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I have, until now, refrained from commenting upon Republican Candidate for Spokes-Vice President Sarah Palin and her oh-so-many commentworthy characteristics. I do have my opinions about Palin, but so does everyone else – and as far as I could see, everything I’d been thinking was already being said by someone else.
But now I feel I must speak up, being uniquely qualified to comment upon one particular facet of this multi-faceted candidate: Sarah Palin as Flautist.
This is in my bailiwick.
By now you may have seen the video of Palin playing “The Homecoming” during the Talent portion of the 1984 Miss Alaska competion (Though her name wasn’t Palin then, she was Sarah Heath.)
In case you yourself are not a professional flautist or music journalist like me, please allow me to give you the benefit of my expertise in evaluating this performance.
The MC introduced Ms. Heath, saying the piece she was going to play was arranged by “Sarah’s favorite artist, James Galway”. Unfortunately, the Galway influence was in no way evident in her performance.
Palin’s posture was good, and her flute position was generally good as well, but not her finger position. Among other things, she makes the classic rookie mistake of moving her fingers way too much, and most especially, sticking her left pinkie way up in the air. Good flute technique dictates keeping your fingertips close to the keys at all times, and using the absolute minimum amount of movement required to play each note.
It’s easy to see Palin’s stage presence, self-possession and charm in this video, as she smiles unwaveringly despite her generally horrid playing. If you watched the video with the sound off, you would probably think she was feeling good about a very successful performance. Her ability to put the best face on things in this way has obviously served her quite well over the years.
But with the sound on… well, that’s another story. Her breathing is shaky and uneven – like many amateur flautists – making her phrasing short and choppy, and her tone shrill and unsteady. More experienced flautists learn how to breathe through the stage fright everyone gets, so it doesn’t affect our playing.
There’s no passion or genuine artistic expression in her playing; what we hear here is a pretty rote delivery of (approximately) what’s written in the sheet music. Worst of all is Palin’s pitch – really, really bad pitch.
In all fairness, I must say that the live house band accompanying her is also pretty bad, especially in the pitch department, and the whole lot get progressively more out of tune as the song wears on. Unfortunately they’re all off-pitch in divergent directions, resulting in a painfully dissonant ensemble, rather than the sweet, slightly chaotic disharmony of, say, Lisa Simpson’s school orchestra.
All in all, I’d have to place Palin’s performance on a level with an okay grade-schooler, or a not very good junior high student musician. That said, as far as I know, we haven’t had any decent musicians among our Presidential candidates for quite a while now. Ah, for the days when politicans valued the arts!
“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”
– Pres. John F. Kennedy, honoring Robert Frost, October 1963