On Sunday, May 21, I served as one of three judges for the American String Teachers Association SF Chapter's competition finals, here in Berkeley at the Crowden School. Students of violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar, or harp compete in two divisions: Youth (age 14 and under) and Junior (age 15-18). (There is also a Senior division that did not hold a competition this year.) This was my second time judging the ASTA finals, in addition to helping select finalists from a preliminary round of video auditions.
Let me tell you, it's hard to come up with a lot of constructive criticism for this crew. Every one of them was a virtuoso, from the nine-year-old cellist who played Bach and Saint-Saens with precocious elegance and precision, to the 16-year-old who blew the roof off with Kabalevsky's Cello Concerto. My initial instinct for every one of them was simply to write, "YOU'RE AMAZING!!! DON'T CHANGE A THING!!!!" I realized I had to evaluate them not as students, but as professionals—such was their level of skill and polish.
It was particularly gratifying for me to see the guitar contestants—one in each division—whom I had seen and written comments for in the preliminary round (and one of which I evaluated last year as well), growing and developing in a matter of months. These guys are stunning players.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can give all of these students is that I left the building saying to myself, "Oh boy...I gotta practice!"