Listening Like the Pros
|Michael Wu, Xiaoping Wang, Jr., and Chair of the Junior Jury, Andrew Cannestra|
Reflections from the 2018 Junior Jury
Listening Takes Practice
You might say that listening is the real job of a musician. The 2018 Junior Jury agrees. When Michael Wu (Left), Xiaoping Wang, Jr., and Andrew Cannestra returned to their piano studies this fall, they had ”like-new” ears. The previous June, they had listened intently for over 10 hours to pianists playing at the highest level. Their mission was to choose only one pianist for a prize. The pay-off was also for them. They are convinced that their higher level listening skills are making differences in their own performances.
How the 2018 Junior Jury Was Selected
The 2018 Preliminary Jury (Jean Barr, Jacob Ertl, and Jeannie Yu) recommended the individuals for the jury. After listening to recordings by the applicants and ranking the performances at the top, the preliminary jury read about the applicants' experiences. Throughout this process, the three applicants were anonymous. Names were revealed only after the preliminary jury had made their decision.
From Individual Contributions to Teamwork
In June, the Junior Jury gathered for the first time. Each brought knowledge to their panel. They had performed and studied much of the repertory that the semifinalists were to play. Musical scores were available, and, from time to time, they consulted with their senior adviser, Shanti Daya.
Impartiality was key to the process. Andrew, Michael, and Xiaoping did not speak about the contestants until they had heard each perform. Talking to the Master Jury and the contestants was also out of bounds until the competition had ended. Finally, they had to agree. They chose Muzi Zhao.
Muzi Zhao, Junior Jury Prize Winner
Drawn to study piano at the early age of four, Muzi Zhao was eight when he was accepted into the Junior Music Program of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Currently, he is junior at Northwestern University, where he is pursuing a dual degree program of journalism and piano performance under the tutelage of James Giles. His programs for the 2018 PianoArts competition illuminated the connections of ancient and modern compositions that included Variations on a Theme by Corelli by Rachmaninoff. Click Here to Listen to a Performance by Muzi on YouTube
Take-away from the Members of the Junior Jury
Andrew James Cannestra, Junior Jury Chair
More than anything else, what I took away from my experience serving on the PianoArts junior jury was understanding how to approach listening critically to music, not only with the contestants, but also applying some of the same concepts to my own practice and performance. After the first few contestants on the first day of the semifinal round, what exactly to listen for came more and more naturally, as paying attention to every single musical detail and comparing them to one another got harder and harder the more music I heard. But, at the same time, in deliberating with the other junior jurors, we couldn't just say "I thought this performance was the most compelling" and not have any specifics to support it. Striking this balance between listening for details, while also weighing overall impressions, helped to hone my ears to know what to pay attention for. In the weeks since I've been applying this same kind of critical listening to my own practicing.
Other facets contributed significantly to the experience, most notably my master class with Peter Takács, one of the judges on the main jury... Overall, this experience was not only beneficial intellectually in furthering my musicianship, but also spiritually renewing in gaining a newfound inspiration for pursuing music at a high level.
I really felt like PianoArts is about more than just being a competition with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners, but a platform to showcase young artists like all of the semifinalists, and the inclusion of a junior jury offers another opportunity to take advantage of the experience. For this opportunity I, as well as the others on the junior jury, am very grateful.
Being a member of the junior jury was such an enriching experience for me. Apart from listening to so much great music by such talented pianists, I was able to make new friends, participate in a master class with the legendary Ann Schein, and get a true taste for what it's like to judge a very prestigious competition (such as PianoArts). Seeing so much talent in one place has since convinced me to work even harder in my pursuit of artistry, and the inside experience I gained by evaluating others' performances has greatly changed my approach in preparing for competitions and performances alike.
Xiaoping Wang, Jr.
What I really liked about being a Junior Jury member was the commitment to attention that I had in listening to all of the spectacular finalists do their magic at the piano. It was definitely not the same as sitting back and listening to a typical recital. Listening carefully for over ten hours for two days was not exactly an easy task. But don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the whole experience. Every single finalist had something to say at the piano, and paying close attention to every single detail really made me have a deeper understanding of the meaning of the music performed. Being a Junior Jury member, I was also offered to play in a master class and in recital following that. I had a master class with Ann Schein, and it was wonderful…
I thoroughly enjoyed working and judging with my colleagues, Michael and Andrew…As for the Junior Jury award, we had to think for a bit, due to the fact that the level was high throughout and it was difficult for us to settle on one contestant, but in the end, we were satisfied with our choice.
One very important thing that I learned from being a Junior Jury member is the importance of listening with intent, whether it's listening to someone else's performance or your own playing. That, I think, is the key to being able to make music at the highest level. Without careful listening, we would all just be playing notes, not the music. That being said, I will continue to listen with intent, regardless of whether I'm judging or not.