleasant”… Fortunately upon closer scrutiny and deciphering of poor handwriting, we realized that it actually said “F is unpleasant”…

  6. I’d bet my bottom dollar that if you did a character analysis of the writer, the words would describe their personality uncannily accurately. In other places comments like these would be referred to the professional association as they would fall short of the required standard.

  7. Celtic Idiom…how does anyone know what the Celtic Idiom is?
    Viewpoint #1) The “Celts” didn’t have pipe bands, as far as we can tell. In addition, the last pure Celt must have died many years ago…what, with the Saxons, Angles, Romans, Vikings, Gauls, etc invading and interbreeeding all over the place. That being the case, unless there was some sort of “Celtic Idiom Preservation Society” that has existed for the last 1000+ years or so as it pertains to pipe bands, then how does anyone know whether or not anything is within the “Celtic Idiom”?
    Viewpoint#2) If one assumes that we are decendents of the Celts, then, by default EVERYTHING we write is WITHIN the “Celtic Idiom”. Why? Because we ARE Celts and therefore we are defining the ever evolving idiom with compositions created by Celts.
    Whether one takes viewpoint #1 or #2,…So, then, who are “you” to say that something is or isn’t in the “Celtic Idiom”. “Why, you, sir (or madam.. mustn’t be sexist…) are a Celtic Idiot!”…
    Oh, and don’t respond with “Well, what they meant by “Celtic Idiom” was…

  8. I only came across that style once, I guess. It was a larger grade 2 solo contest. The remarks were not what I would call “friendly” or tremendously “positive”. But, they were probably accurate. Didn’t really care at the time, but clearly I remember it after 15 years.
    That’s about it. Never played above grade 2 in a band, and I’ve never seen anything remotely close to that on any sheet. I’m a little more aggravated about the judge who’s keen on pointing out note errors to the exclusion of everything else.

  9. Some great writer I’ve read in the past – I believe this to be James Joyce – quoted the weather in one of his novels as being ‘uncertain as a child’s bottom’. I wonder what he’d write on these dear judges. Now from my own meandering experience, I have come across a handful of adjudicators that had ‘dispassionate’ written in caps all over their foreheads. They looked at the sky, at their wrist watches, at the shine on their brogues, only eventually to mark down a note or two in their score sheets. Someone watching from afar would likely infer that the kilted gent was scribbling a grocery list, not the points that could bring disclosure to twelve months of hard work.

  10. I once had a student receive a drumming scoresheet with the following comment. “You should not be competing if you can’t play a roll properly.” I should point out that this student was competing in grade 5 at their first contest outside of the local branch. Not exactly encouraging for this student and if memory serves me correctly, they did not, and have not competed in the solo scene since.

  11. Insipid… was this a word making the rounds at this past World’s? We definitely had it once or twice on our sheets in both the Grade 2 qualifier and final. It’s a shame when judging becomes a game rather than getting your point clearly (and respectfully) across.

  12. I am okay with it all….only because forums like this give the rest of us a chance to say things like “many judges on various circuits couldn’t mentally punch their way out of a wet paper bag.” Or..”without piping acumen, that judge would be a worhtless mass of flesh.” And so on. I will say, the most misguided comment I ever had on a band sheet was by a famous judge from BC that has been in the news lately. His comment was “chanters too loud.” Huh?

  13. Dare I say “Batman” might have a point? There have been times when I have judged when I was certainly thinking “stop.” I do think there are pipers and pipe bands out there competing that should not be and I am NOT writing about “first time” beginners or anyone under the age of, say, 21?
    I don’t know where the fine line is but I am probably going to come close to it during a full tune amateur grade 4 piobaireachd contest this year…
    Not trying to be funny or sarcastic but let’s not ignore the reality of some of the situations judges are faced with when the competitor has no clue and is not likely to ever have a clue about even beginning to play with some sort of indication that he/she is on the right track.
    I have run across competitors in the lower grades who absolutely think they know it all (NOT kidding). They quote some long gone source, or some truly respected teacher from a piping summer school, for their so-called version not realizing that maybe the judge actually KNEW the source (not kidding about that either).
    I most definitely agree judges should be respectful. But keep in mind there are times when competitors show no knowledge, appreciation or respect for the instrument or the music. Furthermore, I have witnessed incidents when a judge has been shown disrespect by one of these competitor/experts. Not because the score sheet was in any way disrespectful, but because they disagree with the judge’s comments.
    Please, I am not writing about the higher levels of solo playing or bands. I kind of like the way some of them are trying to expand the note range so to speak.
    I hope I don’t cross the line this year…stay tuned…:>)

  14. Perth games, 1987, Gr III. Ensemble: “Totally devoid of musical content.” Granted, it was the band’s first trip over, and we weren’t at the top of our game. Still, it was demoralizing.
    We figured out later that it must have been the type of chanters we were (not) using.

  15. I think a lot of these terms and words are used by mistake. Meaning, if you asked the judge what they meant by what they wrote, you may find out that they have just missused a word, and did not intentionally mean to slight a competitor. On the other hand, my biggest pet peave is the positive words. Where as some places the score sheets say that you must explain why full points were not given. In these cases the worst words are typically check marks, and things like “ok and great potential”. No one learns anything from a score sheet that reads:

    1. check
    2. check

    3. check
    4. check

    Overall, quite musical, good potential!


  16. Our band once read the comment “started weakly and went downhill from there” on one of our sheets. The same judge later ruled “2nd part rubbish” on the jig.

  17. “Insipid” was definitely de rigeur at the 2010 worlds. If it’s used on a grade 1 sheet, you just cop it, as there are very high expectations. Also worth mentioning that judges are often marking people who can do things they’d never be able to do. So take comfort from that. The negative words can often stem from there. Also worth noting that the judges are not there to give you a top-to-bottom synopsis. In fact, they can write as little as they like. They are strictly there to determine who wins on the day. I’ve often found it’s not what is written on the sheet, but what transpires in the judge’s tent shortly afterwards, that sometimes matters more.



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