Thursday, March 21, 2013

Young Musicians Festival

For the past few months, Grace has been preparing to participate in a local Young Musicians Festival that was held at Fairfield University.  It is a non-competitive experience where young musicians play two pieces from memory in front of a panel of experts who do not “judge”, but rather offer a critique on the playing and rate the musician.  

Grace entered as an intermediate player.  I have listened to Grace play every day for years.  The songs she works on become part of our family’s day to day life because we hear them over and over again.  In a way, her playing is how we do composer studies, since she prefers classical pieces over popular ones.  We have heard Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky to name a few of the great composers. 

Having never participated in something like this, we had no expectations.  Taking vacation the week before was not ideal because it limited her ability to practice.  My mother in law contacted her friend and neighbor who is a pianist and owns a lovely Yamaha baby grand piano.  Since she was in rehab recuperating from knee replacement surgery, she graciously gave my mother in law the key to her house.  Another example of southern hospitality.  Who lets strangers into their house?  Even if they are family of friends...... I am very grateful to both these ladies who helped Grace accomplish her goal of playing to the best of her ability.

Not having immediate access to a piano may have been a blessing in disguise.  It kept the focus off the performance and on her joy of playing.  I told her she was doing this because she wanted to, not because her teacher or I was forcing her to.  If she played well, I would be proud of her and if she did not play well, I would still be proud of her.  

Sunday came and we arrived to campus 30 min early to find our assigned room.  It is was a full concert size Steinway grand piano....Grace’s dream instrument.  She played and played and played.  She had a good 20 minutes of private practice time before the other musicians began to arrive and being their warm ups.  

It was interesting for me to observe the other parents in the room.  Homeschooling has given me a different perspective on our children and how I view their accomplishments.  Their accomplishments, their failures, their efforts and their results are theirs, not mine.  I may offer them the ability to realize these things.  I shuttle them back and forth from activities.  I provide copious amounts of time for things like baking clubs, service projects and weather internships.  I pay for lessons.  But I am not the one who is calling local organizations asking to delivery freshly made baked goods.  I am not the one who is creating projects and presenting them to a class of middle school children.  I am more certainly not the one whose fingers are striking the black and ivory keys.  When parents looked over at me and said “great job”, I could not say thank you.......all I could say was that she did her best.  It was not my great was hers.  Don’t say it to me, say it to her.

There was one boy in particular that stood out in Grace’s group.  He was 11 and clearly had a gift.  It showed Grace the difference between a talent (which she has) and a gift which is given from God.  He could have performed a full length concert and I would have hung on every note.  His body channeled the energy of that piano from his head to his toes.  After the session, I went up to him and told him it was a pleasure for me to listen to him play.  Then his mother and I chatted for a bit about this experience and how in awe of our children we are, for both of us never would have put ourselves out there like that at their age.

There was another boy in her group who was also talented.  We listened to him warm up.  On his second piece, he made a mistake and froze.  He never regained his composure and struggled through the rest of the song.  But he finished.  He did not stop.  He did not quit.  I clapped just as loudly for him, as I did for Grace and for the 11 year old boy who played so well.  But his mother did not.  She buried her head in her hands, shaking from side to side, clearly embarrassed by his performance.  She would not look at her own son.  I channelled every bit of energy I had to that boy.  Be proud.  Be strong.  Have courage.  My heart broke for him as I wondered what unkind words she would say in private if that was how she behaved in public.

Like this boy, Grace too had a moment where she lost focus and made a mistake.  There was a momentary look of panic on her face and she glanced over at me, sitting in the back row, where she ordered me to sit.  I looked her in the eye, made an exaggerated movement of breathing and whispered “keep going”.  Part of me wondered what would have happened if that boy's mother had offered her son even the tiniest bit of support and encouragement. 

In the car on the way home, I told her that part of growing up is learning to keep going.  Not everything is perfect.  We cannot achieve perfection.  We can only play the best we can on that day.  The honor comes from how to keep our composure in adversity and how we persevere.  

I could not have been more proud.  For the family that wanted to come and see her perform, here is the unedited video of her performance.  She will get her critique in 3 weeks.


Frogcreek said...

Go Grace! She is so talented, and I know how much she loves to play. I am proud that she put herself out there and did her very best. My heart is breaking for the other boy. How very sad.

Jessica said...

She worked so hard for this. She ended up scoring 4 out of 5 but we have to wait another 2 weeks to get the written critique. It was a great experience for her. She is already thinking about next year!

Karen said...

This is so wonderful. I love what you say about this not being your accomplishment but Grace's. I feel the same when Keilee acts. Yes I take to practice and even help her with her lines but it is all her. I feel so sorry for the boy with the Mother who seemed to be embarrassed. Grace plays beautifully. Keilee wishes at times that she had taken piano. It is such a beautiful talent.

Christina @ Interest-Led Learning said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with us! The first song was especially beautiful.

Homegrown Learners said...

Jess -- I just am just loving commenting and listening to Grace play. What a wonderful experience this was for her! We just went through a big festival here called Federation - I am sure you have one in you area, because it is nationwide through the Music Teachers National Association. All of the pianists played two memorized pieces for a judge and then received critique and a rating.

Please pass along to Grace that a piano teacher in Atlanta is very impressed with her abilities -- and I see it's all memorized. :-)

I also appreciate what you say about this being HER accomplishment and not YOURS. I can honestly say that now when Anna plays piano so beautifully it is 100% hers -- I no longer ask her to practice or help (and believe me, sometimes I want to jump in and offer advice but I'm learning to let she and her teacher work everything out!).

Great job, Grace!

Jessica said...

I get annoyed at parents who live vicariously through their children. We had our chance and we made our choices. This is their live, their choice, their success, their failure. They own it. If she totally flopped I would have been just as proud as I was with the performance she gave. I know you get that. I think whenever we have a child who puts themselves out there publicly, we get to see the different parenting styles come into play. I love to watch Kei perform. My favorite has been her role in Wicked.

Jessica said...

That is my favorite too!

Jessica said...

I know I emailed you today but I just need to say again how helpful the book The Inner Game of Music has been. I have picked up so many little things that I can do to help her when she is at home, even if it just getting her to think about her playing (when she likes to play, when she feels relaxed, why she tenses up, etc.). I also am learning things about theory and how understanding the composers intention for the piece can transform the performers ability to get into the piece. Not only is this book about music, it is really about life. Thank you.

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