some thoughts about competition in the choral world.
Some recent posts on social media in the choir circles that I frequent have sparked some internal debate in my head. I’m going to use this blog post as simply a means to try articulating that debate. The debate revolves around the necessity, or rather, the value of competition in the choral world.
Primarily, there are two schools of thought (at least in my brain) regarding engagement or distancing from competition. On the one hand, the value or identity of my choral ensembles or myself as the director should not be defined by others. There are many commendable aspects of just making music for music’s sake and enjoying the experience together. “We are as good as we are, and that’s good enough.” There’s contentment in that statement and that is appealing to me sometimes. I struggle with the issue of contentment. Whether or not you ascribe to this school of thought depends largely on the mission of your ensemble or that of your own personal goals. Through reflection, I’ve concluded that I’m not built that way.
Competition is also uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable...you're probably not growing.
On the other hand, competition is healthy – or so I tell myself. I’m a competitive person and I’ll posit that we are all competitive in some form as human beings. There are many types of competition. Most of the time, I’m competing with myself. I’m trying to be better than a previous version of myself or even the present version of myself. I’m always hoping to improve my skills as a conductor, a rehearsal technician, and a teacher. I’m reading source material, conducting texts, and articles. I love digging into score study and unveiling new things in a work. Mostly, I enjoy watching other conductors and listening to other choirs. I love talking with others about choral music and I love listening to others’ ideas. I make constant assessments of where I am and where I’d like to be. I have short-term and long-term goals and plans. I establish a mental-aural image of how I want my ensembles to sound. In these ways, I am constantly comparing myself and my choral ensembles to others in a sort of competition. I don’t think I grow as a musician unless I have informed myself of the realm of possibilities based on others’ accomplishments. Competition is also uncomfortable. If you feel comfortable with where you are in your journey or in how your choir sounds, you’re probably not growing.
Quality in choral music and art is subjective, but subjectivity is no excuse for mediocrity.
I find a lesson in every performance that I hear. Let me encourage you. Compete with other individuals or choirs and compete with yourself. It’s fine to keep a jealous eye on those choirs and conductors that you find are doing things well. Let it motivate you to discover what they are doing right and how they are doing it. Reach out to them and pick their brains. Your choir will never sound like their choir because frankly, yours is a completely different choir. However, you can certainly reach a threshold of artistry. Quality in choral music and art is subjective, but subjectivity is no excuse for mediocrity. Strive, compete, improve, do hard stuff and reach the apex of performance. Then, realize the next pinnacle awaits in the distance.