Monday, May 4, 2015

Auditions, Concerts, and Contests: Why they're (usually) worth the stress

Music teachers know that the last two months of school are often packed with contests, concerts, and auditions, with all the stresses and difficulties these events entail. Between solo and ensemble contests, youth orchestra or high school auditions (or worse, college auditions!) and end-of-year concerts, I sometimes wonder if the stress is worth it, or if next year I should suggested that some (most?) of my students bow out of participating in all these events (whenever that's possible). But however tempting that may be, when I think it over, I realize that all the stresses of auditions, contests, and the like ultimately benefit most of my students.

For one thing, these events give students goals. I've found that kids are far more interested in working on their music if they know they'll play it for a contest or audition. They want to succeed, and that motivates them to practice. Indeed, the students I have who rarely perform or participate in contests frequently drop out of lessons. Without a goal to focus on, even the ones who stay learn slowly and spend less time practicing. They sometimes jump from piece to piece without ever digging deep into the music or developing strong technique. Ultimately, this unfocused approach to music prevents them from challenging themselves enough to fully develop their talents.

Without regular public performances, auditions, or contests, students don't learn how to play under pressure or manage their performance anxiety. Many of these students "psych" themselves out--they may refuse to try more challenging music, and treat public performances like a march to the scaffold instead of a routine part of being a musician. We learn to manage fear and nerves by confronting them, not turning away. Music is a performance art, and part of being a musician is sharing your music with others, whether in a public performance or among your friends and family. Regular performances help students develop their musical expression and learn to share their gifts with confidence. 

Finally, risking failure is an important part of the learning process. It might hurt to lose a competition or flub an audition, but setbacks give us a chance to learn resilience. If we don't allow students to take risks and fail, then we're not preparing them for the real world. Struggles, setbacks, and failures are a part of life. We don't need to shelter students from them, but give them the skills to cope with mistakes or failures in a healthy way. Musicians learn from their mistakes then move on. When students take auditions or participate in contests and performances regularly and with the support of a good teacher, they learn to put those things in perspective. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but most of all, you need to keep learning!

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