Different degrees of preparation

21st November 2014 | Daily Life, Musings | 4 comments

The current series of ‘Masterchef Professionals’ has provoked quite a lot of interaction between musicians (mostly on Twitter) commenting on how unprepared the competitors seem to be for the cookery challenges which await them. Time after time, in the ‘technical challenge’ section, chefs are asked to do a standard restaurant task like de-bone a piece of meat, prepare a game bird for cooking, or do some classic patisserie. Time after time, when asked if they’ve done this before, they blithely answer ‘No’.  And then we see the judges exchange looks of dismay or alarm as the chefs blunder through a task you’d think was part of every professional cook’s basic training.

Not only that – when given the opportunity to cook a ‘signature dish’ of their own, they quite often admit that they have never timed how long it takes to make it, have never made the whole dish at once, or tasted the combination of component parts.  Competitors seem to be selected for a certain degree of ignorance so that they can ‘go on a journey’ during the series, learning and mastering things they couldn’t do at the beginning.  Human interest, right enough, but not exactly deserving of the title ‘Masterchef Professionals’. I suppose the producers must have decided that it is not entertaining to watch a bunch of supreme experts doing things perfectly.

How different all this is from the world of classical music, where young performers prepare endlessly for their appearance in front of a competition jury. Their preparation includes the usual months of private practice and memorisation, but also consultation lessons with people who can advise about appropriate presentation, not to mention a good many ‘try-out concerts’ of their competition repertoire. No aspiring performer would dream of entering a competition without having played their pieces all the way through a thousand times.  It’s not even imaginable that the judges could ask, ‘Have you ever played an arpeggio?’ and receive the answer ‘No’. ‘Have you ever played a piece in A major?’ ‘No. I’ve played a piece in G, but I don’t know if I’ve ever played one in A’. ‘Have you ever played a piece by Beethoven?’ ‘I’ve seen it done, but never played one myself.’

Would it be diverting to hear the principal judge give a very skilful, moving performance of a Bach Partita, and then listen to a group of competitors sight-reading through the same piece without having heard the demonstration? Hmm. Let’s hope nobody pitches the idea to television.


  1. Anne brain

    Would the musical equivalent of the ‘invention test’ be please compose and play a piece in the style of ‘ravel’ ‘Bach’ etc’ etc? I guess if that were the case many might struggle too? Anne

    • Susan Tomes

      Good point, Anne! I imagine many would struggle with that task. Writing short pieces ‘in the style of’ various composers was part of my university degree and it was challenging for all of us.

  2. Mary

    Hear hear!

  3. peter

    Yet, despite the enormous hours chamber musicians spend in practice together, they almost never practice their bowing in response to applause. I find it wondrous strange that people whose very life and livelihood depend on finely-calibrated co-ordination of actions with one another should so often bow in a higgledy-piggledy manner. As a paying audience member, I find it most disrespectful, as if we spectators were not worth the trouble of rehearsal.


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