Contests (Youth oriented) in Midwest

Edited: September 9, 2017, 4:13 PM · Not sure if this is the right place to post, but I've seen various threads looking for contest listings. I'm trying to identify some contests in the Cleveland area that would be a motivator for my child who is relatively accomplished for his age (13) but seems to have reached the conclusion that he is good enough and doesn't need to practice a lot.

There is obviously the Cooper competition (... happening again in 2019), but that is drawing the most advanced young players in the WORLD. He's not there yet...

He already participates in the soloist competition with his community orchestra. I was hoping some teachers or players here might know of some specific competitions the midwest (IN/OH/PA) area that are a notch below the Copper, for example, there is a Sigma Alpha Iota annual competition in Cleveland (only goes up to age 13) and the Blue Water Orchestra used to run a concerto competition but it hasn't been on their annual concert schedule for a couple years now.

I'm always finding posters at a local conservatory advertising competitions for older college age "young" artists, but I'm specifically interested in competitions for pre-college age (i.e., geared to 14-18 y.o. players).

Thanks in advance!

Replies (19)

September 9, 2017, 5:47 PM · Look for MTNA competitions, I think they are in most states. Better get on your horse, though. Registration for the Ohio competition is due in a few days.
September 9, 2017, 7:19 PM · This would be a great question for your son's teacher. There are state ASTA competitions if his teacher is a member of ASTA.

If you can afford it, sending him to Interlochen or a similar summer program is a wonderful way to introduce him to reality. Lots of good young players there.

September 9, 2017, 8:24 PM · MTNA and ASTA, plus the competitions of all the symphonies in your area -- a large number of them will probably have competitions, especially the major cities with notable orchestras (Cleveland, Columbus, etc.).

But I do want to ask -- is your son satisfied with the level he's playing at, balanced with the number of hours he's practicing? If so, why push him to do more, if he doesn't intend to make this his profession?

(What level is he playing at now, and how many hours a day is he practicing?)

Edited: September 10, 2017, 7:04 AM · I know you asked for contests but not everyone is motivated by that level of stress. If the ultimate goal is continual improvement or commitment, an alternative would be to consider chamber music. All that solo stuff can make you stale.
September 10, 2017, 5:44 AM · I wouldn't at all agree that a Meadowmount summer will make you "stale." I had a wonderful time there and improved enormously. And there is chamber music at Meadowmount. That being said, I do understand your point that it is a very narrow focus. All things considered, I did prefer Interlochen, just for the breadth of arts involvement available there.
September 10, 2017, 7:11 AM · If your son is in youth orchestra, ask the director about local competitions. If he's not, that would be another great motivational tool.
September 10, 2017, 8:11 AM · Fair point, and I didn't go there. I think my larger issue was that intense, competitive environments (which Meadowmount may or may not be) can either cause a kid to embrace the challenge--or totally turn him off. I worry about those kids on the cusp--the ones who are perfectly capable of a lifetime of music-making but ill-suited to the career for various reasons. I guess it's a coin toss. I was reading between the lines here but something in the OP made me think that this kid might be rebelling against parental ambition. It is easy to get caught up in the acceleration without keeping the long-term goal in mind, or even being clear about the options. When friends ask me about their kids and teachers, programs, etc, I tend to ask them if they actually want to raise a professional musician...or if they're just hoping to help their kid progress as long as he or she wants to, with the goal of fostering a lifelong hobby. (I say this as a parent of a son who has inherited our various talents in spades but has a very different idea of what he wants to do with them.)
September 10, 2017, 8:24 AM · Thanks for the great responses. I am going to look into the NMTA contest -- not sure if his teacher is a member, but the junior competition looks promising.

He already played and won his youth orchestra's concerto competition. We sent him to Blue Lake and he was one of the best players but they didn't have a competition -- at least at the session he went to. I don't think it was particularly challenging but a lot of fun. Next summer is a long way off and I'm looking for more motivation now.

The reason to "push" is that he is a teenager and would waste all his time if there is no clear goal or reward. That gold star for a good lesson stopped cutting it about two years ago. He practices about 1 hr, and he is currently working on the Viotti no. 22 concerto if that gives a sense of his level. I don't want to be the parent who has to crack the whip to make practice happen, so it's either find a way to get him engaged at the level of his ability and advancement or call it quits and apply the time to something else (e.g., sports) so that it's not wasted in the never ending online chatroom.

His teacher is more inclined I think to look at the chamber music avenue for motivation. They have a small group of his best students that practices an hour a week but they've had some rotation of members and also they don't compete, although the teacher was talking about it for this year for the group.

September 10, 2017, 9:55 AM · Gene, I hear you. Does he like the music he's playing? I think some of those late intermediate concerti can start to feel tedious (there's a reason symphonies aren't selling out concerts of Viotti, Rode, and De Beriot...) Also wondering if he goes to concerts at all. I found the concerts at Duke (many, varied, often free) to be a great motivator when I was young. Something to consider...
September 10, 2017, 11:47 AM · Meadowmount is most definitely intense. It's five hours a day of mandatory individual practice, plus private lessons and chamber music and whatever else you want to do on top of that. It is not for the faint of heart, and I think it's likely not the best place to dip your toe in the water of the larger music world. (Not to mention, it's very difficult to be accepted.) Interlochen, Blue Lake, or Northwestern would be a better start.
September 10, 2017, 12:00 PM · From what you write about his playing level, Gene, it sounds like lower-level local competitions would make more sense, since your son is decently accomplished for his age (good for an hour of practice a day), but he's not advanced for his age. At age 13, the serious students will already be working on the advanced, professional repertoire.

However, I would agree with his teacher that competition is probably not going to be a significant motivator at this point. Rather, he needs to develop a love of playing for its own sake, and the best way to do that is orchestra and chamber music. He needs to find music to be intrinsically rewarding, rather than continue to be dependent on extrinsic rewards.

Right now, he's on a path to make an excellent lifetime hobby of the violin if he can continue to commit to an hour a day to the violin, through the end of high school. By the time he finishes high school, he should have reached Bruch concerto level (and likely beyond), with the technical ability to play a broad swathe of repertoire. He could play in his college orchestra if he wants, play first violin in a community orchestra as an adult, and readily handle most first-violin parts in chamber-music.

This might also be a good time to diversify to try some other genres -- jazz or fiddling or rock, for instance -- along with his classical work.

I think of the Viotti/deBeriot/etc. years as a kind of purgatory -- it's the establishment of technique necessary to play more difficult works, but a lot of the pedagogical literature that's used for it isn't very rewarding. So if he has the patience to slog through this period, there's great rewards on the other side.

When I was his age, my parents set rules for my schedule. I could not use the computer until I had done my violin practice for the day. Even if that practice was half-hearted (at his age, I used to prop comic books up on my stand while "practicing") at least I did get it done every day. :-)

Edited: September 10, 2017, 5:04 PM · Comic books?! LOL.

I didn't lack motivation at that age, just focus/discipline. For me, orchestra/music camp/etc. was where I found my peeps. I also loved my teachers and wanted to please them, which kept me working. But also probably no more than an hour a day, typically. I'd have had to do a lot more to be competitive in state competitions. Fortunately I never burned out, nor do I have memories of prior virtuosity to haunt me, so it's continued to be an important part of my life. Lydia is wise about these things and her suggestions were on point. Keep it moving but find ways to make it fun and relevant. Oh! My brother-in-law says he didn't enjoy practicing until high school. And he's really good. So there's hope!

September 10, 2017, 6:52 PM · On more thought, I think that the system for training youngsters is broken in some ways, because music in youth tends to be a competitive activity -- no different than improving one's baseball stats or chess ranking, in many ways -- but music in adulthood (whether amateur or professional) is a collaborative activity. Players who are motivated by being "better than that guy over there" run into the ugly truth eventually that they might be at the top of their local heap, but there are a thousand other kids who are better than them (which can be crushing) -- or they actually reach the top of the global heap and now they have to find a reason for continuing other than racking up points on an imaginary scoreboard. Ranking might motivate some kids but it's likely to be a terrible incentive for life-long music-making.

I do think that musical goals are valuable, but in most cases, they should not be oriented around "win X trophy". Rather, they should reflect something that's important to the student. For many students, a common goal involves getting to the point where they can play some especially beloved piece. Then it's possible to make a plan and be able to track personal milestones towards that goal. For some people, there's a similar goal wrapped up in a notion of service -- to play in church, to play for a significant other, to play in a nursing home, etc. -- and that can help motivate people who love to give rather than focus on personal achievement.

I will note that for many students, their goal may be "satisfy Mom/Dad's desire for me to go to a top college, and do the extracurriculars they force me to do, at the level they insist on". That's viable, but it doesn't have a high probability of turning out life-long music-lovers. (I get that for many parents, this is not the point of having their children learn to play the violin, of course, but it's worth thinking about what all those hours of practice are going into, other than a college application.) If that's really the goal, though, there should be a serious conversation with the violin-teacher about the optimal path towards the best application-boost with the least work.

September 10, 2017, 8:03 PM · I too dislike competition in music, and find it to be tedious and not conducive to creative artistry. I am not a very competitive person overall, though. I prefer to be my own worst critic. That said, I do enjoy the IVCI. That may be the one exception.
September 10, 2017, 8:31 PM · High-stakes top-flight international violin competitions are fascinating for the same reason as the Olympics. :-)
September 11, 2017, 6:34 AM · Exactly. Also, the last time I was at the IVCI, the most exciting part for me was the audience. It was clear that everyone in the audience knew who won, and that's not because the candidates were not all outstanding. It's because the audience was that savvy. It was a great experience to be in that energy.
Edited: September 11, 2017, 10:08 AM · Gene, next summer may be a long ways off, but the audition deadlines are obviously much sooner. Feel the rumble on the tracks? That's a train that's coming. Interlochen's recommended audition list includes Bruch, Mozart 3/4/5, Mendelssohn, & Saint Saens IRC.
September 11, 2017, 10:05 AM ·
September 11, 2017, 11:28 AM · I was just skimming the thread again and realized I missed something in the OP's comments about chamber music -- that he seemed to find it a drawback that the group doesn't compete.

While the experience of preparing for a competition can help focus a quartet (or whatever size chamber-ensemble we're talking about), helping it to use rehearsal time effectively, much of the joy of quartet-playing should be for the sake of making music with others, although there's a tremendous amount to be learned, as well.

Chamber music teaches active listening skills, as a player learns to adapt to the people around them. It teaches on-the-fly decision-making -- should I adjust to this other player or should they adjust to me? Can I help a player who's gotten lost sight-reading get back on track, or should we stop? -- and a lot of musical give-and-take, when (and how) to lead and when (and how) to follow.

It also teaches collaboration and cooperation skills that are useful in non-musical contexts. Disagreements on interpretation will arise, and have to be settled. Problem-solving has to be done as a group -- which includes understanding how to be diplomatic and work through issues even when it really is someone's fault (and even in such situations, how to help them avoid the mistake, since sometimes someone is making a mistake because another player is doing something subtly misleading that is making it easier for the other player to make a cognitive error).

And it's socially fun. Quartets will sit around and talk some, and that will certainly be true of teenagers, and learning the balance of talking vs. playing is part of the experience.

Some of my favorite moments from my teen years come from playing trios, quartets, and quintets with friends. (We did play competitions as well as gigs, which gave us an excuse to spend more time together.)

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