Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some thoughts on adjudicating

Today marked the third day of adjudicating beginner and early intermediate piano classes at the Whitehorse Rotary Music Festival (Wendy's here as well adjudicating the voice and choir classes). Festivals in most places are held in churches and community centres, but up here they are held in the state-of-the-art Yukon Arts Centre, both in the main theatre (where lucky students get to play on the centre's Steinway concert grand) and in the smaller studio theatre.

Many people, myself included, that did festivals 20-30 years ago have traumatic memories of trembling with fear performing for scowling adjudicators and then receiving cruelly worded comment sheets. Gone are those days. The type of adjudicator that is becoming more prevalent these days is one that can balance critical honesty with kindness and encouragement, realizing that the goal of the festival process is not to choose the most talented young performers per se, but to encourage them and steer them on toward continued studies.

Case in point: myself. When I was a young and terrified pianist in the late 70's and early 80's I participated year after year in several festivals. I was never one of those that really did too well. Maybe second, third, or almost third, but definitely not one in the winners's circle too often (at least until I started to practice with ever more regularity and determination in my college years).

Which is one of the difficult truths of the local festival circuit: often those who have the best long-term potential in the musical field are not the young superstars but the ones who bide their time, finish second through fifth, eventually find their muse, and then go on to a successful career in music years later. Too often the big winners of local festivals end up burning out and quitting, never to play again.

So it is with a renewed sense of purpose that I try and encourage these young pianists to keep at the process, teach them how to perform in front of audiences, to take time before they start to play, acknowledge audiences during the applause, and generally try to sell the whole art of performing as something that can actually be fun to do. Then we sit and wait as these young pianists grow up and hope that their musical studies will either come to fruition in a musical career or give them at least the courage, determination, and upgraded brain circuitry to succeed in others.


  1. Chris, Great post. My festival and pianistic history is very close to yours, always doing pretty well, never fantastic. It wasn't until grad school I practiced in earnest and developed real chops. And I've noticed the change in audjudicating styles, though there could still be much improvement in what I've seen.

  2. It's about being the last one standing by a certain age.