How to master the art of showing off

Miles Kington
Sunday 09 June 1996 23:02

Today we turn to the subject of master classes. No festival would be complete without a master class. No TV schedule would be complete without a master class or two, especially if the TV station is looking to have its franchise renewed and wants to look a bit cultural, cheaply.

So we have now become familiar with the figure of the master artist sitting or standing in front of a select group of talented pupils, letting them into the secrets of the trade.

A master cellist, perhaps.

An opera singer.

A flamenco dancer.

These people giving the master class are allowing the pupils to inhale a little of the breath of their god-given talents.

They are also getting money for old rope.

So wouldn't it be nice if you could get to give some master classes? And got some of the master class money that seems to be rolling round?

So how do you give a master class?

Luckily, we have with us today Quentin Foliat, who has been giving master classes in the giving of master classes, since master classes were started and he spotted their potential.

Mr Quentin Foliat.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

Now, the first thing to stress is that when you give a master class, you must choose a subject that is easily demonstrated and very impressive to watch.

A chess master class would be very slow and boring. A tattooing master class would be interesting, because most people have never seen tattooing being done. But it would be very slow, especially if you were doing something like the tattoo of a man on a motor bike, because the details on a Harley Davidson machine are very difficult to get right, and you don't want people writing in to the TV station and saying, "Your man doing the tattoo master class put the foot rests in totally the wrong place, I don't think your TV licence should be renewed and I'm going to write to the ITC and say so," do you?

Other master class subjects which would be very unsuitable include taxidermy, weather forecasting, demolition work and coarse fishing.

Luckily, all these subjects which are very bad for master classes, are very good for after-dinner speaking. Lots of weather forecasters and fishermen and taxidermists and dynamite experts have worked up cracking good talks, full of funny stories of things which went wrong, which go down a bomb after dinner.

"The Day I Stuffed the Wrong Dog" or "What Happened When the Factory Chimney Fell the Wrong Way" could make a rip-roaring 10-minute anecdote.

But I cannot see them making a good master class.

Remember, a master class is for one thing, and one thing only.

For the master to have a chance to do a bit of showing off.

That is why it is good to do a master class in cello playing, or cartooning, or conjuring, or acting, or footballing, or anything that permits you to show off a bit of wizardry.

You can do a football master class. But you cannot do a football managing class. Why? Because it is easy to do a bit of football skill showing off, but it is impossible for a football manager to do any football managing in front of an audience. (But he should have some good after dinner stories!)

So, the master class is for showing off. But that is not all. It is also for humiliating the pupils.

When a master cellist plays a few bars, and then says to the nearest pupil, "Now play that remembering what I have told you," the pupil will play it almost as well as the master, often better.

But the master will not admit this. The master will interrupt the pupil (as soon as possible, if he is playing very well) and say, " No, no, no, no, no, you are forgetting what I say about the poetry and the silence between the notes! You must let the poetry come out of the music! You are playing the notes very well but you are not letting the poetry escape! Listen to me once more ..."

And then the master plays it again, in much the same way as the pupil, who looks daggers at the master for having humiliated him.

So, what have we learnt?

Very little.

But it was entertaining, yes?

That is what a master class is all about.

Don't hesitate to contact us if you want Quentin Foliat to give master classes in master classes for you.

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