Monday, September 03, 2007

Scenes from the Jury Room

Mid-fifties, well paunched, patched, and tweeded, T.R. Jackson removed his pipe with his right hand, knocking its contents into a piece of the Academy's house design Wedgwood, drew an apricot from his right hand vest pocket with two fingers of his left hand, dragging across his tie in a half-hearted cleaning gesture before popping it whole into the left corner of his mouth, that dark and greedy gap under the overgrowth on his upper lip, and then, not more than half-a-beat later, spit a perfectly polished fruit pit out of his mouth's right corner, stylishly (his word, not mine) letting it land in the saucer which accompanied the bone porcelain cup now containing the remains of his four p.m. smoke.

"Boys," proposed Jackson, "we can spend another hour, we can spend the whole evening, and we're not going to be any wiser for it. I say we take the short list of six, each of us throws out one and keeps one other, that leaves three, and we'll draw straws for first, second, and third. We'll be done, I can catch my train and won't have to TIVO tonights episode of Deadwood. I've got classes in the morning and we're doing our own juries in the afternoon."

Harry Ellis, his well-loved colleague, nodded in agreement.

The youngest member of the judicial trio was a former prize winner himself. Jason Wheel Ferris had, in fact won three times in a row, the record, and he took no trouble in hiding the fact that his interest in maintaining the prestige and seriousness of the competition was also a self-interest. "I say we take one more run together through the short list. If we see anything we missed on the first time through, then we'll give it a second prize. There just isn't anything in this bunch worth a first."

"We've always given a first," protested Harry Ellis, "our prize has stood up to every twist and trend for over sixty years. Not giving a first is like waving a white flag: Irrelevant! Irrelevant! There is nothing worse than irrelevance, James."

"It's Jason, Mr. Ellis."

"Irrelevance, kid" replied Ellis with certainty of a senior composer who had long past from prodigious to leading to respected to emeritus, and now sat back in the Academy armchair, as cosy as a matress full of laurel leaves.

"Maestro, Harry, young Jason, let's get this done," intervened Jackson, whose left fore and middle fingers were beginning the process of gradually dislodging another apricot. "If there are no objections, I'm taking Roger's student and throwing out the piece with the electronic..."

"What do you mean, Roger's student?," interrupted the youngster. "These entries are anonymous."

"Roger let me know that one of his students was up for a tenure-track job in Texas, and he needed an extra line or two on the resume. So he told me to keep an eye out for 'Daphne Ashbrook'. That's the pseudonym. So, yes, I choose Daphne. He's my choice for the short-short list."

"I'm not sure that's right. I mean, we're not supposed to know who these people are..."

"Get off your high horse, Jerome..."

"It's Jason, Mr. Ellis."

"Irrelevance, kid. I've been watching out for you for years. Do you really think I couldn't see through your pseudonyms? 'Jerry Steele Parish.' 'Jennifer Love Paris.' 'Orenthal James Ferrett.' Give me a break, kid, making jokes about your pen names has been great sport for years."

"Listen to Harry, Jason. The play names are just play names. Some kids think that they can game the competition by just choosing the right pseudonym. At one point every white male comp student on the Eatern seaboard thought that they could game it by making the jury think they were a woman or a minority. The truth is, you can game the competition, but you have to do it the old-fashioned way, by loading the jury. You're on the jury now, Jason, are you loaded?"

"Okay, forget it." Ferris grabbed two scores from the short stack. "I drop this one and this one stays".

"Explain yourself, Jonathan."

"It's Jason..."

"Irrelevant. Explanation. Now."

"I'm throwing this one out because it's undernotated. The notes have no life without dynamics and articulations of their own. It's too slow, repeats itself. And it's a photocopy, 8 1/2 by 11."

"And the keeper?"

"I recognized the typeface. From Tanglewood. Julliard. Tim's a really good guy. Can play the piano. A real musician. Played one of my pieces at Merkin last Fall. He uses the most complicated systems, and they usually sound like... you know... nothing... but he puts so much work into his scores, makes his own fonts, binds his scores by hand with needle and thread..."


"Yes, Mr. Ellis."

"You may just have the makings of a real juror. If you behave well enough, we might even invite you back next year. "

"Now," Ellis continued, "if Mr. Jackson agrees, then I propose that your friend Timmy can have first place."

T.R. Jackson flipped his head back, simultaneously lowering his jaw enough to allow an apricot, flipped from the thumb out of his left fist, to land a pop fly. Half a beat later, the pit joined its predecessor on the Wedgwood. "Agreed, Mr. Ellis, but that boy Daphne gets second and Harry, you get to choose between Indiana and Yale. Who gets third place this year?"

"Got a quarter, Jeffrey? I say heads it's Boola Boola and tails it's a Hoosier."

Jackson smiled, with the happiness of a man knowing that the affairs of the music world had now been settled to his satisfaction and that he'd soon be back home in time for an evening of TV and beer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

awesome! i loved this! so F. true