David Rodeback's Blog

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Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Sunday, July 30, 2006
Beauty and Brains

Maybe it's by design. Maybe it just happened. In any case, there was an impressive improvement in an important detail. Apparently it is not fanciful to hope for beauty and brains.

With even more of the world at war, etc., etc., I am inclined to focus for a few minutes on something local and quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But it's a good thing nonetheless.

Twice in the past I have ventured to report some thoughts about the 4-H talent show at the Utah County Fair. No one yet has accused me of cruelty, condescension, or incompetence in those efforts. So let's make it thrice, since a windy evening last week found me in the same venue for the same show.

Two years ago I commented at length, viewing the show as a microcosm of the amateur arts in Utah County, and noting, "It is a world of stark contrasts and incongruities, where excellence rubs elbows with absolute, unwitting mediocrity, and details carefully thought out in advance mix with details that obviously weren't thought of at all." Last year I noted some of the small things which went much better than the previous year -- not that I think anyone responsible had been reading my blog.

This year I only attended one segment of the show, the one for the age group one of my children currently occupies. There were some good performances, and a couple of pianists and one or two young singers particularly impressed. Alas, I didn't see any storytelling, but there might have been some in other segments.

The most striking development involved the Utah County "royalty" who emceed the event. Here's what I said two years ago, after that year's version of the "royalty" did an adequate job for an amateur event:

The three young ladies did a nice job emcee-ing the event, and they displayed their own considerable musical talents during intermissions. I hope they didn't fret at all over those little numeric incidents; I myself would probably have had similar difficulties keeping three-digit numbers in order after a couple of hours. But if we're really supposed to believe that the pageants which crown this royalty are "scholarship contests," not beauty contests, the winners should probably not say in public, acting in their official capacity, things like "We're not very smart up here." I know the local culture equates self-deprecation with humility, but let's not encourage the masses, okay? And the dramatic pause while we figure out how to pronounce "Beethoven" needs to go.

I confess: I have more fun writing some paragraphs than others, and that was one of them. But back to my point.

This year, the contrast was striking. The two who were sharing the task this year, Miss Utah County and one of her attendants, were just as beautiful as the previous batches, but much more impressive. They spoke and read aloud clearly, articulately, and well, with confidence and good grammar. They didn't struggle with the names of composers or performers. They mingled with the audience during down time. They took charge. I saw no airhead moments. They helped things go smoothly and well, rather than simply filling a role. Even my daughter, who interacted with them as a performer and (as usual) threw them a curve by having her own introduction, had unsolicited praise for this pair of ladies.

I watched them spend a few minutes on stage with the fashion contest participants before the segment, teaching them how to present themselves in a poised and effective manner. They did this with style and good humor, even charisma, and had no apparent difficulty commanding the attention of the youth for the duration of the exercise.

I might have suspected they were professionals, not the usual "royalty," had I not known otherwise.

Last year's closing paragraph applies equally well this year:

The improvements over last year are not earth-shaking (nor did they need to be), but attention to a few details considerably improved the experience. This is how we improve the amateur arts in our little valley: one event, one detail at a time.

Pardon the expression, but . . . Yeah. What I said.

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