Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Another reason to boycott that competition (and any others like it)

I previously posted a call to boycott a competition, based upon the relationship between the entry fees and the size of the cash prize. Here's another reason not to enter:

The competition rules present no criteria for selection of the winning entry.

The announcement prescribes only the instrumentation and duration. The aesthetic preferences of the judges, and the criteria through which the competition will be judged cannot be discerned from the rules. The is no doubt that the jury here will take their task seriously and make their decision in good faith, but they are real people, real musicians, with real preferences and expectations, and it is impossible for a composer from outside of their community to guess or second guess what those preferences and expectations may be.

Would you ever willingly enter a legal trial without guidance about your status and the rules or standards under which the trial will be conducted? Would you do the same for your music? (Read The Trial). Add to this the fact that a US$25 fee is still a significant amount of money to most people, musicians in particular, and making that investment without knowing if your work will get even the slightest bit of consideration is a considerable leap of faith. The organizers owe it to such potential applicants to be more specific about what they are looking for, so that a potential entrant can better assess the fit of his or her work to the competition.

While I'm certain the organizers of this competition had the best, most liberal, intentions in leaving things open, and asking for anonymized entries is an emblem of this openness, has anyone actually heard of such openness functioning in practice? In the end, composing is about making choices, and musically articulating those choices. Judging a composition will necessarily be a process of recognizing and evaluating both those choices and the ways in which they are articulated, and unless the judges are given some criteria themselves, there is no way of getting around the fact that they will judge with their own sensibilities.

(For the record: The author last entered a competion at the age of 17, sponsored by the local music teacher's association. There was no entry fee, and he won a first prize of $50. Since then, he has entered no musical competitions. He has never judged a competition, believing that that he lacks the temperament for the task (particularly the "gets along well with others part"), and has refused when asked. He is, himself, very competitive (poker, anyone?) and thinks that competitions in music can be fine, so long as no one takes the results too seriously. The intention of the critique here is not to end competitions but to build better ones.)


Anonymous said...

Are you really ready to get banned in Cincinnati?

Elaine Fine said...

This competition is really not that different from other composition competitions. Instrumental musicians who want to have solo careers must enter competitions in order to get their name and playing known. It is good exposure for them. They make contacts and friends, and have the opportunity to be judged by people who are usually hired to be fair judges. Performance competitions pride themselves on treating their participants well.

As far as composers' experiences with competitions goes we submit our works anonymously, have our work looked at by people who accept or reject it based on highly subjecive criteria, and pay for the honor of having our music considered. There can only be one winner, so everyone else is a loser. Nobody gets their work "noticed," and everyone gets the same rejection letter, regardless of how much care, effort, and musicianship went into the composition.

Daniel Wolf said...

Anonymous - Is that a threat or a promise?

Elaine - I agree with you about the fundamental difference between performance and composition competitions. Perhaps there's a better way to organize a composers' competion; I'll be writing about it soon.

Anonymous said...

Daniel: Thank you for mentioning the "Mellocast" in your blog this year. A composition competition to help create new literature for the mellophone is being strongly considered by middlehornleader.com for 2008. I started research on these sort of competitions today and was directed to your site and this thread. I know little about these competitions and intend to front the grand prize cash award (no entry fees) and work with some (hopefully) knowledgeable people to develop criterion for the potential participants. Based on your knowledge, are there any other fundamental attributes that would make this sort of competition fair for the entrants?