Music from the Inside Out

If you’ve read any of my recent blog posts, you know that I believe music should exist without the element of competition. The American Idol-ization of music (and fashion design, and dance, and…) holds up an extrinsic prize to motivate musicians. #MusicIsNotACompetitiveSport

American Idol auditionee

And American Idol-type shows and contests give audience members the idea that one singer is “better” than all the rest. Unlike sport, there is no way to judge a musical performance without involving the listener’s own’s subjective perspective. There is no such thing as a “best singer” or a “winner” in a singing contest. Any singer who gets up in front of an audience with a prepared piece and doesn’t fall over during the performance should get a prize. Beyond that, each singer brings their own unique instrument plus their own emotional context and delivery to the performance.

I have the joy of teaching music classes to college students who have intellectual disabilities. Each week, we feature two volunteers from the class who sing along with a YouTube video of their choice. The students BEG to be the ones chosen that week. After each performance I ask the students in the audience to use “describing words” to talk about the song they just heard their colleague sing. It’s a beautiful experience — they share the most touching comments with each other. Even though some of the students literally sing the same pitch for every word in the song, and some of the lyrics are completely unintelligible because of their speech disorder, the students are incredibly gracious and affirming with each other. After one particularly “interesting” performance, the students complimented the student on their posture, on their loud and confident singing, and on how happy they seemed when they were singing. See? We don’t have to judge each other by even traditional measures of “great” musicianship. We can just enjoy each performance for what it is — a courageous baring of one’s emotions, one’s passions, and one’s uniquely individual voice.

One of my visions for writing these blogs is that parents and teachers will lessen the importance of music competitions for children – or eliminate them altogether. The benefits of preparing a song or two or three for a competition – working with a deadline in mind, working a song up to certain expectations, and performing in front of strangers – can be achieved just as well with a studio showcase, master class, recital, or outreach performance at a retirement home.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Post your comments below!

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