For better or worse, the occupation of a musician is largely defined by competing. Music competitions obviously have an indispensable role when it comes to spotting and highlighting rising talent, but competing with one’s peers is inseparably intertwined with a musician’s life in many other ways – be it competing for popularity or a permanent post in an orchestra. Last but not least, musicians must always compete with themselves. This can be as difficult psychologically, sometimes more difficult, than competing against others.
A musician’s work is constantly subject to critical assessment, but competing in music is highly complex because results can’t be assessed with objective, numeric criteria. In recent years, there have been attempts to rethink the assessment of performances in music competitions. In Finland, for example, an experiment was conducted to rank the finalists of the Sibelius Violin Competition in 2022 with AI in a computer program coded for this purpose. To the amusement of those who were dissatisfied with the judging, the AI verdict differed from that of the actual human jury. Furthermore, the notion that a jury might objectively assess “the performance only” is questioned in a study by Dr Chia-Jung Tsay. Dr Tsay’s research suggests that the assessment of musical performances is guided to a surprising degree by visual impression.
What role do competitions play in music today, and in what ways is competition integrated into a musician’s career? How can a musician’s psyche handle the never-ending competition? Can’t one just enjoy making music for its own sake? Our last Special Feature in 2022 addresses competitions and competitiveness in Finnish musical life. Apart from discussing the most obvious arena – music competitions – we present a range of views about the ways competition manifests itself in a musician’s life in different genres. If anything, the stories demonstrate that competitions and competitiveness in music are a complex and debated matter – and will undoubtedly remain so.
Featured painting created with DALL·E 2.