Competitions – Subjective Wastes of Time or Valuable Learning Tools?

Yesterday was the MacDowell Club of Milwaukee’s first annual (?) music marathon, which was a competition for classical performers ages 14-19. Four of my students entered; two placed. All four sounded and looked fantastic, and sang at a level which I considered their personal bests up till now.
Competitions are hard. Not so much the getting up and doing them part, but the results part. Of course, that part is easier when you win or place, but that doesn’t happen all that often. I have never won a competition. I never went to state for WSMA; they added the starred first my senior year of high school, and of course, that year I got a first. No star. 
I suppose if I counted 2nd runner-up in the Miss West Allis Pageant as a competition, that’s not entirely true. The best thing about that was that my sponsor was Steve’s Glass, so I had a banner across my body that said Miss Steve’s Glass. It could have been worse. A friend of mine in the Miss Cudahy Pageant was sponsored by Advanced Screw Corporation.
Not winning or placing in one competition does not mean that you won’t win or place in another one. By the same token, winning or placing in one competition does not guarantee that you will win or place in the next. There are people who won or placed at NATS who had trouble getting a college to take them for music; there are people who did not make it to the NATS finals who are now at or will be attending prestigious conservatories or universities.
The singing world is full of professional competitors who don’t actually get any work.
Seth Godin, a motivational speaker and marketing entrepreneur, said this in his blog the other day (bolding mine):

Don’t expect applause

Accept applause, sure, please do.
But when you expect applause, when you do your work in order (and because of) applause, you have sold yourself short.That’s because your work is depending on something out of your control. You have given away part of your art. If your work is filled with the hope and longing for applause, it’s no longer your work–the dependence on approval has corrupted it, turned it into a process where you are striving for ever more approval.
Who decides if your work is good? When you are at your best, you do. If the work doesn’t deliver on its purpose, if the pot you made leaks or the hammer you forged breaks, then you should learn to make a better one. But we don’t blame the nail for breaking the hammer or the water for leaking from the pot. They are part of the system, just as the market embracing your product is part of marketing.
“Here, here it is, it’s finished.”
If it’s finished, the applause, the thanks, the gratitude are something else. Something extra and not part of what you created. To play a beautiful song for two people or a thousand is the same song, and the amount of thanks you receive isn’t part of that song.
Substitute “awards” for “applause” and you get the idea. 
If you do not win or place, this does not define you as a singer, as an actor, as a performer. You define yourself. You do the work, you do it well. You cannot control outcome, only process. All of yesterday’s performers should be proud of their process – they did the work, and they did it well. 
Bravo to all four of you!!


My May/June 2012 issue of Journal of Singing arrived. This journal offers articles on vocal pedagogy on topics ranging from scientific analyses of the vocal mechanism to pragmatic points of view on studio development to reviews of books, scores and recordings.

The regular recordings column, “The Listener’s Gallery” is written by Carthage voice teacher and baritone Gregory Berg. This month, Greg opens the column with a review of a website, “The 50 Best Blogs for Opera Students” and profiles some of the great websites out there. One in particular is Susan Eichhorn-Young’s Once More with Feeling, which offers great tips for the singer/actor, especially ones based in NYC.

Greg also discusses a few blogs not on the list. I was pleasantly surprised was when I got to the fourth page of the article, and found these words:

A teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin named Christine O’Meally shares some excellent writing in her blog Why I Sing, including thoughtful posts on performance anxiety, how to effectively practice, and a hard hitting essay on the evils of illegal copying that is well worth reading and sharing.

Again I say, “Awww.” And it makes me realize that I start being more consistent with my writing.

Thank you, Greg!


I have been a member of the MacDowell Club Board for the last two years. The Club has been around for 102 years, and its mission is:

 To further musical interests in Milwaukee, provide performing opportunities for professional and amateur musicians, and acquaint the general public with the number and excellence of local artists.

One of these performing opportunities will take place this Sunday, April 29 at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Wauwatosa. Eight performances between the ages of 14 and 19 will be performing for cash awards. The money was provided by the Argosy Foundation, and a stipulation of the competition is that the selections performed must include a piece composed in the last 20 years.

Four of my current students will be singing on this program. They are:

Anna Aiuppa – Vittoria, mio core; Till there was you; American anthem*
Stephanie Kritzell – Vergebliches Ständchen; V’adoro pupille; The lake isle of Innisfree
Siena Muehlfeld – Gia il sole dal Gange; Take, o take those lips away; On music*
Eileen Peterson – Silent noon; An die musik; This heart that flutters*


Donations of $5 are suggested and will go toward the Club’s scholarship fund.

Please come and support them! And while you’re at it, we’ll have a lot of PRE-1992 music for sale in the lobby. Prices will range from 50¢ to $3.

The music sale will begin at 1:30 and the competition will begin at 3:00. Awards will be given out sometime between 4:30 and 5:00pm.