Chichester Festival for Music, Dance & Speech.

I have just spent a wonderful weekend as the adjudicator of the junior guitar section of the Chichester Festival for Music, Dance & Speech. There were around 100 entries, covering 23 classes overall. They ranged from a class for under 9 year-olds with under one year of tuition, to a recital class for the advanced 18 year old and under.  There was even a class for 'Family Ensembles'.

My goodness how things have changed since I was taking part in this sort of thing. Although there were some specific guitar classes in my local area my overriding memory is being disqualified from a string section class because I didn't have an accompanist! I'm glad to say that it caused a bit of a stir at the time. I have also been back since to adjudicate at that festival and am happy to say they now have a thriving guitar environment. Anyway I arrived at the Bognor Regis Music School a little after 9am to a room completely full of young guitarists. They seemed to fill every last inch of space. Nothing like starting with a bang eh! And so it continued for two days. The enthusiasm, commitment and dedication amongst so many was a great pleasure to see. This rang true not just from the students, but also the parents, the teachers and the organisers.

My job was to write as fast as possible, offer words of advice and then to award more trophies, medals and certificates than I have ever seen.  The organiser Sasha Levtov from the West Sussex Guitar Society did say I could take away a medal at the end of the weekend, but alas it hasn't materialised yet! I don't really have a set criteria when adjudicating but I must say that if I am moved emotionally in any way then you're on the right track.  I have to feel that the performer, however young or old and whatever level they're playing at, really connects and is passionate about the music they are playing.  It doesn't matter to me about the difficulty of the piece, it's just what they do with it that counts.  Far too often I hear students young and old playing pieces that are far too difficult for them.  Why do they put themselves through that?  It is so much better for the confidence to play within yourself, particularly when you are confronted with an ageing bald man armed with a pen and paper!

Anyway I did see this 'magic' a number of times throughout the weekend and generally I was really impressed with all the candidates.  Without fail each piece was nicely introduced (totally out of a musicians comfort zone), great posture was on show throughout and then (with some exceptions) there were some nice smiles and bows at the end.  What a treat!  Stage presence is  immensely important and added greatly to there performances.

I must mention a few events from the weekend which will remain with me for a long, long time. I was in one of my waffling moods talking about stage presence involving being an actor on stage etc. At one point I do remember saying "the audience don't really care if you've had a bad day or not feeling well. You just have to hide those things and get on with it". I was in particular referring to a boy who looked thoroughly dejected and unhappy in his performance and certainly let the audience know how he was feeling.  Anyhow during the second day of the festival there was one very young (and I might add, very talented) boy who was feeling very poorly but still wanted to play. After he played his mother came up to me and told me that he had said that nobody would have cared that he was feeling so bad.  I must admit that I did feel quite bad about this but had forgotten how literally children can take you sometimes.  By the way he did hide it very well!

The other event was the 'Family Ensemble' class.  My daughter is just 2 years old so I have all this to come but it was so lovely to see a parent and child up there making music together especially the sideways dagger glances that came from one particular girl towards her father when he made a mistake.  Actually in this class I wasn't sure who was more nervous , the parent or the child.  The pride and joy that a parent must feel to see their child up there performing and in this case alongside must be immense. Well, I had a fabulous weekend.  I came away with a nice warm feeling, safe in the knowledge that the classical guitar is truly alive and well.  The event was excellently organised by Sasha and his team, and I must make a special mention to all the teachers down there who do a superb job of inspiring these kids week in week out. There is much criticism about the competitive nature of a music festival, but I say they are a great thing.  Where else could a young player come along and here so many young guitarists perform?  Perhaps at the World Youth Guitar Festival held in August this year in Cheltenham (unashamed plug!)  They can only be inspired and feel a sense of pride at having got up on that stage and performed their hearts out, even if it is only just to put that lovely shiny trophy on their mantelpiece for a year!


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