What Are Music Competitions All About?

I recently participated in the 2010 Nottingham International Jazz Piano Competition.  Congrats Logan Thomas!

After the competition, one of the judges asked me how I enjoyed the competition. I said something like:

“I had a great time, especially in meeting and socializing with the other pianists!  The organizers did a fantastic job creating an environment where we could all hang and bond.  They scheduled complementary lunches, organized a free tour and more.  We’re all friends now.  I’ve been in competitions where the organizers forgot to tell me about hangs and social events. I’ve been in other competitions where my only audience members were the judges.  That’s not good.  After all, these competitions have to be about the gathering – about bringing people together.”

This judged replied: “No, competitions are about the music!”

I changed the subject; I didn’t want to argue.

It’s hard to rationalize that music competitions are about the music when inevitably, judges announce eleven losers and one 1st place champion.  Music competitions are by nature, exclusive and divisive.  That’s the antithesis of music!

No, music competitions aren’t about the music.

Ironically, they still have the power to attract music-minded people.

The best thing organizers can do is to cling on and cultivate that feeling of belonging and community. This way music-minded people, judges, participants, volunteers, audience members, students and locals can all feel welcome and (mostly) happy to have been brought together.  Congrats to the NIJPC for doing a great job!

But it’s still a competition.  It’s still exclusive and divisive.

If the goal is ultimately pure music and pure experience, competitions should be used – if necessary – as stepping-stones towards something better; they should be set up temporarily to spark interest among music-minded people.  After a few years, a dedicated community will hopefully come to realize that competitions impede musical experience.  Thus the competition can be eliminated.

What are you left with?  You’re left with a community, a gathering, a festival, a conference and a celebration!

You’re left with Music!

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