2 Horrible Days

There have been two really bad days in my musical life thus far.

One was when I got a III rating in a piano festival when I was about 15. (III means “good” but it’s the worst rating there is…so therefore, bad)

And the other one was when I was judged the Overall Winner at my university’s competition among all the wind players, string players, pianists, and singers. You might be surprised that this was one of my worst days, but I will explain.

In recent posts, I looked at how sports and music are alike and how they are different. In this post I will illustrate how competitions in music, whether you win or lose them, have been detrimental to me as an artist.

So when I was a kid, I was NOT used to getting IIIs. I consistently received I ratings (I rating = Superior) on both piano and oboe. So receiving this III was de.va.sta.ting! The wind was knocked out of my sails. All that I thought I knew about myself as a musician was put into doubt because of that III.

I played Debussy’s beautiful and oft-requested “Claire de Lune” at the festival that day. But one of my parents (ahem, I won’t say whom) procrastinated leaving home. We arrived at the festival site about 2 minutes before it was my turn to go on stage. I was flustered and angry, and I completely lost my place in my memorized music. The judge had no idea. They only had that one performance to judge me on, so I don’t blame them. They rightfully gave me a low score because it was a completely botched performance.

Shortly after that event, I quit piano lessons until I was in college, majoring in oboe performance with piano as my minor. I quit competing (except juries at college, which were required). And I quit memorizing unless I absolutely had to.

Getting that III was a defining experience for me. It’s understandable, right?

The day I was the Overall Winner of the university competition should have been the best day of my life. But no…..

When I was announced the winner, I felt so alone. I didn’t know many of the other competitors, and even those I knew were not all that happy with the results (since they didn’t win). Let’s just say I didn’t feel the love.

I called my mom to share my success, and we got in a BIG fight because the way she was supporting me didn’t make me feel supported at all. It was a big disconnect that lasted for decades.

Though winning the university competition made me feel validated as a musician, it certainly didn’t fulfill any of my needs for attention or love. Quite the opposite! And the next day, guess what, life went on and no one really cared that I won that competition. It was time to prepare for the next concert, the next jury, the next gig, whatever.

In my next post I will expound on why competitions are not supportive of an artist’s needs. But until then, I’d be happy to hear your own experiences in music competitions.

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