Sunday, February 02, 2014

Bad postcard of the week: No one monkeys around at the music competition

Magical, musical chimps at the St. Louis Zoo.
See the expression on the face of the chimp driving this thing? I know what’s going on here. They’re headed off to the school band and orchestra solo and ensemble district competition.

I've made that face.

The back reads: “Three battery-powered jeeps driven by chimpanzees and followed by trailers loaded with chimpanzee performers … that’s the audience’s first view of the St. Louis Zoo’s famous Chimpanzee Show. Shown here from left to right are Pancho, Becky, Ellen and Tony.”

So, Tony is Dad. He’s in for a long morning.

We attended such an event this week. Let me tell you how this goes.
Hang in there, Tony!

First, the day seems to start with about 6 inches of snow. I don’t know if that happens every year, but it has happened the two years I've been a part of this, so I’m just going by experience.

You need to know that band kids are sticklers not just for being on time, but being incredibly early. The mantra is that “early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” I suppose when you are dealing with a daily gathering of several hundred teenagers, this is necessary.

But the snow adds another layer of tension to the carefully contemplated schedule. It slows us down. We might just be early instead of incredibly early.

After checking in, we rush to the practice room. This is where 15 or so kids are playing the same kind of instrument, but different songs, starting and stopping at different points. It is impressive that the kids can focus on their own songs among the cacophony. Adults can stand it only for a few minutes before retiring to the hall.

The serious playing before the judges takes place in another room. There is a schedule hanging on the door. 

This schedule is fiction.

I say this because each student hires for the day a piano accompanist. There are several hundred kids, and, I suspect, a dozen accompanists. They are saints. They also are usually triple booked. They are never there for the actual starting time.

This is par for the course, and the adult working in each room knows this. They fit the kids in when they can as the accompanist arrives.

Second and third year students also know that this is how this works. They are relatively calm. You can tell the first-year parents and students because they are the ones pacing, looking at their watches, swearing under – and sometimes over – their breaths and banging their heads on the lockers.

Finally the accompanist arrives and there is much rejoicing as the student is directed into the room. Often, the student has an entourage of parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, classmates and pets.

Or, they go in alone.

My musician is in the second category because of the “eighth-grade incident.” Apparently I walked in too soon after the performance. These days, I’m lucky I’m allowed in the building at all. I’m probably one mistake away from being told to wait in the car. I am allowed to peek through the window, if the door has one.

The musician enters the room with the accompanist with two sets of sheet music – one to read from and the other for the judge to follow along.

Then, the playing begins. It is masterful. At least it sounds that way to the untrained ear.

The judge listens carefully and take notes. When the piece is completed, he approaches the student. Being teachers, they tend to offer all kinds of helpful guidance, talking about what went right and what could be improved. The kids wouldn't be in this event unless they were skilled, so this is really working around the margins, polishing an already shining gem.

Naturally, no one sees it this way.

Everyone leaves the room in tears – the student, the parents, the friends, the siblings, the neighbors and classmates. I think I saw a pocketbook puppy crying once, too. It was hard to tell.

There is a lot of hugging and consoling in the corridor. No one thinks they performed their best. They doubt their ability and their song selection. 

Note: suggesting that next time they play a really cool Ramones song and take the judge by surprise is never, ever considered funny.

The day is ruined and students vow to hide from their friends for days, lest they ask how they did. We wallow in our shame.

After what seems like ages, the door opens again and the helper emerges with the judge’s verdict.  A musician can earn a 1, a 2, a 3 or a participation certificate.

There is much rejoicing when the perception of the judge changes from cranky, partially deaf old man to wise master of music as we skip down to the redemption table to claim our medal.

Then, Tony the chimp, the instruments are packed up, the grandparents are called and everyone piles back into to car, safe for another year – or at least until the state competition in the spring.

No comments: