Lemons into Lemonade: I served as president of my local MTA chapter a few years back and was traumatized by circumstances surrounding one of the events we had. Long story short, I knew that I never wanted to be part of an event like that ever again, but I really love the experience it gives students to raise their personal bar. So…my lemons became lemonade by creating my own events with the following changes and goals listed below.
- Organizer: Call it what it is. It’s not a festival. There are no balloons, and it’s certainly not ‘fun’…it’s a performance evaluation. See our flyer here
- Organizer: Above all else, make it a real, honest experience and greet everyone with a smile. You set the tone for everything that happens on this day, for all involved.
- Organizer: Create a positive, predictable environment with instruments that do not inhibit the student.
- Organizer: Hire positive, growth-minded judges that are honest but know how to communicate with an encouraging tone rather than a cutting one. We are constantly making choices in how we say things. Imagine a 10 year old playing something fun, fast and that they enjoy. They get excited…play a little too fast and it isn’t as clean as it could/should be. An example of how I want a comment to be phrased would be: “Wow, I really liked the enthusiasm with your tempo! What I would love to hear is a more even tempo throughout, with smooth sixteenth notes. Try using your metronome or a beat.” Versus, “You’re playing too fast, and the notes are mushed together. Use your metronome.” (See the next blog post in this series to read the instructions I provide to our judges.)
- Judges: Keep in mind that not every student has a gorgeous grand piano at home. Some kids learn on digital keyboards, and that’s okay. Some kids have uprights that have a dynamic range of mf to mf. You should make it known there should be more contrasts in sound, but don’t give them a II just because they weren’t able to control the instrument in a way that you want, in that short amount of time based on this one thing. (They may very well earn a II, but let it be because the whole of it left room for significant growth.)
- Judges: Provide clear written feedback with broad categories that either get a plus or a minus with plenty of room for authentic judges comments. See example here.
- Judges: Sometimes I think Horowitz would have a hard time getting a I+ from some of these judges. Don’t be one of them. Be kind, offer grace and be truthful. It can be done. Not everyone is on a professional track, so meet the child where he/she is and help them realize their best self.
- Judges: Not every teacher has the same formal training. Keep to the big ideas of good playing and emphasize musicality principles, steady beat and accurate rhythm versus technical and stylistic aspects. Judges should not try to reteach the piece.
- Judges: Every student is seeing the judge for a very short amount of time. They will remember your tone, they will remember your smile and how you made them feel.
- Everyone: Enjoy the process!
Goals for students:
- Share their wonderful playing and hard work!
- Encourage students to continue to develop their skills and look for places to be evaluated and learn something new from another expert in the field.
- Gain performance experience. Performing doesn’t get easier, but with more practice and opportunities, we start to understand how to work through our dopamine and adrenaline surges.
Values present for the student:
- Personal Growth
I see the value of adjudicated events, and REALLY look forward to being a judge for other local associations and enjoy the opportunity to provide meaningful, intentional feedback that I hope helps the students move forward with joy and intention. If my honest and positive comments help propel their interest and momentum, then I feel I have done my job well. I always aim to provide a thank you, 3 meaningful comments on their music and a “can’t wait to hear you again” or “keep up the consistent work” type of conclusion to my evaluation.