Wednesday, October 19, 2011

[Being the] Hairy East German Judge

  • Jan. 18th, 2011 at 10:20 AM

It's 8 a.m.  My room monitor lady (RML) who is a local band director AND a (former - probably) Very Good Flutist is efficiently bustling about. 

The first students enter.  They are panicky and worried looking.  I try to reassure, but know it does no good.  They won't see me through the haze of adrenaline.  I get it.  So I just keep smiling, hoping that their parents will later mention this to the hysterical kid.

It begins.  Some boring 'chosen by band director' kind of piece.  Crappy accompaniment.  Bleh.  I sip my coffee in its styrofoam non-recyclable cup (why do they do this?), nibble on my donut.  Smile some more.  I have to remember to get up from my chair and talk to the kid -- who won't remember a thing because of adrenaline-amnesia.  Whatever.  I direct my comments mostly towards the parents who might be able to regurgitate them to the kids later.

And so it goes.  All high schoolers, but WILDLY different levels of ability.  I hear two truly abysmal entries back-to-back.  First one is a flute duo which CLEARLY hadn't played together (successfully) before this morning.  Out of tune.  Utterly unrelated tempi, rather different interpretations of the key signature.  It was a standard 18th-century gavotte and minuet.  I should say, it was WRITTEN as a standard gavotte and minuet.  It came out sounding rather 21st century John Cage. 
When they finished, I looked  at them and then decided just to say it. "Well.  I'm not going to snow you here.  I know you didn't really work this out together.  Or probably by yourselves.  I cannot really comment on how you played this piece because .... there isn't much to say.  I can, however, talk about how to improve your Flute Playing." and then I did.  Embouchure, breathing, etc.  When that was done, I said, "when you both actually learn your parts individually, then work together intelligently, learning the piece, that's when you bring a piece to contest.  Better luck next time!"

They got the first III of the day.  Technically, there are 5 scores they could get, 1 being highest, 5 being worst.  I have given a few 5s, some 4s and plenty of 3s.  Most judges ONLY ever give 1s or 2s.  Ever.  I don't believe in inflation. 
Now, a performance has to be incredibly HORRIFYINGLY awful to be a 5.  For example: last year, 3 high school flutists played Edelweiss (from Sound of Music).  This is SUCH an easy piece.  It was in 3/4 time, and had 1 or 2 flats.  Can't remember.  The shortest note was maybe an 8th or 16th note (in the "blossom of snow" part).  Mostly quarters.  Well.
One girl played it in 4/4/ time.  One played it in MINOR.  It was so unrecognizable that I was actually flipping through the book to see if maybe they were all playing different PIECES.  They got to the end (each at a different time), then smiled at each other. 
My jaw was twitching withthe effort it took to keep it from dropping unattractively.  I smiled and told them "I must tell you, I can completely tell that you -- none of you-- have done any work on this at all.  I don't want you to think that you fooled me.  You didn't.  That being said, I will give you some suggestions on how to be better flutists.  I will not comment on this piece at all, because there's nothing to say."
And I gave them the 5 they so richly deserved.
Damn, that felt good.

But returning to this weekend.  The next flutist played a very popular piece (Bizet's Minuet de L'arlesienne fyi).  It's in 3/4, 3 flats. 
She played it in times ranging from 2/4 to 9/4 to 3/8.  Her sound was good, her notes were about 60%. But the rhythm?  HOLY CRAP.  The pianist didn't even attempt to follow her after the first few lines.  This is a LONG piece.
When she was done, I smiled.  I started with "Your sound is lovely today.  And this is a great flute piece you chose.  Now, you know it's in 3/4 time?  That means that there are 3 beats. In each measure.  Only.  I get the sense that you learned the notes, but were just kind of hoping for the best when it came to the rhythm.  That's not going to do it. "  I gave her some examples of how one might learn rhythm (counting, conducting, etc.) and reminded her that rhythm is the backbone of all music, and that it's not optional.  And that perhaps learning the notes -- all ofthem -- is also not optional.  And I delivered the final blow.  "A good sound like yours is wasted when you can't actually play the music.  Don't let this continue.  It would be a shame.  Good luck with your studies in music."

I smiled the whole time, and truly tried to be helpful, but good GOD. 

After that I heard several 2-rated pieces.  By 10 am I had given about 8 2s, 4 1s and 2 3s.  At this p9oint, my room monitor closed the door (there was noone in the room with us) and said, "I don't know how to say this, but ... you're really REALLY not supposed to give 3s.  It's just not done.  Here, we try to encourage as many students as possible to go to State (you only go to state if you get a 1)."  My jaw did its "try not to drop" twitching thing again.  She continued, "The other judges don't give out 3s.  Really -- we're trying to ENCOURAGE the students to come back in the future."
I stared silently at her.  WTF?  She asked me if I was new to judging. 


I smiled and said, "well.  Thank you for informing me of that.  I believe in encouraging students.  I encourage them to see the truth."

Then I got up to sharpen my pencils.  She opened the door and let in the next student.

Over the day, I gave a total of 6 3s.  Not bad, really.  There were no entries that truly justified 4 or 5, but I was ready to give them if necessary. 

I felt her lips purse, heard her little snuffle of disapproval each time she got a sheet from me that wasn't a 1.  WHen I handed her the ones with the 3s on them, she stood next to my desk for a few beats of silence while she perused my grades and my comments (which she wasn't supposed to be reading, except to check that I filled out the form correctly).  I smiled.

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