For those who are new to the UIL system of judging and ranking, here’s a brief primer. The University Interscholastic League (UIL) is an organization whose purpose is to pit middle and high schools in Texas against each other in various arenas, ranging from sports to academics to fine arts. Each type of event has its own methods of judging. For fine arts (band, choir, theater, etc.) there is a panel of three judges. For the group music contests (as opposed to Solo & Ensemble) there is a concert component and a sight reading component (sometimes called “sight singing” for choirs). Each component has three judges.

The concert component consists of three rehearsed pieces, selected by the director of that particular group. One of the pieces must demonstrate the players’/singers’ control, and is usually a slow piece. One piece must demonstrate the group’s technical ability, and is usually fast. The third piece must demonstrate a style of music not yet demonstrated. For example, a choir may sing “The Old Carrion Crow” by Goetze (a piece with varying tempi and requiring very precise diction), “Widmung” by Schumann (a piece requiring precise and extended breath control), and “How Beautiful is Night” by Eddleman (an a capella piece, i.e. no instrumental backing). The judges make notes to provide feedback on the individual pieces and grade the performance as a whole. The grades range from 1 to 5 with 1 being the highest rating.

The sight reading component consists of being given music none of the students or their director have seen. The rules include: no singing/playing while looking through it, no talking (except for the director), and the director only has five minutes to review the piece and give instructions to the musicians. At time, the director is no longer allowed to talk, and the group sings or plays the music for the first and only time. For those without a music background, this is roughly akin to being handed a script, given five minutes of instruction from the director, and being expected to read it perfectly with voice inflections, rhythms, and appropriate foreign or regional accents. The three judges grade the results on a 1 to 5 scale as in the concert component.

Why is all this important? Aside from (hopefully) providing a boost to the director’s tenure (depending on results), new programs begin at sub-non-varsity. If the pieces are sufficiently difficult and every judge in both components awards them a 1 rating (called “sweepstakes”), that school’s program may choose to become classified in the next higher level (up to varsity). As the music program rises, the music becomes more difficult, but the musicians’ technical skills are also much better.

Keep in mind, this is a VERY brief overview of UIL. There are nuances and rules and opportunities I haven’t gone into. I’m sure I’ve probably got a couple details wrong as is, but the general idea is true.