Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jury Rituals & the Stemless Polka Dotted Wine Glass

Last night, while nibbling a late dinner and playing Candyland (new version stinks) at Dram Shop, I was rushed by sudden waves of intense nausea.Ugh. Am I sick? No. Hungry? No. Pregnant? No. Thirsty? Maybe. Nervous? Blleeeeeuuuuuuuuhhhhhh [huge wave of confirmation nausea] YES. Yes, I am nervous. Nervous because the next morning (this morning) was to be my first time standing up in front of people, performing one of my own songs.

I started brainstorming at the table with Lemon Peele and Professor Lime about ways I could trick myself into not being nervous. Alaska sarcastically suggested the whole underwear thing but that has never worked for me. Suggestion, nausea, suggestion, nausea, suggestion, then AHA!

At the end of each semester, music majors are required to play a "jury" in front of the faculty for her/his instrument family. Voice majors in front of the entire vocal faculty, oboe majors in front of the full woodwind faculty, French horn majors (like myself) in front of the brass faculty. As you might guess from the fact that these are called juries, the student's entire grade for the semester is on trial in this 30 minute slot. S/he plays two prepared pieces (fast and slow in contrasting styles), the faculty "calls scales" of all stripes (F# harmonic minor!) and s/he plays them on the spot. It's the kind of thing that can make music not at all music-y. Anyhow, I developed a few rituals in undergrad that helped me cope with and even enjoy juries.
  1. I would always sign up for the first available slot after the faculty's afternoon break, in their final stretch for the day. (They sit through juries all day long.)
  2. The night before, after practicing my brains out, I'd make two or three batches of cookies and prepare a baggie full of treats for each member of the faculty.
  3. I'd arrive about 30 minutes early for my jury, and when the faculty members went out for their coffee break, I'd go into the room and take over. Drop off the cookies. Warm up on my horn. Play and sing my favorite Sarah McLachlan songs at the piano. Make that space mine all mine all mine.
  4. When the faculty members returned from their break, we'd chat, they'd munch cookies, and we'd all happily get started.
Now: the power was not in bribery. The brass faculty at JMU had the wherewithal to withstand the pressure of delicious oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies. The power was in ownership of the room. You walk into a room and see a panel of judges behind a table? It's their room and they hold the power. You're sitting at a piano, playing your favorite songs and sharing cookies, when a few folks walk in and sit down at a table? That's your room and you hold the power.

So, I asked myself last night what I could do to make the PSUMC sanctuary my room today and I set a plan in motion. Get there first. (Easy, had to be there at 9AM for sound check anyhow.) Bring my very favorite drinking glass from home (for water in case of cotton mouth) a stemless polka dotted red wine glass that The Duo got us at Big Lots a few years ago. Walk around and talk to people before the service. Say a few words at the mic. And the biggest, most important declaration of ownership is built-in!

This is my song. I wrote it. And you weren't there when I did. It's mine. And there's no such thing as messing up because it doesn't exist until I sing it.

I'm thinking this is going to be a very powerful thing about songwriting for me this is music on which I am the world's best and only expert. And, as I stood there with my special polka dotted wine glass full of lukewarm water, I thought: "Aha. So this is how divas are born..."


  1. Does this mean you will now insist on entering rooms in our apartment before me?

  2. I like the ownership of the room idea. It's why I get to court early. Maybe I should take another page from your book and bring the judge cookies.

  3. Devin, are there laws against that? If not, I say go straight for peanut butter with fork prints on top.