Saturday 19 January 2013

AMIS Solo & Ensemble Festival in The Hague

Several children slept in the row in front of me during the closing ceremony and in the row behind an 11 year old boy explained to his friend that as the bow he ended up with did not fit in his violin case, obviously he had picked up someone else’s bow by mistake. I shudder to think how that could be resolved as the violin cases concerned were about to take wing for many distant cities.

550 young musicians took over the American School of The Hague on Saturday 19 January, filling the building with music from 9 till 5 for the   AMIS  International Solo & Ensemble Festival.   AMIS is the Association of Music in International Schools.

I was happy to accompany a group of my students who took part in several categories, including vocal ensemble, instrumental solo and piano and string duet. They joined more than 550 students from international schools in Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg,  Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands at the 20th edition of this musical marathon.
After their performance each student or group received personalized feedback from one of the  19 expert judges, and in most cases these comments included very practical suggestions as to how to improve and provided much food for thought.

The Solo & Ensemble Festival also provides students with the opportunity to listen to their peers and to attend a master-class in their own speciality before the closing ceremony where certificates and medals are awarded.

I sat in on the sax and clarinet master class at the end of the day. This session had the added magic of a local prize winning saxophone quartet, Met Marteen, described later by  Jim Yarnell as the best sax quartet in Benelux. They played on their own and then invited all the students present to play along. In the closing ceremony they performed a lively, witty, jazzy contemporary piece.

I very much enjoyed some of the comments and coaching given by the judges, especially those of Anne Nissinen, piano, and Anne Laberge, flute and Darren Hain, violin. It was significant to me that all three had their instrument readily to hand and used it to demonstrate technique, illustrate their remarks and even play along with the students.

Anne Nissinen coached one student on the Turkish March sonata movement by Mozart, encouraging him to be more daring in his expressive range and to explore the use of the sustain pedal to give an added percussive tone where appropriate. This session worked out especially well as he had been in the room during the previous  student’s  performance and coaching session, and she then stayed during his performance, so the wise words were doubly worthwhile: both students seemed to appreciate the judge’s positive energy and musical inspiration.

 Anne Laberge asked two young flautists  to count the subdivisions of beats out loud in order to help them grasp a secure hold on a rhythm that sounded a bit dubious in a Telemann piece, “Like we used to do in the old fashioned way”. She demonstrated perfectly that whatever you call it, old fashioned or not, her method works and the students went home with a much clearer idea of the piece than they arrived with.

I watched with admiration as Darren Hain coached two different groups. This Australian born musician, now based in the Netherlands,  was really exceptional in his approach to the music, and caught the attention and fired the imagination of the 15 to 17 year old musicians. He asked the violinists to experiment with different ways of holding the bow, with bowing at different points on the string, and encouraged them to communicate more closely with each other, among other things. It was clear that some of the approaches he was suggesting were completely new to the students, and it was a delight to see how the young players blossomed at his expert guidance which he offered with such an encouraging manner.

Thanks to Jim Yarnell, host organizer, and his team for a great day at the American School of The Hague, with Michelle Yarnell deserving a special mention. Hope to be back next year, with more students.

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