solo competition

February 3, 2008

It’s so exciting to see the nervousness of students performing at a competition. They are so young, so new to the butterflies that collect in their stomach. Seeing their eyes drop into their throats brings a joy that many would consider to be only sadistic. It is not.

I remember the first time I played saxophone at a solo competition. It was 7th grade, and my sax wouldn’t stop making this horrible squawking sounds. My band director tried my mouthpiece out, tested my horn, tried to make sure everything was okay, and we tried again. No luck. Everyone else in the saxophone section, save my mortal enemy, Matthew, had had almost no trouble at all, and performed with the greatest of ease. I felt like I was falling off a tight-rope.

Music competitions have a unique rating system, if you aren’t familiar with them.
I = superior
II = excellect
III = fair (or joking called the “are you sure that’s the right music?” rating)
IV =  poor (also called the “why are you here?”)
V = you get the idea

For a good majority of people, at least in this neck of the woods, a II is not so much good as not good enough. Yes, we recognize the music, yes, you obviously put some work into this, but so-sorry, this is not up to snuff, try again next year. Sort of a lifting of the nose at those less fortunate. Sometimes the difference between a I and a II can be found in school funding available to purchase instruments that, you know, work.

So there I was, completely baffled over my score, and my ability, and the circumstances, and how my mortal enemy could have done just as well as I did poorly. We had the same score and that wasn’t fair. I decided to beat myself up in my mother’s mini-van with her squeezing my neck and trying to comfort me. She assured me that this was once, and that I didn’t do that badly after all.

When I moved back to New Mexico to teach in P-ville, I had to reestablish my own views of this rating system. For me, a I has been the only thing acceptable and to receive lower than that was cause for severe worry and possible hangovers. However, when you are faced with a senior class so caught up in the delusion that the last two years have established a tradition of “excellence” and that they not only intend but force will into reality that they will complete the marching season with this continued superiority, you have to change your views a little. They worked hard, but they had a hard marching show, and I found that it was easier to fall back on how a II was excellent, you guys did so good you worked so hard we’ll get ’em next year.

A I-. That was what I got that day. A I-. That’s like…almost a two, but obviously better than. Thanks, you worked really hard on that solo, Derek, but you didn’t wow us. We know you worked hard, and since this is your first competition, you really do deserve this I for just showing up today. How brave of you! A I-. Matthew had a I-. I could not be seen on the same level as him, and I was always the A student. A I- was not an A. It was an F, in my tear-soaked point of view, at the time. My mother was so comforting.

Students, so nervous at the solo competition, so fraught with anxiety, almost squinting at it, walked one by one into a room with a piano and bunch of chairs, played their very best, and a good portion of them got their I. Some of them got II’s, and I’ll be telling them they did excellently, cause you want them to leave this whole ordeal with a good feeling. I’m so proud of them, cause I remember being there once, and I know they have to get through it too.



  1. I remember throwing my first C away in third grade and believing once it hit the bottom of the trash can that it never really happened.

  2. Wow. I’m surprised with how soft society is these days, with all the little kiddos never losing at anything, t-ball, soccer, ect , that they even LET you score.

    I took this from Bills Gates 11 things they don’t teach you.
    “Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life
    hasn’t. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give
    you as many times as you want to get the answer right. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.”

    So, with that in mind, I say give the little bastards V’s …. 😛 Only kidding!

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