Let me start by sharing a quote from the great 20th century composer Bela Bartok:
Competitions are for racehorses, not for artists.
I believe Bartok sums it up nicely. In the artistic world, how can any rubric authentically measure the success and prowess of an artist? And this is never more so in the world of performing arts. Be it music, dance, singing, and (dare I say) cooking, how can the artist be rated as the “Best”, or the “Winner”?
Did they accomplish their feat in the fastest time? Did they score more points before the final bell? Did they best their opponent within in a certain number of meetings? Was it done in nine innings (like baseball)?, or in fifteen rounds (like boxing)?, or within five touches (like fencing)?
I shake an angry fist especially at musical competitions. When a field of musicians can play any piece they choose, and only one or two judges adjudicates, and no clear rubric is defined, how can anyone be called the “winner”?
To those who know me, you may know that I have some skin in the game of a certain national and international music competition. And my “entrants” have won top honors. So this blog is not a sour grapes blog; it is just a heartfelt hug to those artists – young and old – who work so hard for their craft and to be indiscriminately looked over due to their choice of piece, the whim of a judge, or the lack of clear, measurable guidelines.
OK, I’m done.
BTW, two of my musical heroes in classical piano – Artur Rubinstein and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli – never achieved higher than second place. And to this day, no one knows or remembers who had beat them!