Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Afternoon in the Country

I have an important concert on Saturday, preparation for it has been pretty much draining me for weeks, but the Ossie dragged me out to the countryside this afternoon, a grill party at a colleague's house. They live some 30 miles from here, in a little village. They are just finishing building the house, a 2-story wooden construction with a big garden. Our host told me proudly that the heating system, the latest design of eco-friendly, worked so well this winter that they didn't have to heat the house once. (How that works exactly is a mystery to me, has something to do with extracting heat from the ground and chanelling it into pipes in embedded in the floors... evidently the princple is of a refrigerator in reverse) .
There was a copious supply of wine and beer, and the food was pot luck-- this is very unusual in Germany, where a hostess prides herself on the menu. The standard of the dishes was very high... I didn't cook anything but the Ossie made her famous Dill Quiche.
What was there to eat? A fabulous homemade Tzaziki (very high garlic content), some excellent Frikadellen (kind of large meatballs, eaten cold). Various salads, both of the green and potato variety. German, Turkish, and French bread. Lamb chops and sausages and whole fish on the grill. Various and sundry desserts, many of them heavy and sinful with chocolate.
And this plant in the garden, I have no idea what it is but it is BIG, the stalk is about 4 feet high and the flower the size of a tennis ball. Anyone out there know what it is (the owner couldn't tell me).
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I get in Trouble

I got in a lot of trouble this afternoon.
We have a lot of entries with either recorder players or accordion players, and as one group set up I said quietly to my colleague, "Oh, another compressible cupboard" and the remark was overheard as luck would have it by the President of the German Accordion Association, who took it as a racial slur.
Which is nonsense, I am a big fan of the accordion as it happens... and in any case the group involved (who had come in from Berlin) were fabulous and got probably the highest rating we are going to give this week.
But I am going to have to learn to keep my mouth shut.
It is lucky no one in the audience has caught the viola jokes that the jury foreman tells at least three times a day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Random notes from a judge

It is great being a judge. Everyone is terrified of you, they look at you with these hopeful faces.
I can only say how grateful I am to be sitting behind the judging table, and not standing on stage. I have always hated competitions because I was so terrible at them.
Today is the first day we got a lunch break. The other days I survived by scoffing pretzels during the short consultation breaks.
We are doing 12 hour days. Frustrating because I need to be preparing some pieces I am doing with orchestra at the end of the month. Have been getting up at 6:30 so I could get an hour's practice in before the judging starts.
This has the corollary effect that the competitors who come between 3 and 4 in the afternoon don't get the the same alertness from this juror as the ones who play before.
The weather is gorgeous, unusual here. I haven't been able to go outside at all, very maddening.
It is funny how you can tell the good players from the mediocre just by how they set up before playing. The ones who are not so good don't look like the instruments really belong to them. The girls who are spending more time fiddling with their hair than straightening their fiddles are less likely to be really in command when they start playing.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Agonizing Decisions

It is so hard to judge these kids. they are all talented (after all, they got to the national level in the competition) and have worked hard.
But how do you differentiate between a group that plays flawlessly, but playing a piece that requires almost no instrumental expertise, and on the other hand a group that has chosen repertoire on a very advanced technical level, where there are bound to be mistakes?
And we in the jury had an argument (now ongoing for 2 days) over a group who wowed the audience with their performance- they sang and danced and played recorders, had terrific charisma-- but who couldn't be really considered as expert recorder players (the piece required playing skills that someone with a musical background could have picked up in a couple of weeks).
I judged the group on the merits of how they brought the piece over with their combined skills (and they had honed the performance to perfection), giving them a fairly high point count. But there were colleagues on the jury who gave them what were in effect failing grades because they had not demonstrated a whole lot of technical skill on their instruments.
This is probably a fundamental difference between the American and German way of seeing it. I am a sucker for a good show.
I get in the same kind of argument regularly with my girlfriend, who rejects a LOT of music as "inferior". I just say it is different.

And as I write this I am sad because I am missing my son and his band playing in Cologne because I am stuck here.

Away from Home

This week I am judging a national music competition in a German city on the French border.. it is much harder work than I thought it would be.
There are 2000 participants (OK, I don't have to judge all of them!) and I am one of a tiny handful of non-Germans on the juries; I am trying to keep my grammar problems hidden. It is very nerve-wracking not only for the young competitors (they are all between the ages of 10 and 19) but for us because the decisions we make can affect their whole life directions. these are the final rounds of a big national contest that started in January. We listen to the performances and then award points and prizes, and do some councelling.

On the first evening a group of us went out and I was confronted with a local custom that I have not seen before: a group of girls in odd costumes confronted us, one wearing fairy glitter and antennae and holding a cardboard tray filled with small items-- candies, lipstick, drugstore type things-- and she asked me if I wanted to buy something. I was startled but she was cute, so I said why not. She explained that it is a custom here that on the night before her wedding, the bride goes out with her girlfriends for a last night on the town, and has to sell some things to complete strangers. I don't know what this custom is called, and am wondering what it signifies. Selling her soul?

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