Piano Concerto Competition

The Manhattan Area Music Teachers Association (MAMTA) hosted the 11th Annual Piano Concerto Competition today. 

The Competition is open to students in grades 4 – 12.  Contestants are grouped by grade level, Elementary (grades 4 -5), Lower  Intermediate (6 -7), Upper Intermediate (8 – 9), and Advanced (10 – 12), and perform one concerto movement from memory.  

There were some changes this year, perhaps most noticeably the fact that instead of the 23-25 students we’ve had at each competition over the past couple of years, this year we had only 11 contestants.  There were questions and concerns as to how this low number might influence the issue of awards:  the thought was that it might be a foregone conclusion that if there were only two contestants in a division, there would be a first and a second place, and therefore not as much of a competition as when you have six or seven contestants in a division. 

Fortunately, these fears turned out to be unfounded.

For once, we had an adjudicator who was not afraid to not award a prize unless it was well-deserved.  In the past, while it was nice to have so many first and second places (which come attached with a gift certificate to the local music store as well as the honor of performing again at the winners’ concert), I have often felt that prizes were awarded too liberally.  Instead of judging the quality of the performance, most adjudicators seemed to rank the performances:  whoever played best in any given age category got first place, regardless of the quality of the performance.  Second-best got second place, etc.   Of course, many times the two overlapped, and the “best” performance was indeed worthy of a first place, simply because it could not have been done any better.  But many times, “best” wasn’t really good enough.

This year, for the first time ever, there was no First Place in the Elementary Division (grades 4 – 5).  There was no Second Place either.  While at first it was disappointing to receive “only” Honorable Mention (we practiced so hard …), it was actually exactly right and justified.  Anything higher than Honorable Mention would have sent the wrong signal to the student as well as the teacher, and the audience.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to this year’s adjudicator, Dr. Virginia Houser, for having the

integrity in refusing to bestow praise on those who do not fully deserve it.

Prizes are only valuable if they are restricted to the very few. Not winning a prize is not something to be seen as shameful – it should be the norm, something that happens to the overwhelming majority of people.

(Dylan Evans, in an article that was published in The Guardian.)

Another observation of this year’s event can be found here.