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Thread: Musical contests

  1. #1

    Default Musical contests

    I guess competitions have been around for a long time, but I just don't get it. There is a songwriting organization in my area that has a monthly contest to get a slot on a regional show. Of course you pay dues and pay to go to workshops, and of course it will catapult you to the forefront of important industry insiders who will make you rich and famous.

    Every song I've heard coming from this organization's members has two verses, a chorus, a verse, a get the picture.......

    But having industry pros ( yes, they have sold songs you've never heard of) sit and decide who is best to me is ludicrous.

    Same goes for picking contests. I have heard many classical musicians who were top contest winners, contests that catapulted them to major stages worldwide, and they rarely are my favorite musicians. Don't know about the fiddle and mandolin winners, but I suspect that along with the other four or five "losers" are dang fine pickers. Couldn't we just let their music stand on its own merits?

    There are so many fine musicians. One in my mind floats in his own world above the rest. YoYo Ma.
    He doesn't play, he channels God.
    Last edited by Br1ck; Apr-24-2019 at 11:58am. Reason: E
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  2. #2
    Dan Brooks lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    Yeah, Br1ck, I have mixed feelings about music contests, too. I participated in them as a young performer, doing my acoustic singer and impressionist act. It did help me get my footing on the stage and grow in my audience in the LA area at the ripe age of 18, so I can't say it didn't have a great purpose then. I have marveled at everything from the Gong Show to American Idol to America's Got Talent, and at the age of 63 it is entertaining but a reminder of all that I didn't accomplish as a local performer who worked and recorded in my own little sphere. I think music is such a pure thing and I do understand what you are saying philosophically. Then, there are the young pickers who are saving up for that Northfield and dream of going on the road... Dan

  3. #3
    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    Brick, you have plenty of company in questioning the contests. I'm not in favour of contests in the arts. I've been to many fiddle contests, and I usually prefer the person who comes in fifth or sixth, perhaps not so great technically as the top three, but who plays with feeling, who I could listen to for hours at a dance. Many people have trouble with the stress of contests, just as some good students can't perform well in school exams. Others get the impression that they aren't good, because they aren't outstanding contest fiddlers, pickers, or whatever. I was put off singing for years by being adjudicated as a child. Why was this done? I was taking lessons because I enjoyed singing, not so I could star in the opera. That being said, some people thrive on competition. My daughter didn't, and realized after a few contests that she wasn't a contest fiddler, and decided that's not what fiddling's about anyway. Still, practicing for the contests gave her the incentive to learn a few tunes really well, which helped her with her fiddling in general. In my area (Ottawa Valley, Ontario), there are many contests. In Atlantic Canada, there are few. Instead, they have all-day or weekend festivals, at which all are welcome to play, which I find much more supportive of both developing and mature musicians. No one goes home a "loser."
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Default Re: Musical contests

    Competition has become a dirty word in a lot of cases, but the truth is humans are competitive. Even as we give participation awards to our children instead of first place, they are rating each other as to who is "best". Any reasonably good football team can beat any other on any given day, just the facts of life. As a younger man I entered many fiddlers convention and even placed in a few, I knew that I placed better than other better musicians for any number of reasons from them having a bad day to the judges liked the number I played better or maybe I just presented myself differently and the judges liked that. My point is I didn't play sports, or race cars, etc. This was my special ability and the competition made me practice and strive to be better. I think youth needs that in sports and in arts. I'm 65 now and I am at peace with my abilities. If I'm playing with the likes of Thilie or McRenyolds or am playing with a one year newbi my ability is the same. I don't think many young people realize this. Also my playing is better because I didn't realize this as a young man and pushed myself to "win" those competitions.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    Past Winfield/Walnut Valley winners, are many of the outstanding mandolin players, I respect and to whom I listen. I think competition is a good way to highlight and acknowledge younger musicians.

  6. #6
    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    Here in Connecticut there was a 'Songwriters Organization' that used to have their annual 'Songwriter of the Year' award . . . and it was quite funny to see that the people who were directors or office holders within the organization were often the ones who won the title! The organization came to be such a joke that all their credibility was lost in just a few short years.

    Good and bad songs or good and bad musicians are simply a matter of opinion - there can be no real winner of such a contest simply because there are no real measurable parameters for judging such things. Many years ago I would listen to some of the old Galax Fiddler's Convention albums and would sometimes scratch my head wondering why some fiddlers walked away with top prizes while other fiddlers, that I thought were superior, walked away with little or nothing to show for their talent.

    Even in the mandolin world there are certain people who are widely considered as 'top players', that I simply do not care for. It can be argued that these musicians 'must be good if so many people like them' - but as a brilliant scholar once said; 'Truth is not decided by a majority vote'.

    Play, learn, enjoy and work to be the best that you can - even if it doesn't win you 'First Place'.
    I recently finished a new homemade 4-song EP of original solo acoustic songs; (sorry, no mandolin content this time). If you are interested in a FREE copy, feel free to send me your address via Private Message, and I will be glad to send you one. Trust me, it will be worth the price!

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  7. #7
    Registered User Frankdolin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    The cynic in me believes most contests/competitions, regardless of the "theme", are about selling product.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Musical contests

    My wife and I used to do the Duet championships at the State Fair every year. In 2016 we won so it's etiquette not to go back.
    My thoughts:
    -We had fun. If you don't have fun don't do contests. Not many of us will do anything musically that will be remembered. There aren't many "have tos" in music. If it ain't fun don't do it.

    -They were competitive but also very supportive. The contestants and the staff cheered everyone on. I would avoid any competitions that are too cutthroat.

    -Feedback is valuable but it gives you a basis on where you need to improve and what you are doing well. It defines you for that day only! If getting mildly negative feedback is distressing, contests may not be your thing.

    -You do get a little press/notoriety for winning. Not huge but something to put on the website or use as an icebreaker.

    -You meet other musicians that are at a similar level. Every once in a while a touring pro would come in and handily get first place but for the most part it was local folks, good enough to gig but not making their full living playing nationwide. Good folks to know.

    If you think it might be fun, give it a try. If it is, do it again.
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  9. #9
    Isolated enthusiast Caleb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    I have a general rule for life: If I don't enjoy something, I do not attend.

    Years ago I learned about a local songwriting society. Folks get together, sit in a circle, and play each other songs that no one really wants to hear twice. Wasn't my thing, so I do not attend. But some of those people genuinely enjoyed it. Go figure. No harm done.

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  11. #10
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Musical contests

    Contests certainly have their place, and fiddle contests, in particular, have long been a part of the American folk music scene. They had a traditional, important place in the Texas 'longbow' fiddle community in the early 20th century, although the roots probably go back well before that. The annual Oldtime Fiddler's Contest in Weiser, Idaho, is a wonderful example of how such events can become a cultural center for music, cherished by nearly all who attend. Weiser draws far more spectators and musical participants than it does contestants. Past winners of Weiser include folks like Byron Berline and Mark O'Connor. The Walnut Valley Championships in Winfield, Kansas, are another good example, with all kinds of contests. Chris Thile won the mandolin contest there when he was a lot younger. So the OP might not 'get it,' but many of us do.

    Contests can be fun. As others have said, they can bring out better efforts from the contestants themselves. They can be interesting to listen to. They can nucleate other music at the festivals that host them, and they can draw non-contestant musicians from all over. It's not just about the contest, but all that goes on around it!

    I used to compete in some banjo contests (many years back), and one of the best lingering memories I have is from the times when several of the other contestants and I would get together in the campground afterwards to play together and trade licks! I learned an awful lot from those impromptu 'master' sessions with some great musicians, including interesting things you don't tend to hear on recordings, and certainly not in conventional jam sessions.

    Not everyone has a competitive streak, of course, and I understand and appreciate that. Contests may not be for you, personally. But many kinds of human activities can be pursued in a competitive manner, and there are plenty of people who thrive on the competition. There are still more people who enjoy watching the competition -- think of sports, TV game shows, talent contests like American Idol, and so on. These are enormous business sectors in our economy.

    Bluegrass and oldtime music contests are really intended for enjoyment (especially audience enjoyment), and to help identify a rising generation of great players. Folks take them semi-seriously, of course, but -- unlike sports! -- no one makes a successful living as a contestant in these competitions. Still, they can help to stimulate early careers for some players, and provide a means of recognition that can be a personal motivator. So lighten up and enjoy, I say!
    Last edited by sblock; Apr-25-2019 at 11:48am.

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  13. #11

    Default Re: Musical contests

    It's also good discipline for the contestants. Can you come up with creative variations for a number of tunes? Can you play all the difficult parts cleanly? Can you play them with enough speed and not lose your clean playing and tone? Entering a contest will teach you a lot about what you need to work on. If you want to improve your playing in a big way, do the work to be ready for a contest. I only entered a couple a long time ago and didn't do that well, but it was a great learning experience. Edit: (Actually, I recently won the Monroe Mandolin Camp video scholarship competition but that was just one tune with just the camera watching.)
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