It seems that nowadays, competitions are almost unavoidable. There is an ever increasing amount of pianists and musicians which cannot cope with the amount of concert spaces and venues. Competitions have become not only the way for choosing musicians while will perform in the top concert venues, but has also become a venue itself. To put simply, one can think of a competition as a performance space of itself, with an increasing number of interest from audiences and communities who follow the competitions not only via attendance but also through online streaming. For the most part, music conservatories and mentors actively encourage young musicians to participate in competitions for a shot at fame, even if only for a minute.
The competition experience can be either rewarding and exciting or disappointing and stressful: if you are preparing for one, it comes in handy to consider these few ideas and tips on how to approach the best way possible.
You win some, you lose some
Winning is fun but losing sucks. There’s no other way around it. No matter how many prizes you have won or how many competitions you attended previously, being kicked out always feels bad. Either you didn’t prepare enough and feel guilty and have regrets, or you feel you gave your best performance and thought the result was not fair: how dare they… Do they have ears?
Rejection sucks, but life is not always fair
The most productive way to deal with rejection is to embrace it as soon as possible. Have a few days to rest and reflect, and then start over again. There are many life instances where you will not succeed or your expectations will not be fulfilled. Applying for jobs, for schools and scholarships all have the same risk of reward-failure. We better get used to it and learn how to get up and try again. We all do in the end!
Choosing the right competition for your needs
Find the competition that suits you. They come in many flavors!
One should be able to approach a vast amount of repertoire from different styles. However, everybody will have a special connection towards specific composers or epochs. Some people might feel more comfortable playing Mozart while others feel at home with Rachmaninoff or Bach. Be conscious of your own playing and try to find your own style, while keeping a healthy spectrum of repertoire which you might not necessarily include in your competition repertoire.
In that regard…
Find your war horses! As you attend more competitions and festivals, you will learn how people react to your repertoire choices. They might congratulate you for that amazing Liszt Rhapsody while giving you a rather lukewarm appreciation for Chopin Nocturne. Identifying your ‘winning’ repertoire is key for success in competitions and the reason for that is very simple: Music doesn’t lie. The fact that many people are complimenting a particular work you are playing, means that you really have a good understanding of it and surely you are comfortable playing it while being convincing for the audience.
Keep old pieces fresh by exploring new repertoire
You might get tired of employing the above competition tactic: playing the same pieces all the time, over and over again, knowing that the audience and jury usually responds positively. After a while you can lose inspiration, and your quest for artistic growth might get stale. Therefore, it is healthy to combine often performed pieces with fresher, newer music, or take a break from time to time. The most important thing is to always keep the inspiration and excitement for those pieces.
Are competitions rigged, and should be banished from the musical world forever?
Yes and no!
It is no mystery that quite often competition results are more than suspicious. Often the winners are students of jury members, or they are regular attendees of masterclasses where jury members take part. Sometimes it’s a bit more subtle, like “The friend of the president of the jury was recommended to bring that particular student that he has known for many years” etc.
This happens A LOT but not always. It is important to be aware of the musical business and be conscious of how things are dealt.
In the end, the most important competition is the one with yourself
Because an excellent and moving performance will not easily be discarded by bias or ulterior motives. If you can impress the Jury, it will be hard for them to disregard your performance, and the audience will not easily forget you. We should not lose hope for success. Life itself can be unfair and people compete which each other on a daily basis. It’s the nature of our society, and we should approach it with wisdom and vision. In the end, the most important competition is against yourself, discovering your own potential and reaching always farther in the never ending quest for artistic realization.
Written by Danor Quinteros