Are competitions fair?
My son doesn't do all too many competitions (well, compared to most of the kids his age who have already done 25-50 by high school age) but in just the small number of ones we've done, we have experienced some really crazy things.
In one competition, the judge was running a half hour late, so they had my son and the other kids scheduled for that half hour play for a crappy camcorder which the judge would then review later. All the other kids played live for the judge. That's not even remotely fair.
In another, they sent my son out to start before all the judges had returned, and as his pianist began playing, one judge signaled for him to stop, and another signaled for him to play. He didn't know what to do and just started playing, obviously confused, and I have no idea how they scored him since not all the judges even heard him play. (He placed so they must have figured something out.)
In another that I have been watching, the older division always seems to have strange results with amazing players from one program passed over. I heard from a kid who has done that one a lot that the judges aren't allowed to pick the winners. They pick out a bunch that they think play well, and then the person who runs the competition (not in the room) picks who he wants to win based on who knows what (there are video recordings).
And in another one (that my son actually won), the judges were school music teachers and other people without even formal music expertise. They picked the kids who were cute or who were showy as winners.
These are all local competitions for children. I just don't get how they can be run so unprofessionally. In fairness, there are some that are run really fairly and organized well. But it seems those are the exception.
[Isaac Stern wants to know your location]
Competitions for children vary tremendously. Some are essentially money-making operations, whether at the local level or at a national level (i.e. American Protege) or participation-trophy mills. You can tell the latter by the fact that they award a large number of "prizes" at each level. (The "first prize" awarded to half the kids essentially is the equivalent of a score of "1" at something like Solo-and-Ensemble.) Nevertheless participation-trophy mills that have good-quality judges can be useful as a source of third-party comments about a kid's playing. All competitions are also useful for the experience of playing under pressure, and for coping when things go off the rails (all of the experiences you describe are a useful contributor to learning the art of shrugging off the unexpected mishaps).
I don't know that much about the reality of being in a competition, but I think that any participant that can understand it to be an opportunity to perform and stretch themself, and that doesn't internalize the result (whether they win or not) will probably get the most out of the experience. It's probably best to stay out of shoddily-run competitions even besides the weird politics that I imagine are endemic to just about all of them.
They might be a bit fairer if the participants all played the same brand of instrument. Say if Snow Instruments sponsored a competition in China or Taiwan they could require the participants to all play the same Snow instrument model. That might level the playing field a bit, assuming the instrument set-ups were of a similar standard. Just a thought.
Players who normally use a better instrument already have a significant advantage because the violin is a teacher unto itself; what they learn from it will give them an advantage even if they play on an inferior violin. Put an excellent instrument in the hands of a student who normally doesn't get to play on one, and it actually creates a disadvantage. The requirement to play a bad violin is probably likely to result in fewer competitors, not more.
We don't really have pay-to-play competitions as much here in Illinois as they do in places like NY, but we definitely have really poorly run ones! My son just started doing the comps in the past two years and his teacher's strategy was basically to do a bunch of them so he learns how to do them. But in the future we definitely are going to be more selective.
Yes ... lessons learned. Lesson No. 1 is that when you work in a field where merit is judged almost entirely subjectively, things can get really weird.
Good comments here from everyone. I'll add that at this age, after one or two events, my kids are pretty tired of playing the same pieces again and again and keeping them in top form instead of moving on to the next cool thing. Being selective helps keep them sane and motivated :-).
They aren't remotely fair. Some kids have moms who can barely get it together to get them to the competition on time. Others have moms who lurk on violin forums for hours, trying to get one tidbit of advice that gives their kid a slight edge. Life seems to even out for everyone eventually somehow...
I wouldn't dismiss the
Our local concerto competition will let someone win just because they're graduating soon.
I'd say don't take them seriously, just go to see if you are in the top third or not; and if you do better than that, it's all gravy.
when one wins a competition, it's fair.
Scott, if it's that close, I'd say sure give it to the senior. Same with seating.
I did All State as a kid, and it certainly was fun, though I seem to remember we also managed to get in a lot of trouble in Atlantic City where it was held!
I seem to always recommend reading on this forum, so here it goes again. There's a book by a Polish sociologist based in France, Izabela Wagner, titled "Producing Excellence: The Making of Viruosos." She examined elite violin studios on the continent, mostly France, and pretty much concludes nothing in the entire process of becoming a soloist is fair, including international competitions. At the time of writing (it was published in 2015, so presumably a bit before then), her own son was hoping for a soloist career, and, as she learns more about what's necessary, the odds of success, and the amount of sheer luck (if not machinations) involved, she becomes horrified that the odds that her son's dreams will be dashed are exceedingly high. Susan might find the book interesting because Wagner describing the politics of international competitions in considerable detail.
"...he didn't need gifted pupils to produce superstars, only gifted mothers."
I echo a lot that has been said, particularly Lydia. Competitions, even if the judging was sub par, were a great way to motivate myself to perfect a piece, gauge my own playing and receive comments. I competed a bit more as a college student, and I probably would have been more peeved about any disorganization at that point (given the higher stakes).
The short answer to the title question is: Competitions (not just in violin, in anything) are not fair. Losers should keep that in mind. Winners should be even more aware of it.
I always laugh when I see that big dog show at thanksgiving. How can you possibly judge one breed against another? Although I must say that all poodles and dogs under 1 lb, or any dog that makes a yipping sound should immediately be disqualified.
"How can you possibly judge one breed against another? "
To clarify an earlier comment, when I said " Life seems to even out for everyone eventually somehow..." I meant generally, not specific to music. I don't recall meeting anyone who went from a potential solo violin career to a hobo. They just go on to other, usually successful, careers.
They’re fair if you’re a student of Zakhar Bron or Boris Kuschnir.
Yes and you are one of their favorite students.
IF a youngster plans to audition for college, then any/every competition is another chance to play in front of an audience which has power over that youngster. And the more such situations a youngster places him/herself in the better to understand how performance nerves can affect his/her performance and thus eventually when it really really counts, such as a college audition or for a professional audition, they will be no big deal and that youngster's chance for a better musical performance increase.