Saturday, February 1, 2014

Making Kids Cry When They Do Well. It's a peculiar talent I have.

Today, I judged middle school Solo and Ensemble contest.  This is a very different thing than judging High School (which I did last week), because some of these kids are absolute beginners, and even if they're not, they're on that cusp between childhood and adolescence.  Emotions are volatile, feelings are tender, and parents are very protective.  I had to give a couple of 3s (ratings go from 1 as best to 5 as ridiculously bad), but they understood why they earned those ratings.  BUT... the two kids who CRIED were kids who got 1s.

One kid cried after I told her that her duet was the very first "All-1" performance of the day (there are several sub categories that we give scores to).  They were beginners (flute and clarinet), best friends, and adorable.  They were dressed alike, and they came into the room with absolute confidence.  It was obvious they had rehearsed everything, including how they would set up the stands, how they'd tune, and how they'd stop and start the piece.  It was more prepared than some of the adult performances I've seen.

They played two little pieces (I think one was from "Water Music," and the other was a little march).  The pieces were in two different keys and time signatures, and they did each one perfectly.  They communicated non-verbally with each other before, during, and after each piece.

But most significantly, they played with a depth of understanding of each other's parts, so when one made a misstep, the other quickly accommodated. I was floored.

I gave them comments verbally as well as written, and they were polite and receptive. After I'd released them, they waited in the hallway for their score, as they all do.  This time, I wanted to deliver the score personally (I usually had the room assistant do that, since I was busy writing comments or preparing for the next entrant) because it was early afternoon, and they were the very first entry to have "Straight-A's" if you will.

I popped out into the hall and saw them clinging to each other's hands, with their parents hovering nervously nearby.  "Girls, I wanted to let you know that you got a Gold Medal!" They jumped up and down and screeched and hugged, but I touched one lightly on the shoulder and continued, "Also, you were the very first entrant of the day -- and keep in mind, I've been judging new entries every 6 minutes since 8:00 this morning -- you're the first to get ALL 1's on the score sheet.  This is significant, and I thought you'd enjoy the rest of your weekend if you knew that."

Surprisingly, the little blonde flute player's face crumpled and she buried her face in her mom's coat and sobbed.  "What did I do? Is she ok?" I worried.
The mom laughed, "I think she's just a little overexcited," and patted the girl's head. The clarinet player girl came around and hugged her from the back, and laughed and teased her until she came up, rubbing tears off her very pink cheeks, and she looked shyly up at me and smiled a bit.


There was a young boy who was dressed stiffly in a white dress shirt, black dress pants, and very shiny shoes.  He tuned very calmly, almost with bravado, to the piano.
Again, it was pretty clear that he was in his first or second year of playing, but he handled his solo with aplomb until the very end.  About four measures from the end, he tripped up a little and got separated from the piano part for maybe 4 or 5 beats, but they got back together by the last measure.
As he played his final note, I saw his eyes fill with tears.  He quickly turned away, laying his flute on a desk by his mom.  I approached him, telling him to grab his flute because I'd like to help him with a few fingerings.  He moaned to his mom, "But I screwed uuuuup!" He was shaking.

I told him that missing notes occasionally is common and no big deal, and I proceeded to tell him all the things I liked about his performance, hoping he'd pull it together and be able to improve a few things.  He did, for the most part, and I was able to get him to acknowledge that many, if not most, parts of his piece were very good. I showed him a few alternate fingerings to simplify a few spots, and then congratulated him and released him.

I thought he'd be happy after that, but he began to cry -- sobbing cries -- and saying, "I can't believe it! It was bad! I got so upset!"  I was busy writing my comments (which were almost all positive), and scored the sheet.  he got a 1 (top score), because the small problem at the end did not come close to outweighing the good in the performance.

Since he wasn't letting his mom console him much, I decided to share a story with him.

"Several -- maybe many -- years ago, I was playing for a world-famous flutist at a very high-level flute class.  We'd play a piece in front of the teacher and ALL of the students in the group, so at least 20 people.  Well, as I played, I was getting overwhelmed by being near him, and having him paying close attention to me, and I started to shake.  I kept it in control and kept playing, but my shaking became obvious to anyone looking at me, which was everybody.  Bart (Barthold Kuijken, for you flutists out there) smiled at me when I finished and put his hand over his heart and walked to me.  He beamed kindness at me and said, "That feeling you're having... it's because you are a human person who is aware that something special is happening. That's a good thing. If you don't feel that way, you're not paying attention. Sometimes, if we're not expecting it, it can feel like we're nervous or sick or scared, but it's really just humanness. So LET YOURSELF feel that.  Realize that we all hope to -- need to have moments where we actually notice that something special is happening to us.
Next time, you'll be able to anticipate it, and it'll feel better.  Someday, it will feel wonderful. And then, you will want to feel that way more and more."

So, I said to the boy, "You're just a human person, aware that something special happened, and you just didn't see it coming. Some kids shake, others cry, some throw up (and I'm glad you didn't go with that option), some laugh, some get chatty. Let yourself feel it right now. Because that way, next time you'll see it coming, and it'll feel better."

And guess what?

He felt better, and his mom was happy.


smalltownme said...

Beautiful stories.

Steven Knoerr said...

That's lovely. So you crushed the hearts and dreams of the kids who earned the 2s, then?

Kate said...

I'd like to think I'm merciful to those in deep disgrace. Which explains all of those Christmas presents you've gotten over the years, Steve.

Chris said...

Loved that!

Anonymous said...

Love this story. Very nicely done!

racheld said...

More and more, I'm awed at the power of your words, and the emotions and memories which kindle them.

The moments with those children are carved out with a scalpel on the page---even if you'd not remembered the two in the scurry of the moment and the busy of the day, THEY have both been altered by that tiny heartbeat in time that you took to tell them something important.

This is simply perfect, on all fronts---the doing, and the feeling and the telling. It's lovely to have you start my day in such a charming, heart-warming way, evoking memories of other children whom I hope remember me.