I have always found the idea of having any competitions, in a formal way when it comes to music or any art from, totally ridiculous. It’s not that competitiveness can’t be rewarding or fruitful in a way that can help you, but it just seems to go against all that real art actually stands for, and what it’s all about. I guess one of the strongest aversions I felt towards this was years ago when I was asked to judge a guitar player’s competition in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and saw just what an awful feeling it was to have to “judge” players, and to have to create winners and losers!
When I had first started working with Bill Kanengiser, the classical guitarist in the film Crossroads who played Ralph Macchio’s parts, I noticed that in his list of credits where an incredible amount of wins at competitions. This was something that was really unheard of to me, but then I realized that the classical world, on any instrument is judged by one’s interpretation of an already existing classical piece of music. Yes, that does seem to be more geared towards competition, but it still seems somehow cold and far too “calculated” to really have anything to do with the real creation of artful music. After all, one’s interpretation, and the judging of it, is so totally subjective, and based on a person’s opinion, that’s all! It is I suppose one of the true cruelties of life too, for after all, even if an umpire in baseball makes the wrong call, it still usually stands, and everyone has to accept the simple fact that he was just wrong.
That’s kind of how I felt, because in that Baton Rouge competition, I was doubting myself, and in the end felt that I had also made a mistake, and chose the wrong guitarist as the winner.
“Battles of the Bands” are not really that bad, since it’s really more a way of players gaining more experience, and usually the bands are pretty supportive of each other. The classical world is very high-pressured, and this need to win competitions becomes a very big thing to the players. Another big deal are the country-style fiddle and guitar picking competitions that have grown out of Bluegrass music, which again, is a kind of music that seems to have its own set of rules and regulations and a certain kind of “precision” that must be adhered to. In that regard, I can see the “competition” approach working, as again it is more a form of interpretation and skill that is being judged than creative ability. It’s also got that “country fair” thing about it that seems to make the competition a little more down-home and fun, and also encourages young people to participate, and to gain public performance experience.
So all in all, I’m really mostly against the idea of musical competitions, but I certainly see some of the positive aspects of them in terms of precision and interpretation. It’s just a sad thing that when there are winners, there must also be losers too, and that’s a hard concept for anyone to wrap their heads around!