Friday, May 18, 2012

YOU be the judge...

"Eck" Robinson, Champion Texas Fiddler, and probably one of the best of all time.


I've was asked to judge my peers. Paid to do it...begged to do it, so I did it. I judged the very people I make music with as they tried to enrich themselves by competing in the proverbial pissing contest to determine whose the best fiddler/banjo player at a given moment. Music competition judges have no jury to rely on. Me and 2 other poor slobs, that's it.

Fiddlers and banjo players come out of the woodwork for these things. The can't help themselves. Fiddlers seem to be the most egotistical of those inclined to subject themselves to the brutality of competition; banjo players are right behind them.

We humans somehow figured out how to  put the outside of a horse, (the hair on a fiddle bow) and the inside of a cat, (the "cat gut" fiddle strings, no longer used...if you can believe that.) The combination of wood, gut and hair has been a blessing and a curse to humankind. The violin, in experienced hands, makes a beautiful sound. It can bring tears to the eyes of a statue, or an Irishman, anyway. A beginner can produce sound that makes nails on a blackboard a relief.

In any case, there are those who drive for miles to compete in these contests. It seems the experience would deflate most egos, but noooo, they just keep coming back. Why DO they come? Delusions of grandeur, narcissism, self deprecation? I have asked that question of many who compete. I have never gotten a reasonable answer. It's got to be deeper than the money thing.

I was asked to do this judging by a person I did not know. I have devious friends who rely on the size of my ego to say "yes" to someone I don't know, and drive 150 miles for gas money. These friends put it to the organizer like this. "Ole Pat'll be a good judge, Hell, he's heard more fiddlers than anybody. He's old as dirt, and big. Ain't nobody gonna' argue with his decisions". How's that for a resume? Thanks, guys.

Consequently, I found myself sitting in a hard chair in a metal building listen to fiddlers  playing tunes through a sound system run by a rock and roller with enough equipment to pull off a concert at Turner Field. Pretty awful way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I had the fleeting thought that I could make more money cleaning septic tanks, and it would probably be a more pleasant an experience.

There were extenuating circumstances. I knew, and have played with almost every fiddler there. So had the other judges. Yes, there were three of us conscripted  to do this. We knew we were gonna "hair lip the governor" (make somebody mad, for those not familiar with Southernese) by choosing one fiddler over all other.

It went swimmingly well. We made the final decision based on the last fiddler in the competition. He fiddled  the "eyes out of a black snake". Thankfully, he broke the three way tie for third, and gave us three solid choices. We didn't have to sit through a run off.

I would have reversed first and second. The points were analytical; my ears are not. I felt my ears were a better judge. The analytical data won out, by just one little point. Call it ego, if you must, but I think completion can be a great self-learning experience, for judge and contestant alike. A few of the contestants thanked us for subjecting ourselves to the rigors of deciding who was best. It actually wasn't that hard...just long.

I usually learn a thing or two about the fiddlers I play with throughout the year, by having to sit and listen, analytically. What would the world be like with no music, and the people with the passion and drive to make it available the rest of us. Let 'em have a little fun, and show who's the best at that moment in time.

I actually enjoyed judging my peers.

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