Monday, June 8, 2009

Music competitions

I have discovered that I dislike watching music competitions. I was trained as a classical violinist for thirteen years, spending five at the Guildhall in London, and have both watched and participated in many such competitions. It is very different when seen from the inside.

I value music as a skill I can perform for my own enjoyment. I select pieces for their structure, and their harmonic and melodic beauty. This is not how to select pieces in music competitions. You often must select from a list; and even when you do not, you must choose a piece that shows off your technical ability to the highest degree. So often you hear people playing pieces of music full of pointlessly complex little "fireworks" designed to demonstrate how proficient they are at martèle or up-bow spiccato or false harmonics. I have never found these pieces beautiful. Surprising, awesome, exciting, skillful, certainly; but musical beauty is rarely gained by the addition of physical exertion.

I do not believe that I am the only musician who was advised to choose these sorts of competition pieces. I believe the other musicians on TV shows that say they take this sort of music very seriously; but I think it is often their career they are taking seriously, or else they have had their ideas about musical beauty educated out of them in favor of 'modern' musical trends. I saw this happen a lot at the Guildhall.

This makes music competitions very unpleasant for me to watch. I can't bring myself to feel anything for it but boredom and distaste. They have the air of circus performances: feats of physical endurance and skill, but utterly meaningless.

1 comment:

  1. The sad truth is that music competitions actually have very little to do with music. They are, as you say, tests of skill; the music is relevant only in that it is the tightrope the player must walk, the sequence of arrows to be hit on the dance-mat.

    There's a kind of beauty in that skill, most certainly, but it is usually pursued at the expense of other kinds of beauty, such as the beauty of the music itself.