Judge As Thou Would Be Judged (Music Festivals)

I recently helped run a local music festival/audition for area music students K-12 grades. Some Festivals and Auditions are very serious and intense with students playing 2 or more memorized pieces and possibly scales and chords. This particular festival was for one memorized movement from a Sonatina or Sonata. It was an opportunity for students to prepare a piece well from memory and be evaluated by a music teacher, all with music degrees, and some were college professors.

Since I was behind the scenes, I had an opportunity to look over what judges wrote about students, which in itself is a reflection of the judge's aesthetics and values. Some judges always want pieces FASTER, with MORE or More EXTREME dynamics (appropriate or not). Some judges only focus on what was missed (memory, rhythm, dynamics) and makes little mention of what the student did well or why the criticism was important in this piece. Some judges hardly make any comments, so it is hard to understand what they are thinking in giving their rating.

I had a chance to do a little judging at a makeup event following this Festival. I do not like to give ratings, but I do like to offer comments on what I hear and see happening as the student performs. I found myself giving high ratings, but I wrote LOTS of comments and was very specific both about what students did technically, and also, most importantly, why that was important in conveying the mood and style of the piece.

No matter how well memorized or how accurate, if the student (and teacher) does not understand the composer's personality and the culture/period in which the piece was written, the performance misses the point. Not every staccato, forte or Allegro is the same. One student played his piece note perfect, but SO fast, and so heavy that I found it offensive. One of my comments was that this Clementi piece is supposed to sound "charming." Hopefully, the student and teacher will explore touch, dynamics, tempo and phrase endings to create that "charming" performance.

To see the parents and teachers in the halls at Auditions and Festivals, you would think this was a "life or death" experience. I like to look at these events as learning experiences. No one musical event should define either a student or teacher. Beethoven, in his teaching, told a student "everyone has a slip of the finger, but you must play with passion." (paraphrased) Focus not on the rating, but on what the judge is trying to share with you about how to play better, and with better understanding of the style. Judges should judge as they would be judged!

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