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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Are competitions worth it?

January 16, 2009 at 10:50 PM

This week's question is inspired by a questions that Bram Heemskerk submitted for our thread about questions for Julia Fischer, and also by our recent thread about goal-setting for competitions.

Bram's question to Julia Fischer was: Will you compete in the next Elisabeth-competition in May 2009 or another competition? What are your thoughts on competitions?
Julia was not able to talk with me for an interview, but she did answer a number of our questions by e-mail, and this was her answer to Bram's question: "I certainly will not take part in any competition. What for? Competitions are good for students who need a motivation for practising.  And that's the only way to look at competitions. Especially don't take the results too seriously. Most especially when you win. "

I love the last part of that -- don't be devastated by a loss, but by all means, don't get your head swollen over winning!

So my question is not meant to be fair or balanced, it's meant to measure your gut feeling about the matter. When all is said and done, would you say that competitions are worth doing, or not? Perhaps all the work is so motivating, that it raises a person's playing ability, lifts it to a new level. Conversely, perhaps the stress of it, the time required, the environment, makes competitions a destructive force.

What do you think? Tell us any thoughts you have on the matter of competitions in the comments below!

And speaking of Julia Fischer, each day next week, we will give away a copy of her new Bach album. If you want a little preview, I understand that iTunes is offering one track for free this week (the first movement of the Bach a minor concerto). Next week on we'll give you a fun question to answer each day, to get yourself entered. Along with the question, I'll also work in the various answers that Julia provided us to some of our questions from the above thread.


From Larisa Mihaela
Posted on January 16, 2009 at 11:08 PM

I answered yes, but the truth is... I don't know. Are competitions really worth it? Yes they give you an incredible amount of motivation , plus , a hope of affirming yourself, and in this idea I subjected to a short run and long run goal of competitions for the next few years. They do look good on your resume , don't they ?


However, I felt the last weeks almost the prisoner of my goals, and that the ambition of taking the road of competitions is actually taking away from me the joy of playing . I find myself stuck with the same program , and even when I think about what to go on to next , i can't make my own choices , because I need to take into consideration what the competitions that I have in mind will require as a repertoire. It is even more than that: many days I felt I wanted to focus more on technique , to do 4 Flesch scales in one day , or a whole hour of Sevcick op. 2, or practice nothing else but caprices and etudes. Or ,on other days , I felt that I wanted to practice and test my sight reading ability , and the desire to take out pieces that I have not seen before, slightly easier than my normal repertoire , and observe how well I can adapt to sight-reading. But...because i am on a "schedule" , with a strict repertoire to finalyse, I can never afford too  much of these luxuries.  I really wonder if this kind of schedule is not rather hindering my natural development , than encouraging it.  I hope to find one middle way  somehow. 

From Royce Faina
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 12:06 AM

I'm in this now, I've commited myself so I have to do it, Lord be with me, let's go for the GOLD! ;Ready... Set... Go!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 4:20 AM

I voted yes, but it depends on the context.  I agree with Julia on her response to Bram 100%.

Besides the motivation factor, there is also the gaining experience performing publicly under pressure as well as a critique from a "outside" perspective for students or amateurs.  For me, this has been invaluable in more ways than I can count.

I'm still pondering what would happen if I ever DO win a competition.  I would be playing a concerto with my CO certainly and dealing with stage fright in an entirely different context, but what else?  For starters, I'd be thrilled to reach a life-goal.  After that?  Who knows...

From Daniel Blomdahl
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 4:47 AM

 I think competitions are a great thing. It's very motivating for me to see people better than me. I also usually have the opportunity of talking to some of those people and learning tips and tricks. 

Although I do see how it can be bad I think that the good out weighs the bad. 


Competitions aren't for everyone. Some people enjoy them and some don't.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 9:07 AM

Potential competitors such as Larisa and listeners such as myself would judge this question very differently. For me, it is great to hear so many people playing so well, and that is why I voted yes.

From Adam Clifford
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 3:52 PM

From Kim Vawter
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 4:35 PM

Stress. There is good stress and bad stress but without any stress you can't change,  move forward, and really push the envelope.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 5:36 PM

I don't really feel qualified to vote, because music competitions have played almost no role in my life.  I'm too old for them now, and when I was younger I was too nervous.  I'm also not now, never was, and never will be, a good enough player to enter a "real" one that has fame and a recording contract at the end of it.

Mendy's CO competition that she blogs about sounds quite neat, and worth it, but I don't think there are many of those out there, especially those that are open to all age groups.  My CO, for example, only has competitions for musicians under 18 and under 30.  I might have even considered entering (inspired by Mendy), but I'm way too old.  This year we've got a 12-year-old winner playing Wieniawski.  I'm sure she'll play wonderfully, but she's not really a role model for the kids who are on book 2 of EE2000 in their public school music programs, and her experience is just not relevant to the vast majority of them, either.

I think competitions would be a lot more worth it if there were more of them, if there were age and/or ability classes as there are in some sports (like skiing, or masters swimming), making the experience open and available to more people, and if the stakes were lower.

From David Allen
Posted on January 17, 2009 at 10:34 PM

A super competitive event might look good on one's resume but aside from giving one experience at performing under pressure I see little benefit.

 During my high school years in band we participated in a yearly music festival. Categories included full-sized bands, stage bands (18 or fewer people), solo, duo, trio, and quartets. These were not structured as competitions but rather as evaluations by a panel of judges including a recording of the performance with a running commentary voice -over. There was a required piece, a tune of choice, and sight-reading. I always looked forward to these events as it gave us the opportunity to play under pressure, compare our performances with others, and get professional feedback that was actually useful.

I would love to see something like that again, open to anyone. I suppose I should ask: does anyone know of such an event that currently exists?

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on January 18, 2009 at 5:51 PM

Honestly, Julia would take part if there was no doubt she would win.  Why?  That much more notoriety.  Competitions are one possible part to include in a notoriety machine.  What parts made up her machine instead?  That's a question they never answer publicly :)



From Kris Sargent
Posted on January 18, 2009 at 9:22 PM

I think this ties in to the "pedantry" discussion as well.  It's really a matter of why we're learning (or teaching) music.  To be "the best?"  To win a fat recording contract?  To express ourselves through music?  Just for love?

Competitions seem to me to be something that's more likely to put young people off of a lifetime of music, although they may help to locate a few for whom music may become a career.  Especially the idea of learning some piece "perfectly" that you didn't choose for yourself -- many competitions seem technically excellent but emotionally pretty flat.  Players aren't really connected to the music they're playing, so they just play the correct string at the correct time and get off stage. 

It's hard to see why anyone would want to continue THAT for their whole lives.  A competition of "play something you believe in" and "make the judges feel what you're trying to say" would be much more interesting to me (and probably for the judges as well!).  It would be nice to see people keep music in their lives.  In our super-competitive times ("second place is first loser..."), I suspect that at a competition with 20 contestants, one of them (the winner) gets music reinforced in their lives and 19 get pushed that much farther away from it.

Clearly, I voted "no" in the poll, but like everyone else, it seems, it's a qualified "no".  It's "no, at least the way things are now..."

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