Friday, March 6, 2009

Alternate Plans

We are nearing the end of the competition season. The final state contest is next weekend and the pressure is mounting. Even though you may play every note and rhythm, every dynamic and phrase “correctly” (whatever that means in a subjective art), you need one more thing. You need to be a performer, you need to be memorable. How can I teach that? As Simon Cowell says on American Idol, (insert British accent here) “although it was a solid performance, it was forgettable. I won’t remember you tomorrow.”

Here is such a dilemma. Few students will be remembered at the end of a long day of judging. There will be some amazing playing and those will be fun to hear. There will be some performances that leave you wondering how they got this far. But what about that middle group? As judges we’re looking for the spark. Do they have something to say? Was it musical?

There are winners and non-winners at the contest. The ultimate quandary of the competition is being called an “alternate”. In each room there are alternates chosen. This is the ultimate bridesmaid-never-a-bride spot for the student and the teacher. Winners won. Non winners lost and they will get over it. Alternates must wait. If a winner is unable to take the “win”, the alternates are called, in some mysterious order known only at HQ. You don't even find out which alternate you are. Are you first alternate or seventh? It’s piano purgatory. Well, you didn’t win and you didn’t lose either. Some played better than you, but yours may be good enough if they’re busy.

I told my students this year that I don’t want any alternates. Last year I had 6. It was horrible for them and me. Win or lose this year, "leave it all on the field", for some of the sports kids. For one young man it was a Yoda Star Wars voice, "Do or do not, there is no try." I know it is not up to them entirely, but this is the first year I gave the speech anyway.

How do you stir a student’s soul? How do you ask them to show themselves? Some of them are merely eight or nine years old. Do they even know themselves enough to perform true to self?


  1. At 8 or 9 years of age, they might not be able to perform to true self. However, that doesn't stop them from recognizing it when they see it. Therefore, you must show them how to present themselves and they will follow, most of them anyway.

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  3. Not sure if this will help, but will try. I hope the kids like it. It is for them. Good luck in the competition. I know they will do well, with you as their teacher, how can they not.

    My True Self

    Sometimes when I look in the mirror, what do I see.
    I think, is this really what I am, is this me.
    Why is my hair this color and such a mess.
    Is my nose perfect, if not, am I less.

    Sometimes when I think about the many things I do.
    I think, can I be better, can I be like you.
    What am I doing, something I want to know.
    Will this teach me, will it help me grow.

    Sometimes when I am alone sitting on my bed,
    I think about all the things I have read.
    The well wishes and letters that many have wrote,
    Telling me how great I try, of this they do note.

    Sometimes when I am trying to do my very best,
    I think how hard this is, I do not jest.
    But somehow, I know that deep inside,
    I must let my best come out, it cannot hide.

    Sometimes when I think that I want to stop,
    I know the love I get and then I just hop,
    To a very special place that I want to be,
    That spot there is for the world to see.

    Sometimes when I am in this special place,
    I think to myself, this is my own space,
    It is not somewhere to be sad,
    For with my true self, I can be very glad.

    Please let them know that this was written just for them, if you want to, that is. Sometimes I get carried away.

    God Bless.

    Sorry, found an error and had to fix, so deleted original.

  4. Wow, This is wonderful-I'll post it on the whiteboard by their pretty flowers!


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