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post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I will admit two things up front. First, I'm Canadian, and a left-leaning one at that, so I've not grown up steeped in the individualism and personal ambitiousness that makes up part of the American national psyche. Secondly, I've always been very uncomfortable with competitiveness at a personal level. I'm overly sensitive to the feelings of winners and losers alike and I dislike the attention that winning tends to bring, partly I think because I sensed as a child that most of the prizes and accolades I got were not really well-earned, because the accomplishments came very easily to me.

Part of the reason we've unschooled the kids was to insulate them from all the measuring and comparing that takes place in the school system. I've tended to offer my kids alternative learning materials that aren't age- and grade-leveled. My 7yo is working in Theory Time 3 (music theory), Suzuki Book 5 (violin), Math 4b (from the Singaporean system), Rosetta Stone Japanese Level 1, Piano Royal Conservatory Book 2 (piano) and so on. To her these are all just numbers, for keeping track of the way the books are ordered and divided, not methods of comparing progress between children.

When we've done organized sports we've steered clear of competitive things. They've done aikido, a non-competitive martial art. And the year my ds did peewee soccer, where it was competitive, he swore at the end of the season that he would never do it again, because he hated the raw feelings of his team-mates at the end of games. Their anger and upset after a loss, or glee and crowing after a win, made him very uncomfortable.

So anyway, here we are at the end of a lovely non-competitive music festival. The kids all played their instruments in various broad classes and divisions. The adjudicator was lovely and incredibly gifted as a teacher. He was complimentary and encouraging of every last child, even those who played, by any measure, pretty badly. He gave every student some constructive feedback and often spent more time with the kids who might otherwise have felt a little out-classed in their group, bringing forth from them some really brilliant improvements. There were Certificates of Merit, scholarships and invitations to perform on the final Honours Concert, but these were handled discretely, after the fact, via phone calls and through the mail. The atmosphere in the classes was so positive -- families and students high-fiving each other after performances, even if they'd never met before, lots of warmth and supportiveness.

The issue is that the adjudicator has the option of nominating up to three teen and young adult students to compete in the provincial festival, one in each age division. Only one student has been nominated in the past five years. The Provincials are a big deal. A week-long competition that funnels into the National Music Competition, grades awarded, all the most musically gifted youth in the province there, with the top-end kids being the ones who have several-times-a-week intensive music academy training and big-city artist teachers. In other words, very narrowly focused kids with tons of training. Nothing like my little country bumpkin kids who get a lesson a month and no youth orchestra or technique class, who get to work with an accompanist once or twice a year and rarely perform solos.

So now I have two teens. And wouldn't you know it, this year both are nominated to the provincial competition. My newly-16yo will handle it just fine. She has the confidence not to be adversely affected by any pressure-cooker tactics she encounters. It'll just roll off her. She's also keen to go to get the input from new teachers and to be with similarly advanced students.

Then there's my 13yo. He plays beautifully, though he's not nearly as technically advanced as his sister, nor as ambitious (though I have to remember she was much like this at 13). He is the one who is most viscerally opposed to competitions. He tends to resist anything new and unknown -- but for the most part responds very well to a push. He does not want to go. It is almost unheard-of for students to decline a nomination (my eldest declined a piano nomination when she was 12 and they were shocked, but understood, partly because she was younger than the typical age for Juniors).

I am told that the atmosphere of the Provincials is not dog-eat-dog. Although structured in a competitive way, it is collegial, and there are good adjudicators there who give the students a very useful learning experience. One that would probably be even more useful for my kids, who rarely get to be with students at their level and rarely get input from "artist teachers."

I am not sure whether I should be pushing my 13yo to do this. He is not at the stage of thinking whether he wants to do music as a career. He loves his viola and is a passionate and gifted chamber music player. But it's not like he's thinking he would like to apply to music college performance programs in a few years. He may end up making that choice, but he's not there yet and there's no hurry. He's playing well enough to have that option open to him if/when he develops ambitions for his future. He's a young 13.

Anyone have any thoughts or experiences?

post #2 of 10
Even a young thirteen might be fine trying something at the edge of his comfort level if it's a program that he comes home every night. If he has to be away on the road in a situation that's at the edge of his comfort level that's a different story. He knows his sister turned down the opportunity and he knows weither or not she regretted it. Is this the same daughter that's nominated again now?
post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by hablame_today View Post
Even a young thirteen might be fine trying something at the edge of his comfort level if it's a program that he comes home every night. If he has to be away on the road in a situation that's at the edge of his comfort level that's a different story. He knows his sister turned down the opportunity and he knows weither or not she regretted it. Is this the same daughter that's nominated again now?
Oh, it's 13 hours away from home. A long way. The thing is, he'll be there anyway, with his sister involved. Family road trip.

Same daughter, different instrument -- she was never really committed to piano, which she was nominated on in the past, so has no regrets.

post #4 of 10
Would this be a Kiwanis Music Festival, per chance?

I was involved in this program as a teen (I played saxophone in a concert band) and I never found the experience to be very competitive between participants and was actually a very supportive atmosphere. Everyone is there for one reason - they love playing music!!

I went to a performing arts school, so we had the benefits of talented and dedicated kids, great teachers, supportive parents and some decent financial resources. We all knew going in that it wasn't really 'fair' for us to be competing against mainstream schools. But we went anyway for the experience, cheered loudly for our competitors and remained humble when we got the highest marks. And that really wasn't out of place... overall it was a very positive atmosphere.

I don't think there are really 'losers' in music. If anything, you are really competing with yourself. You practice hard, try your best, and should be proud of your accomplishments. There isn't the kind of trash talk between competitors that you would find on a football field or anything.

And because your kids don't have a tonne of musical opportunities where you live, this could be an excellent learning experience for them. Are there workshops they can attend while there? That would be fabulous! Even meeting other kids who have the same passion can be very uplifting and motivating.

I went to high school with some kids who studied with the big-city-artists like you describe and were very very into their craft. A few are now professional musicians. But they were great kids, encouraging to those around them, and quick to offer help to those who ask. I wouldn't hesitate at all in sending my DD to a music festival (although I certainly wouldn't force her to go), and would encourage her to work hard, try her best and have fun.

Oh... and if it is Kiwanis I remember that although they had Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, it wasn't necessarily a 1, 2, 3 ranking. For instance there could be three Golds and a Silver, or two Silvers and a Bronze, or just a bunch of Bronze or whatever. If they felt you had a Gold performance you got Gold, regardless of how many others got Gold too. So you really are only competing with yourself.
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by just_lily View Post
Would this be a Kiwanis Music Festival, per chance?
Basically, yes, though in BC where we live most are not sponsored by Kiwanis. We've already been through the regional level, though, where the competitiveness is minimal, much like what you describe ... only a little less so in the case of our festival, since the awards go out discretely after the classes are finished. But at the provincials there is only one winner per class. You're not competing only against yourself. There's no discretion to award several golds or none at all. One class -- one winner. (Though they can designate up to three runners-up.)

I also did Kiwanis festival in Ontario growing up, but only at the regional level, not Provincials. It seems to me from what I've been told that the Provincials are a whole other kettle of fish. Elite-track kids, prodigies, ambitiousness, lots more pressure. But I may be wrong.

post #6 of 10
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post

He is the one who is most viscerally opposed to competitions. He tends to resist anything new and unknown -- but for the most part responds very well to a push. He does not want to go.

This is the part I'd need more detail about. He doesn't want to go - how strongly is he voicing that? Is he giving reasons? If so, do you think the reason he's giving is the real reason? Do you think he really understands the event and what it will be like?

I think this is one of those situations where for me it would totally depend on the kid. Some kids never need a nudge, but some kids really do benefit from the occasional nudge to try something new. Some kids shut down and reject ideas before they have full information and they benefit from help learning to take time to make decisions.

I have one of those negative first responders and he sometimes benefits from a little nudge. I certainly would not tell him he had to go, but I would encourage more information gathering and discussion. That might include having him speak with other students who have participated in the event in the past or looking over materials from the event to get a better idea what it would be like. I would encourage him to consider if there are possible benefits aside from the competitive part of the event. I would encourage considering the total event - meeting musicians from other parts of the country, getting feedback from other teachers, etc.

If it is really just about the winning, I agree it is pointless. If there is more to the event, then that is worth fully understanding and considering. If he does decide to go I would encourage setting of realistic goals. In other words, don't base happiness on winning but instead of meeting other kids, personally improving in a way that he can measure for himself and that sort of thing.
post #7 of 10
But you are all going, anyway? So you could just make the decision to have him enter the competition and withdraw at any time, for health reasons or whatever? Does he mean he does not want to come at all, rather stay home with a relative? That I would strongly discourage.
From watching the videos, you can tell where he does not appear to have that level of accomplishment, of musical certainty that your daughter has. Of course, he's thirteen! Would performing well (not winning, just delivering a great performance) give him a boost that might be just right at this point?
Listening to your daughter play the Mendelsohn on youtube blew me away. She'll blow away the judges, too.
post #8 of 10
I wouldn't push it at all. If he's going with the rest of you anyway he'll get most of what the experience really should be about at his age and level of ambition. If he was really ambitious I'd say push it but you said he's not - yet. Better to nurture his interest, ability and most importantly self-esteem at this age.
post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
A few little updates. First, two of his friends from summer music camp (who live hours away) are also going. Second, his teacher (who lives in another province, but has had lots of experience with Provincials in her neck of the woods) thinks it would be a positive experience for him and that the competitiveness would not intrude much. There are workshops and concerts and social time. It's generally a fun event. Thirdly, when I asked him why he didn't want to go his reasons were mostly about the traveling, which we admittedly do too much of already, and about being away from home. Not about the actual participation.

So I told him his teacher thought he should go and offered to talk him into it over the phone if he wanted -- and he sighed and said "okay, whatever."

So I guess it wasn't that big a deal for him.

Thanks all, for being a sounding board!

post #10 of 10
Glad it worked out. Hope it is a positive experience for him.
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