Saturday, February 14, 2015

Federation 2015 Take One

Why tell a simple story briefly when one can write at great length, that's what I ask!

This was our family's first year participating in the National Federation of Music Clubs' annual festival. Violin students were performing today, so Mary got to experience it first, before she and her brother perform at piano in two weeks.

Initially the children's piano teacher explained Federation to them and said they would receive a pretty certificate for performing: this was enough to excited their interest, so we committed two months ago. The children have been working so hard all this time to prepare their pieces.

What is the Junior Festival? The National Federation of Music Club's Junior festival is a musical event held every year in spring as a means to foster musical education and development among students of music of all ages. The festival is held in many locations all over the nation. Students prepare musical pieces which are performed before a judge. The judge issues each participant a written critique to help them improve and grow as musicians. In addition to providing a valuable educational opportunity in a non-competitive setting, students can earn gold cup trophies and certificates for their participation. . . . 
The NYFMC Junior Festival also offers students an opportunity to receive a critique from someone other than their teacher. Some students have heard the same message from us as teachers so many times that they have come to politely listen during lessons, but don't take our advice to heart. Sometimes hearing this same advice from a judge is exactly what's needed.
As students advance through the many levels of repertoire from the Federation's Bulletin, they can see their progress in lessons. The Federation awards certificates and Gold Cup Trophies to students who participate, which provides another source of public recognition of student's musical accomplishments. (source)

Somehow, it was not communicated to Mary (a wee six years old) until the night before that she would have to go alone into the judge's room while I waited in the hallway. On Friday night, she and I were cozying together and talking through the pragmatic details of the next day. I mentioned casually that I'd wait right outside in the hallway and that's when the troubles began. Mary was distraught, weeping, curled up in a ball! She couldn't do it, she wouldn't do it, she just wanted Mama!

This was a parenting first for me and I didn't know what to do. She was inconsolable for at least half an hour. I knew I wouldn't and couldn't force her to perform if she was falling apart and weeping as I shoved her into the judge's room. But I didn't want to simply lie down at her first resistance, letting her throw away the onerous amount of work she and I have done for two months to ready her. My heart is so tender, I was quite worried!

I showed surprise at her reaction, I held her, I petted her hair, I ensured her it would be okay. I reminded her that she had a new concert skirt to wear (appealing to vanity). I offered that she could wear my special amethyst heart necklace (from my own childhood), which she likes to borrow for the most special occasions. Finally, humor calmed her down. She was crying in my arms and I showed her how she'd be in the room and how I'd be right outside the door, as we looked through her bedroom door, and I acted out her part in a really funny way and I acted out my part in the hallway until some laughter shown through her shiny eyes.

Still, what would the morning hold? I worried a lot (because I am that way).

In the morning--which began at 4:45 when the toddler decided he was up for the day and I couldn't convince him of otherwise--Mary came downstairs cool as a cucumber and said, "Let's go get me dressed in my concert clothes now before breakfast!" Now it was my turn to become an actress because it turns out I was a nervous wreck but didn't want her to know that.

She and I were out the door at 7:45 (Dad and other children at home), but should have left even earlier because I forgot the labyrinth that is the typical college campus. Amidst texting back and forth with the violin teacher who "guided me in" and getting direction from a police officer, we were finally parked, my having dropped off my little musician with the teacher who came out to meet me on the sidewalk.

On campus

On stage for practice
I entered the proper building and found our piano teacher, who led me down to where he knew the violin teacher and Mary were practicing. I startled upon my six-year-old, her back to me, all alone in a basement concert hall, equipped with a grand piano on stage. The teacher had stepped away for a moment, leaving her happily and patiently alone, and it was quite the image for me to see her, unaware of me, as she stood alone "in the limelight" (on stage).

The unfamiliar girl who had fallen apart with anxiety the night before was gone and the Mary with whom I am familiar had taken back command: "Mama, I'd like you to wait in the hallway while I practice so I can get used to you not being with me."

Well! Okay then! I slipped into the hallway and sneaked a couple of photos from the hallway. I tried to read my beloved Jane Eyre, right when Jane is leaving Mr. Rochester rather than be his mistress, and found I couldn't concentrate enough to make sense of the words on the page.


Mary's piano accompanist left to practice his own pieces and we were left alone with time to wait. Next Mary wanted to play her new favorite song, "Jungle Fever," at the piano on stage.

The performer faded away and the delightful Kindergartner emerged, as Mary happily spent her time counting every chair in the auditorium (187!) and later making shapes and faces in a circus fun house mirror we found in dusty backstage storage.

Mary counting seats in the auditorium

The halls of the three-story building were abuzz with energy, much like being backstage at a performance. Every practice room was occupied, every performance room was being used. Within the hallways, as one carefully jostled past parents and children of all ages, one heard voice students, pianists, and violinists performing behind closed doors. There was tension to complete the scene as Mary was on deck to enter her performance room but her accompanist wasn't there yet: his own performance was downstairs at 9:04 and would he make it up in time for Mary's performance at 9:16? Tick tock, tick tock, and he made it!

Mary's violin teacher joined us too and managed to get her ear up to the crack in the door while I was nudged by the crowd back some feet: I simply prayed rote prayers that Mary's heart wouldn't be hurt and could hardly form words, as my shy self (who could never perform like this) was so nervous.

Completing her performance, Mary burst into the hallway, threw her arms around me, and exclaimed gleefully, "I loved it!"

We hung around for five minutes waiting for her judge's score and Mary--who, being homeschooled doesn't yet understand what grades are--was clueless and just so impressed with receiving a Real Certificate with scrolly blue writing on it.

Next we made our way to the Testing Room so she could take her paper-and-pencil Theory test, for which Mama has been doing Theory worksheets with the children daily for weeks. Mama has simultaneously been teaching John and Mary even how to fill out a worksheet and how to take a test because, being both still young and homeschooled, most of the information they need to impart to me, they can simply tell me in friendly conversation. I've had to emphasize how important it is to write one's name at the top of the page, to read directions, to write down the full answer--on the line, not just anywhere!

Finally it was time to thank our teachers and go, leaving behind the hubbub of many students participating in this exciting event. Walking back across campus, I asked Mary, "So, was it a little bit fun to participate in Federation?" She answered, "'A little bit fun'? Mama, it was great! I can't wait to come back!"

Look forward to Federation Take Two in a couple of weeks from now when both John and Mary go for their piano performances.


  1. Ben is participating in this too. It is in March (I should probably figure out when exactly). He was supposed to have a practice today at the parish talent show but we are snowed in :( He is doing a piece called It's a Mystery. I think/assume it is Level 1.

  2. I do love a loquacious re-telling. It sounded like a wonderful experience for both child and mama.