This week, I embark upon a new adventure - adjudicating. Let’s be honest, I have extremely mixed feelings about competitions, so it is not without some trepidation that I start out upon this new journey.
My last personal experience of a competition was of being hideously (and publicly) verbally abused by an official at the local Sydney Eisteddfod. Normally I would never find myself at such a competition, but it was a very special case - I was doing a particular favour for my very dear friend of many years Katherine, accompanying her because she had decided to perform a song that I composed and I wanted to thank her for supporting my composition work. She is a magnificent singer and her voice suits my music very well.
It would have been nicer to do a concert though, rather than a competition which ended up being equal parts awful and transcendent;
There was no backstage area, as is often the case at these events. I gave a few gentle words of encouragement as best I could manage as we were walking down the stairs toward the stage. We walked on and I proceeded to lift the piano lid up to where it should be for an Art Song, all the way up. The cranky official stormed up to me on stage.
"This room is very reverberant", he fumed, turning pink in the face with outrage.
"I’m aware of that," I replied, "but I am also a professional and this piano lid is not a volume control. My ears and brain will do the balance, OK?"
I turned my back on him, sat down and after a few seconds attempting to recover from the public humiliation I’d endured, I started the introduction of the song. My friend Katherine sang more beautifully, with more pathos and heart than I had ever heard her sing before. Ever. She won the section, deservedly so, and the adjudicator even said my work was a “worthy addition to the repertoire”. In classical singing world, that is high praise indeed, because most classical singers don’t give a rat’s arse about contemporary Art Song. I was seriously proud. At the f&^%ing Sydney Eisteddfod??? Actually, yes *nods* The cranky official proceeded to abuse me some more as I attempted to leave the building. He told me that I didn’t know anything about accompanying singers and that I was insensitive and overpowering her… lie after lie after lie (he obviously hadn’t actually listened). I simply turned around and said “Of course, I must know nothing about accompanying, which would be why ABC Classics booked me to accompany two of Australia’s best known classical singers Teddy Tahu Rhodes and David Hobson on their duet album.” #needironyfont
This week, I shall find myself on the other side making my debut as an adjudicator for the Australian National Eisteddfod (ANE). I mean, it says ‘National’ but it’s really very much a local Canberra affair *grin* (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I used to compete in this competition as a teen and won my fair share of trophies. It was certainly nerve wracking in as much as any performance is slightly nerve wracking, but overwhelmingly it was a positive experience and I’m actually forever grateful for the confidence that it gave me to get up and perform. Never easy to perform solo piano on these crisp Canberra winter mornings, but against the odds, I still managed to have a good time!
I’m determined to make this competition experience a very positive one for these young musicians. They’re the little ones I’ll be adjudicating, all under 14 years of age, the formative years. I feel a great sense of responsibility to their musical futures, because a part of me would die inside if the experience of competing was so negative that it made them hate the piano and want to give up. I know it sounds hopelessly cheesy, but they’re all winners for just doing the preparation and getting up there and sharing some beautiful music with us all.
In a world where competitions at any and every level seem to be distorting everything about the nature of performance and why we perform at all, we must keep constantly focussed on why we do it. We are performers because we have something to communicate to our fellow humans. Bearing that in mind, I’d like to wish everyone who I’m adjudicating this week the very best of luck. What I’m looking for is this - everything you do, every musical or technical decision that you and your teachers make together, it’s in the service of what you are trying to communicate. There are an awful lot of generically impressive piano players in the world, but very few artists. Push the envelope, be a little risky, show me what you have inside you. Then everybody really does win.