Young Artist Competition Mishaps
The year after our daughter began taking clarinet lessons, her teacher, the wonderful Erin Roesch of Hagerstown, asked me if I would consider accompanying for one of her high school students in the Richmond Symphony Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition. With no idea of what I was getting into, I agreed to play. At that first competition, the curtain opened and the clarinetist and I walked tentatively out onto the stage. While I headed for the piano, the student, instead of coming with me, walked over to the edge of stage right, where, because he saw a microphone, he assumed he was supposed to play. Feeling rather flustered, I simply sat down and started playing the accompaniment – with my back to the student! As one might expect, it was not a stellar performance for either of us! Nonetheless, I returned to the stage for the next YAC and, in the years since, have played for at least 20 competitors (including my own two daughters) performing on flute, oboe, alto saxophone, French horn, marimba, violin, voice – and, of course – clarinet!
A few years after that first less-than-ideal experience, my daughter, Kevy, began her four-year odyssey toward winning the competition. By then, I knew enough to guide the performers to the crook of the piano before beginning! In her third year, she was (thankfully) playing the standard Mozart Clarinet Concerto in which the accompaniment consists mostly of repeated notes and Alberti bass. About halfway through, I turned a page and the next few pages detached from the well-used book and floated quite gracefully to the floor. After my initial panic (aachh!), while my left hand continued playing the (did I say thankfully?) simple accompaniment, I reached down with my right hand and grabbed the runaway pages, hoping against hope that they were right-side up! (They were!) Kevy, although she was aware of what was happening, continued playing without missing a beat and ended up receiving second place. In her senior year of high school, she wailed away on the Weber Clarinet Concerto No.1 in f minor and won the competition. Of course her parents were very proud of her, but I have to admit I would rather have had her finish second again so I wouldn’t have had to sit in the audience and listen to her perform with the orchestra. That may have been the most terrifying experience of my life! But when she finished playing (and, believe me, I played every note with her!), it may have been the most exhilarating.
When I joined the RSO board in 2014 and was appointed to the Education Committee, my biggest contribution was to institute a mandatory field trip to the stage prior to the competition! This has allowed the students to ‘scope out the joint’ – deciding where they want to stand, checking out the auditorium, doing an initial tuning, etc. It has taken away at least one of the stressors…. Having played for so many young musicians – some more naturally talented than others, some more prepared than others, some more terrified than others(!) – I can say that, no matter what the outcome, every one of them has come away with some sense of personal accomplishment and musical growth.
In the last several years, the number of students auditioning has dwindled – we have had as few as three competitors some of those years. We are asking local and area band, orchestra and choir directors to encourage more of their students to take private lessons and those private teachers to encourage their students to take on the challenge of preparing for the Young Artist Competition. This year’s competition will take place on Sunday, October 16 at 2:00 PM in Civic Hall. Audition tapes or videos are due in the RSO office by Friday, September 23. We would love to have you join us in support of these young performers – and I promise to do my best to keep my hands on the keys and my music off the floor!