Our local show choirs are busy rehearsing for the state Vocal Jazz competition finals to be held at Stearns High school in Millinocket on April 6 and 7. An extra incentive to strive for excellence may be the return, this year, to the tradition of awarding first-, second- and third-place trophies.
Last year, these finals were at the center of a controversy surrounding a new scoring system that awarded gold, silver and bronze medals to any ensembles that earned a certain point score, but did not name the top three finishers.
While most instrumental band instructors were comfortable with the less competitive scoring structure, saying the focus for the bands should be on honoring the music and performances rather than trophies, the majority of choir directors felt it denied their students the satisfaction of winning a competition.
Mount Desert Island High School’s Bronwyn Kortge is among this large group of show choir and vocal jazz directors who believe the competitive component is important.
“While some educators feel that competitive awards promote the idea that if you aren’t a ‘winner,’ then you are a ‘loser’,” Kortge said, “I think a healthy competition is a good thing. Certainly, show choir and competition go hand-in-hand, nationally.”
Some educators compared it to asking high school basketball or football players to be happy with earning medals for scoring a certain number of points in games, rather than winning those games.
The negative response had an impact.
“After the festivals last year, there was much discussion about the scoring,” said Sue Barre, Maine Music Educators Association president. “The MMEA is working to meet the needs of all ensembles, which is challenging with the diversity in schools and programs across the state.
“While, this year, the instrumental directors have continued with the [point] rating system for gold, silver and bronze,” she said, “the vocal teachers are going with a hybrid system. Each ensemble will receive a gold, silver or bronze honor when their scores earn them, and in addition, the top three scorers will compete in a night showcase for overall first, second and third places.”
“I feel like this hybrid system satisfies everyone,” said Kortge, “Performances that are high quality but which are not awarded first, second or third place still receive the acknowledgement of extraordinary performance with the gold, silver and bronze medal awarding system.”
The points associated with these medals are as follows.
Gold medals: 95-100
Silver medals: 90-94
Bronze medals: 85-89
Honorable mention awards: 80-84
Barre said this system will stay in place through 2019, at which point the membership will evaluate its effectiveness.
MDI’s choirs will have the opportunity to test this new hybrid system when they go to the finals April 6 and 7 in Millinocket.
Local audiences who don’t intend to make that trip will have a chance to see their high school and middle school choirs perform at the annual Show Choir Extravaganza on Thursday, April 5, at 6 p.m.