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?
Mountain mama to two great kids and two great grown-ups