Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Piano Politics

The spring piano competition season has been quite the roller coaster ride this year, adding some drama to our family life. In addition to the county piano festival that the kids are eligible to participate in due to the residence of their piano teacher, I entered Matthew and Evan in the piano festival of the city/county in which we reside. Since the boys had enough pieces prepared, I thought it would be good for them to gain more performance experience and learn from a broader base of judges.

In January, I received the application and rules for our city/county contest and we followed the rules to a "t". When the contest president received the applications, she emailed me saying, "I don't know how you were supposed to know this", but multiple movements of a Sonatina were not allowed and Matthew would be disqualified. She explained that a child the previous year had been disqualified after the second round of competition (in which he was the front runner). She also wrote "thank goodness it wasn't my student" (and by the way, her student went on to win.)

I replied to the president's email, questioning why that particular "rule" concerning multiple movements was not in writing a year after a student had been disqualified on that basis, and I requested that the committee review that rule before deciding to cut one of the movements from Matthew's program. In the presidents' reply, she expressed ignorance as to why that rule was not in writing and agreed to discuss it with the committee.

Weeks later, after the committee met, Evan & Matthew's piano teacher received a phone call from a piano festival committee member, saying that not only would Matthew be disqualified, but Evan would be as well, because according to their previously undisclosed classification list of composers, he was playing pieces by two Romantic period composers (breaking the rule that the contestant must play pieces from different periods of music). The boys' piano teacher was not allowed to contest the decision and was told that our money would not be refunded, because the rules specified no refunds "in black-and-white".

In regards to Evan's questioned pieces, in addition to a piece by a modern composer, he was to play Tarantella by Albert Pieczonka, a Romantic composer, and a Sea Piece by Edward MacDowell, a composer whose life bridged both the Romantic and Impressionistic Periods. The height of the Impressionistic period began in 1860 and MacDowell's Sea Pieces were composed in 1898. There is an entire book written about MacDowell, the fifth chapter of which is "The Impressionist", discussing his Sea Pieces.

Concerning our entry fees, we did get our money back, no thanks to the president of the association. I'll leave it at that.


Anonymous said...

Oh my! How frustrating that all must have been! I hope they'll be able to compete elsewhere sometime.

Hillary said...

Oh, you can't leave it at that. What happened? How did you get your money back?

Will you pursue (or publicize) the competition's imaginary rules? I wonder if a letter to the editor, or a cautionary letter to music schools/teachers in the area would be warranted. ("In this economy, parents must be vigilant in how every dollar is spent. XXXXX Piano Competition has, for the past 2 years in a row, disqualified students based on reasons not listed in written forms. Contestants have been notified of their disqualification AFTER *non-refundable* fees have been paid and, in one case, after competition has begun. Please be cautious of entering your student in this competition.)


Meliss said...

Hi Phyllis

They were in the other competition last week and I'll write soon about that. Thanks!

Hi Hillary

We talked to the nice treasurer (whose student was the one disqualified the yr. before) several times. She and another committee person went around the pres. to void our checks, but she warned us not to let it get back to the pres.

Fortunately the pres. has a two-year term which is now over. She knew who our kids were, b/c Evan won 1st over her students in the other competition last year. I'm pretty sure that she was the only party behind our kids getting disqualified. It didn't help her anyway, b/c her kids didn't win in those categories this year.

I had a letter all ready to be sent out and a phone call into a city council member, but the treasurer begged us to keep it quiet and assured us that since the pres. term was over, it would not happen again. Since she stuck her neck out for us, we honored her request...this time. We want to enter next year. Our teacher says that she is going to get the new pres.'s signature verifying that the published rules are comprehensive.

The pres. of the 1st contest overheard my kids' auditions for the other contest two weekends ago. She was sitting with the head of the second competition and exclaimed, "Those kids are good!" The lady-in-charge replied, "It's too bad that you got them disqualified in the XXXX Competition. They would have added a lot of class!" (News travels through the music teacher grapevine. I did enjoy hearing that second-hand. :-}

Hillary said...

Oh, that makes me feel better! I'm glad the Treasurer intervened, and hopefully the contest will be fairly run next year. Thanks for filling me in!