MUSIC PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT
Held annually in each of North Carolina’s six band districts, the Music Performance Assessment (MPA) is one of the most important events in the year of a school band program. The event is run by the District Bandmasters’ Association and is under the professional jurisdiction of the North Carolina Music Educator’s Association.
Each band director selects the difficulty level, or grade level, of the pieces for each group to perform. The State Band Director’s Association annually publishes a list of the literature which may be used at District MPA’s. This list is reviewed annually and edited for validity. The march that each group plays does not need to be chosen from this list, but the other prepared pieces must be chosen from this master list.
Each grade level is roughly equal to years of playing experience. For example, a group whose members have an average of four years of experience should be able to play Grade IV music. Because of the many factors which determine the rating of a piece of music this is only a rough guideline. For example, we often think only of very fast, technically challenging pieces of music as being “hard”, but soft, lyrical, slow music can be a tremendous challenge for the individual and the ensemble.
Choosing appropriate MPA music is a challenge for every band director. As with every piece of literature used during the school year, the director must consider the musical and educational value of each selection. He or she must consider the strengths and weaknesses of the individual players and the ensemble as a whole. Finally, the director must consider that the group must present a finely honed
performance for educated professionals at the end of a six-to-eight-week rehearsal schedule.
The Central District Bandmasters’ Association (CDBA) chooses the site and the judging panel of four adjudicators for each year’s event.
The judges are chosen from active and retired band directors from the middle school through collegiate levels. Occasionally a judge is a professional conductor or composer. Judges are considered based on their professional success, adjudication experience, experience with a variety of repertoire and overall musical knowledge. Three of the judges are “stage judges” and provide critical commentary and ratings for each band’s selections. The fourth judge comments on and rates each band’s ability to sight-read an unfamiliar piece.
MPA is not a competitive event. We do receive a rating, but are not compared to other groups. Unlike athletic events and most marching band competitions, each band may enter in whatever grade level they like and are not scored compared to others in their category or grade level. Each group is rated according to how well it meets the musical challenges of the selected pieces in a variety of objective and subjective criteria.
Each judge is asked to analyze the quality of each group’s performance in several key areas: Tone Quality, Intonation, Technique, Rhythm, Balance, Musicianship and General Factors. Judges have a musical score for each piece performed. This musical score includes every player’s part. Each judge makes spoken comments on tape and provides written comments to explain and justify their
rating of the overall performance. This spoken and written feedback is a valuable tool to help the director and students to evaluate and improve individual and ensemble performance.
Following the “stage” performance at MPA, each band moves to a separate room and, after a short preparation period, must perform a piece they have never seen before. This section, called sight-reading, determines if the students have developed fundamental music-reading skills and the ability to play with good musical style as an ensemble at first sight of a piece of music.