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. 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! 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!