7. Classical Judging Panels Have Biases Favoring Certain Eurocentric Styles
New York composer and Bard College professor Kyle Gann has written at length about how judges often favor Euro-centric musical styles in classical music competitions.
This is not only exceptionally true, but it presents a lot of problems.
By existing in a world where Eurocentricity is the standard norm for musicians achieving accolades, creativity that stems from styles outside of traditional European styles are kicked to the curbside.
So we can then make the following conclusion:
By not awarding prizes to music that is outside of the accepted prize-winning trends, competitions often stunt the growth and creation of creative music that doesn’t have structural roots in European classical tradition.
And so then you begin to question the morality and institution of competitions in general.
Keep in mind this is a non-existent problem in non-classical styles, such as music production competitions or musical theatre competitions – Eurocentricity is likely not a huge bias in these fields.
That said, any committee will have some set of biases.
6. It Isn’t As Important As It Used to Be
Looking at the history of classical music, one might reasonably expect that winning competitions is an effective way to launch legendary careers.
Twenty-three year old pianist Van Cliburn came to international stardom after winning the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1958.
Twenty-four year old pianist Martha Argerich quickly became among the most legendary figures in musical history after winning the Chopin International Piano Competition in 1965.
Twenty-seven year old composer Krzystof Penderecki quickly became Poland’s most important living composer after his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima won third prize at a competition in Katowice in 1960.
And the list can go on to other famous people.
Up to the 90s, classical musicians were regularly catapulted to the front row of success, so to speak, after winning major international competitions.
But today, things are very different than they used to be.
The number of managers in not just classical music, but in all musical styles, has decreased significantly.
The press doesn’t pay attention to classical music competitions like it used to.
And musicians are finding other outlets, thanks to social media and increased communication with non-traditional recital venues (like clubs and art galleries), for finding performances.
Back in the 50s and 60s, classical music competitions were one of the only ways audience members could find an outlet to listen to classical music.
It was so much more than just a competition back then – it was truly a social outlet for audience members to congregate.
Classical music competitions today just don’t have the same prestige and career weight they once had, and they mean less today in 2014 to the managers and audiences than they did in the mid-20th century.
5. You Will Receive So Many Rejection Letters
I have an acquaintance who has a blog that publicly displays the number of rejection letters she receives for her music.
While her blog is humorous and makes light of her rejection letters in the best way possible, the reality is you will receive so many rejection letters when you apply to many music competitions.
Don’t get me wrong, this can of course turn into a benefit – having tough skin due to “failure” and “rejection” can only be of tremendous benefit to your career as a musician.
That said, it’s a whole lot of time and money to be investing into rejection letters.
4. There Are Many Musicians Today Who Didn’t Win Competitions to Catapult Their Careers
This is my favorite reason.
There are so many exceptionally famous classical personas whose fame wasn’t due to winning a competition.
Pianist Valentina Lisitsa became a star because of her engaging, well-marketing YouTube videos that display her technical virtuosity and intimate expression. She likely makes good money from the ads on her YouTube videos as well.
Opera soprano Anna Netrebko worked as a janitor in Valery Gergiev’s theater to attract his attention, not from winning a competition.
The entire clan of famous minimalists from the ‘60s and ‘70s (Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, John Adams) took to performing in atypical venues to promote their music.
Cellist Zoe Keating used Twitter to promote her career, a career that is more lucrative than most any other solo cellist.
Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre also never won a competition (to launch his career – he obviously won a Grammy, which is sort of like a competition). He states it right here (although he has a more favorable outlook on competitions).
The list goes on and on and on…
And of course, outside of classical music, the majority of rockers and songwriters don’t focus on winning competitions to promote their music.
They focus on getting gigs and establishing a brand with their audience!