Just when you are deep into playing a gig someone will yell out the passion-killer: “Play something we can dance to!”  It’s crushing when some  arse in the audience doesn’t ‘get ‘what you are trying to do.

My experience is that musicians are courageous. Gigging is the School of Hard Knocks. Musicians train hard to prepare for it. On any week night when most other citizens are laying up on the couch watching another (bloody ) cooking competition on television  musicians hang tight –listening and playing, writing songs in solitude, slaving over  hot home studio computers , dragging car loads of gear to rehearsals. For musicians all the blood, sweat and tears are worth it.

Last week the blood, sweat and tears were on display at Motueka High School  when I was on the judging panel for their annual  talent quest . On a Monday night the school hall was overflowing with hundreds of people as thirty acts were paraded ranging from jazz bands to hip hop dance crews, variety acts to blues and heavy metal bands, songwriters to classical performers. All risk takers; all courageous.

It was a genuinely difficult decision picking winners in the various categories. Without out a doubt the winners of each category demonstrated discipline and some good mentoring. But they also had the X factor - a curious concoction of attitude, confidence and raw talent.  The Star Prize for the overall winners at Motueka High School that night was awarded to Louis Lucas-Perry and Xander Perrott who played  Libertango  - a spirited and complex four-handed classical piano piece by  Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. It brought the house down.

While I was judging the Motueka High School hip hoppers, tricksters and hipsters , local band from Garin College, The Peasants, were coming back down to earth after winning one of New Zealand’s ultimate music prizes – the 2011 Smoke Free Rock Quest. They are the first Nelson band to win since the Tall Poppies took the prize in 1992. The Peasants were competing with the best in their field. They took out the award in front of a screaming audience at the national finals at Hamilton’s new Claudlands Arena.

Part of being a judge is handing out the awards. Because these days school awards are handed out at the drop of a hat it is hard to convey to a winner how genuinely extraordinary their talent is. Years of presenting lame certificates at weekly school assemblies to kids who “demonstrate kindness to fellow classmates” has made me cynical about meritocracy and the whole award process. It is our job as grown-ups to admire the young.  In a PC praise polluted world  it’s easy to sound disingenuous or obsequious when you congratulate kids on their achievements.

With The Peasants or Louis and Xander we are talking about serious musicians who are emerging from the school system ready to fly into the heart of the creative industries.  Many will follow their passion into performing arts courses at universities and polytechnics to learn more about their craft. It is a privilege to be able to offer encouragement.

 As their artistic careers unfold I hope these young musicians retain the courage and the hunger which they display at their high school  performances.  Show us the edge. Performing is a leap of faith. Fly from the ledge.