Sunday, January 30, 2011

Judging the MMTA Contest - 2011

I had the privilege of being a critical listener to fifty-four 7-8 year olds over a 6 hour span of time on Saturday. The event took place at a local northern metro (Minnesota) college. The Minnesota Music Teachers Association (MMTA) uses the lobby as a registration hub, and many, many rooms in the Fine Arts and Community Center areas for judging over both Saturday and Sunday. Thursday, a local piano store rolled in over a dozen pianos, Friday they were all tuned and tweaked. There is a judge coffee and waiting area, several of the normal campus hangout areas were today occupied by families and piano students.

MMTA does a contest for many different instruments and young artists of every caliber are encouraged to participate. The event this weekend is their piano division preliminary contest. Winners of this event will go to the Final Contest in mid-March. I have judged intermediate and early advanced levels the past few years, so it was very fun to see the young students again. The halls are bustling with students and doorkeepers, all making sure that they make it to the correct room at the correct time, with the correct piece. The preliminary contest this year takes place at many locations around the state, but over 3800 students will participate. It's a big deal.

This was my room; it's really more like a closet or a walk-in refrigerator sized hole. The door shuts if you move the bench back toward the piano, and there is room for one chair. I am left-handed, but the desk chair is rarely a lefty. It's a cozy little area, isn't it? The students and I spend 6 quality minutes together in here.

This is often a child's first experience at a judged event. I try extra hard to be kind and smile broadly. Many of them have spent months learning their 16 measure pieces. They came in their holiday dresses-ruffles, sparkles, bows and ribbons, the young boys in their clip-on ties and button down shirts. Their dress pants were belted, and their hair was combed. Nerves run high. You can feel it in the halls. Parents made a special effort to get here, from far away sometimes. Perhaps they have high expectations for their child musically. Some of them remember participating in an event like this as a child. Most of them are as nervous as the student.

My daughter walked up to this building last spring and still remembered those nervous feelings, years later. She said it felt like she was there to play even though she wasn't, and she didn't like it. Here are a few of the completely cute things that I experienced.

Not knowing that she was supposed to be anonymous, she walked up to the door and said, "HI! My name is Emily!" "Well, hi there, my name is Chris! Would you like to play for me today?"

Another student walked in the room, looked at me and said, "WOW! We're wearing the same colors! I have blue and black on too-see my pretty black flower right here? My shoes are a little tight."

Another said, "Oooh, I really like your earrings. I'm gonna get my ears pierced for my birthday."

About 6 students in a row came in with no front teeth.

After I heard a darling student in a bright orange dress with fushia trim perform, I opened the door to return her music. There were two of them there! "I'm Emma, SHE's Emily. It's her music not mine. Did you know we're twins?"

One student stopped dead in the middle of his piece, turned to me with huge eyes and said, "I'm reaaaalllly nervous!"
"Would you like a do-over? You can have one free start over today. This first one won't count, if you like."
"Really? OK. Free do-overs are great."

And finally, a young lady played her piece really well. It was musical, polished, and confident. She got to the last two measures and there were only two "C"s left. And she completely blanked on C number one. She tried a G, she tried a B, she backed up and started four measures prior, and nailed it. And then she looked like she was going to cry. I quickly raised my finger ala Maria in the Sound of Music. (Remember Maria at the market when the little one dropped the tomato?) "You played well", I smiled, and made eye contact, and smiled some more. All better.

Phew. The students came prepared, and hopefully had a good experience. I can't wait to hear how my own students did.


  1. Very sweet account of your day, Chris!

  2. Thanks, Q88! How was your day? What level did you judge?


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