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!!

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