September 4, 2012
This past weekend I was invited to be one of the judges in a big piano competition. It was the first time for me to do so. I did not think I would enjoy it, but it was quite fun indeed (albeit a serious business) and at the same time an invaluable experience.
In this first round of competition there were two jurors for each event. We took turn to write comments for the competitors but we both gave marks for each competitors; the two marks were added together and divided by two for a single final score. We set a certain mark over which we would qualify the competitor into the next round and under which not.
Listening to the competitors (mostly young kids, some teenagers) gave me a lot of thinking. First of all, there were some criterias that I would like to see in the playing in order to qualify the competitors for the next round. Certainly each juror has his or her own style of judging and criterias s/he preferred; the other juror and I did however come up with close scores for most competitors, only with a couple of wide disparity. I have to add, that many of them were well prepared and played splendidly. And I must admire their courage at such a young age, to be able to put together the pieces (and themselves) so well and present the music on stage, some even with poise and elegance.
Other than giving out for each candidate points which was the most important matter to do in event like this, I also had to write some remarks for each performance. It was not difficult for me to do so as I always wrote about piano music and playing here and there, and even in my students’ lessons. I was reminded to give some encouraging notes on top of any comments about the performance. Indeed, it was of tremendous importance that these competitors should be much encouraged. They had gone far to prepare for it, putting much time and effort to be there. And at such a tender age, they still have a long way to go and accomplish much more than this stage. Certainly, on the other hand, I did want to give them some useful comments on what they should make note of and improve from those areas in order to go further in their musical journey. Therefore, I listened with close attention and gave as much sincere and practical comments as I possibly could.
Another thing that I learnt from this experience was about how to choose repertoire for a competition like this especially for those free choice events. As I always tell my students, one should choose to play/perform something that one is good at, that one can show his/her best quality in playing, rather than merely something that is difficult technically (or musically) but one has problem in presenting, or something that is easy to control but there is nothing for one to show his/her musical strength and characteristics in playing. It is quite a delicate issue one should take note of and handle with care and thorough thoughts. Think about it, there is only one chance you get to perform in a competition/exam, and the judges/examiners would not know how well/or not you play as your usual self on your own or during your lessons. You want to show your best in the most musically desirable and enjoyable presentation but not how you struggle through something extremely challenging for you.
Such experience gave me some insights into not only competitions but also how to help my students to prepare for similar events and all. I did not care much for competitions before, but now I am starting to change my view on them. For those who were fully prepared, I appreciate much of their performance. For the others who tried their best, I hope they keep trying. And for those (just a handful fortunately) who were fooling around and came without much preparation, I hope they do not come back again until they are more prepared for it. Go do more practice on their own first would be more beneficial than attending a competition rather underprepared. After all, it was a competition not a practice session or lesson time. People should know how to respect themselves as well as others in such event.
P.S. Bach (or any Baroque keyboard works) should be played much more beautifully and with much more variety in tone and phrasing. And about Mozart (or any Classical keyboard works), should be dealt with more elegantly, especially in terms of dynamic range and articulation. The “f” chords are not the same as those in Rachmaninoff (or any Romantic keyboard works) for example. I shall talk about these performance aspects in a separate post.