Helpful Hints

  • Appearance – make sure your appearance is neat and clean.  Ladies should wear dresses that are not above the knee.  Gentlemen should wear collared shirts and slacks – not jeans.  Hair should be short – off the collar and ears, one inch above the eyebrows, tapered in the back, combed, with no long sideburns.  No beards or mustaches will be permitted for students.
  • Poise – confidence is a big help in your presentation.  Avoid slouching and shuffling feet – from the moment you rise to perform until you return to your seat after you are finished.
  • Personality – maintain a cheerful, pleasant attitude at all times.  Greet the judges and smile!
  • Introduction – the introduction is one of the key elements to performing!  An introduction should ALWAYS be given.  An example is:  “Hello!  My name is Sam Jones from Christian Home Educators of West Virginia.  I will be playing ‘Ave Maria’ for you today by Franz Schubert.”
  • Speak loudly and clearly!  No mumbling!

 

Observations from a former judge….

I have had the privilege of being an adjudicator for the West Virginia Christian Education Association Fine Arts Festival for the past 9 years.  The experience of judging the elementary, middle and high school levels has allowed me to experience things that I did not learn during my years on the other side of the judging table.

As my area of expertise is music, I would like to speak to home school parents about how to make musical efforts in the Fine Arts Festival a positive learning experience for both you and your children.  I will go through each category on the music score sheets and give explanations and suggestions for avoiding common pitfalls associated with each.

Tone:

We, as parents, have heard our children progress in their musical endeavors from their first attempts to the level where they are now.  We naturally think our children are doing fantastically when we hear such improvement in their sound during the time they have played their instrument or have sung.  Parents must remember, though, that judges are hearing their children only one time and we are comparing them to the “ideal” sound for their particular instrument or voice range.  Every child who studies music should be fed a steady diet of good “classical” music.  If your child plays the flute, he or she should own several recordings of good classical flutists and should take advantage of resources at local libraries studying the sound that the professionals make.  If your child is a singer, he or she should listen to great opera and oratorio singers of his or her gender.

Intonation:

Even people who are “not musical” will recognize that something is not right with an out-of-tune performance, even though they may not be able to identify the offensive element.  Fortunately, this is a simple area to correct when it is brought to the student’s attention.  I do advise against using auto-chromatic tuners (the ones which automatically show you the note you are playing and whether you are sharp, flat, or right on pitch with that note) because your children will not have one of those in front of them when they play for the judges.   Rather, it is more important that students develop this skill using their ears.  Simply have someone play the notes of a song the child will play on an organ (or better yet, a synthesizer set to the same tone as the child’s instrument) and have the child adjust his pitch until the two sounds “become one.”  To be in tune, the student should not hear any “beats” or “waves” in the sound when the two instruments play the same pitch.  It is best to start this process with long tones (whole notes) and then proceed to faster passages.  Watch out for instruments like the trumpet, clarinet, French horn, or the saxophone that must transpose written music to match a keyboard pitch.  If you are unsure, ask a local music teacher how to handle this situation.

Technique/Articulation/Diction:

This is the area where the judges can be most objective and effective.  When we listen to a student perform, excellent or deficient technique will usually show up within the first few measures.  Poor tonguing, improper breathing, lack of breath support, incorrect bow holds, incorrect instrument holds and a host of other areas provide us with multiple opportunities to help the student through our comments.  Vocalists must be careful to research proper diction and use it correctly.  We have diverse regional dialects in West Virginia that can make proper pronunciation in singing particularly difficult.

Interpretation:

Research and listening are the keys here.  Get as many recordings of the actual piece your child is playing or singing to compare how different professional artists interpret the tempo, phrasing, dynamics, etc.  In addition, get recordings of other pieces from the same time period and listen to how music was performed from that period.  Local libraries will usually have these recordings, or they can often borrow them from other library systems at your request.

Musciality:

This is the most subjective category.  Here we try to assess how comfortable the students are with their instrument or voice, how prepared they are with the music they have chosen to play, and how well they are able to draw the audience into the music and make them want to hear more.  There are no cold, hard facts for this category – only subjective impressions.

Selection:

A soloist may choose a piece because it is technically challenging, but more black notes on the page do not automatically translate into a more thrilling performance.  What has the potential to be a dazzling display of technical skill can turn into a white-knuckled experience for the audience and judges.  I suggest that students perform one level below where they are currently working technically.  This way, the students perform a piece with which they are comfortable and are not worried about new techniques while trying to allay the onslaught of nerves which inevitably accompanies this stressful situation.  We would much rather hear a student superbly perform a piece that has eight note runs than “flub through” a series of sixteenth or thirty-second note runs and arpeggios.

Presentation:

This is probably the most neglected area.  How students introduce themselves, how they walk, how they stand, and how they bow are critical to the perception of their performance.  Practice this aspect of the performance on a consistent basis leading up to the festival.  Students should clearly state their name, the name of the composition they will perform, and the composer and / or arranger of the piece.  If the student wants to include that he is home schooled and mention his grade, that is acceptable also.  Chewing gum is an absolute “no-no” when performing.

The guidelines clearly spell out what each student is to wear.  The clothes you wear to school daily are probably not the best choice, but neither are the slinky evening gowns we have seen some students wear.  Think conservative and mature, and make sure the clothes are clean and pressed.

Personal pointers:
  • Wear cotton or cotton blend shirts / blouses if possible (cotton breathes / reduces sweating)
  • Worsted wool materials are best for men’s suits and ladies’ skirts and jackets.  Despite the connection standard wool gives as being hot, worsted wool also breathes, is cool, and does not wrinkle easily.  Avoid polyester for the obvious reasons.
  • Avoid acetate and lamé at all costs – they are slick, do not breath well, and do not hold up well to a day of stress.
  • Dress your child for his body style.  If your child is heavy or overweight, tight clothing only brings this more to light and will make her uncomfortable and self-conscious in front of a group of strangers.  If your child is small or thin, loose or baggy clothing only makes him look smaller and thinner.
  • Guys must wear a tie; not doing so is an automatic deduction.  Character ties do not really convey the concept of “fine arts.”  Also, buy a shirt big enough in the neck to allow for the expansion of the throat often needed in playing a wind instrument or singing.

Shoes:

1. Ladies have most problems here.  High heels are probably not the best choice for walking gracefully to center stage, standing nervously alone in front of a group of strangers and performing; but then again, the combat boots I saw at the bottom of one skirt are a little extreme in the other direction.  I would also advise against sandals and open-toed shoes; these do not meet the formality of the occasion.  A basic pair of low-heeled pumps will serve quite nicely.

2. Men – dress shoes are a must.  Tennis shoes are an automatic deduction.  Loafer-type shoes are permissible, but make sure they match the style of the outfit. White socks do not go with ANY dress outfit.

Memorization:

This one is pretty much self-explanatory, but I do have a few recommendations:

  • Start early.  The earlier the better.
  • Try to memorize in small pieces rather than in large chunks.  Begin with 2 to 4 measures per day.
  • Once the whole piece has been memorized, it should be played through by memory 3 – 5 times a day for at least one week.
  • For the next week, play through the piece flawlessly 3 times daily.  This may take multiple attempts, and this will be the first step toward really mastering the piece.   This is also one of the most frustrating steps.  Remember:  Practice it when you get it, not just until you get it.
  • Have your children play the piece from memory for as many different audiences as possible before they get to the festival.

It never fails that we hear students and parents make comments such as “He should have won, he did much better than the guy who won,” “I play that perfectly at home, I just had trouble with my reed today,” or “That judge just didn’t like me.”  Please believe that the judges are sincerely trying to help each and every student do his best.  We often give extra attempts or personal words of encouragement when we can within the time limitations under which we must work.  Keep in mind that we are all trained professionals who are listening for different things in a performance than the general audience does.  Just because one performance is “more exciting” than the next, the “less exciting” performance may have been more technically and artistically accurate; whereas, the more exciting one may have had serious technical and interpretative errors.

In short, we are here to help.  Please take our comments at face value and believe that we really wish the best for each of your children.

Sincerely,

Dr. Alan L. French