I agree that this piece is an awkward choice, however I have different reasons. I think it’s great to expose young students to different genres, especially contemporary music. However, as far as the competition goes, I feel that this piece is going to penalize any student who doesn’t have a teacher that is familiar with contempory music practices and isn’t wiling to take the time themselves to learn and interpret it. As you’ve already identified, it is going to take a lot of time, not only for the student but for the teacher as well! I’m willing to put in that time for a motivated student, but I do feel that there are lots of talented students out there who might have teachers that aren’t willing, aren’t able, or simply don’t have time. This is not the kind of piece a 15 year old is going to get their hands around by themselves, therefore I think for most of them it is really going to be spoon-fed by the teacher. I suppose an argument can be made that the same is true for any piece, but I agree that choosing something from the standard repertoire would be more usful for the student, and I think more fair as since there are many avenues an enterprising student can pursue to learn and interpret a standard repertoire piece.
Another problem I have with it is that as far as I’m aware there is only one recording, by Judy Loman. When I called to order the music, I was immediately asked “do you want the recording as well?” So I have to wonder how many competitors will simply be spitting out what they’ve heard on the one recording. It seems like there will not be a lot of room for personal interpretation as everyone struggles simply to “get it right.”
I’ve told a few of my own students that this is going to be the “make or break” piece for this division. I wonder how many in this age group will have the time or motivation to see “Quarks and Shadows” to the end. Perhaps that’s the ultimate reason why the AHS chose the piece–to weed out those not willing to put forth the effort. I’m personally not convinced it’s a great reason, but who knows…. I do applaud them for trying something different and exposing young students to something new, but I share your feelings that this might not be the best or most useful choice for the student.