The benefits of audition and competition

Jenny BoydBy Jenny Boyd
Allow me to paint a picture for you. You arrive at the location, check in, and wait anxiously for your turn to warm up in a practice room you wish were soundproof. With sweaty fingers, you glance over the score one last time. You run through your piece, a little too conscious of the eagerly attentive ears positioned outside the practice room. You hear a knock on the door. In the apotheosis of the audition experience, you’re summoned to the hall in which you will perform for a panel of judges.

As a pianist who has participated in over 15 competitions during my time at South Shore Conservatory (SSC), I know this scene very well. I’m acutely aware of the complex nature surrounding musical competitions, yet I believe competitions and auditions are important because they can stimulate the participant’s musical growth. The feeling of accomplishment after receiving recognition is an unparalleled thrill. One prepares vigorously for the defining performance, powering through grueling practice sessions, meticulous training, and of course, the inevitable performance anxiety. The potential for being rewarded for your hard work provides an incentive to achieve your personal best.

But, one need not even place in a competition to reap the benefits of participating. The mere process of leaving your comfort zone fosters enormous growth in one’s performance skills. The benefits of becoming acclimated to performing in “high-stakes” environments are incalculable. For a student, developing “grace under pressure” is a skill that transcends the walls of the performance hall and trickles into other arenas of your life.  After ceasing to view performing for judges as an unachievable feat, one truly feels unstoppable. The result is an expansion in self confidence and self-awareness; you discover your strengths and weaknesses as a performer, reflect upon the experience, and feel proud after doing what previously seemed impossible!

The constructive criticism provided by judges in a competition or festival also helps students grow. Young musicians receive feedback from their teacher, but seldom from other with expertise. By gaining additional perspectives on your playing, you gain a more comprehensive account of the musical areas upon which you can improve.

Keep in mind, in competition there is abundant room for personal bias in the judging process. One judge, for example, may favor a certain repertoire and style because it aligns with the judge’s personal preferences. Another judge may value interpretive originality over technical accuracy because he/she prizes this value in his/her own playing. By the same token, a judge may assess a student’s performance unfavorably if he/she dislikes the selected pieces or the performer’s stylistic choices. Judges are human after all, and humans often judge from the heart.

Additionally, no one knows what metrics a judge may use to determine such factors as originality, stage presence, technique, and musicality – all which are often considered in the judging process. The aforementioned cannot be quantified, and thus it is difficult to call the judging process objective.

Ultimately, the merits of auditioning and competing significantly outweigh any other factors. In music, it is important to prepare yourself for challenging experiences, thus enabling growth. As long as you are amply prepared, you can only gain from the audition experience!

South Shore Conservatory’s Festival Audition Workshop, on Sunday, October 28, from 12 – 3 pm at One Conservatory Drive in Hingham, helps prepare students for their Junior and Senior District festival auditions. It is free and open to any student on the South Shore.  During this event students play their audition pieces for faculty and receive feedback to help them do their best on audition day.  Students wishing to participate should call 781-749-7565 x10 before October 25 to reserve their space.

South Shore Conservatory piano student Jenny Boyd was the overall winner of SSC’s 2015 Concerto Competition.

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