16 January 2007

Another Contest Conundrum

I've entered a few composition contests in my time, but until this spawned this and this, I never stopped to think about entry fee-to-prize ratio or any of the other criticisms that were leveled. What I find galling above all else about contests is when the application form asks the entrant to list the schools they've attended and the teachers they've studied with (as with this one, which I've occasionally considered entering). From reading the entry form, it seems at least somewhat ambiguous as to whether this information is absolutely required (could I write "N/A"?), and gives no hint whatsoever as to why they are requesting it. I know I've seen this in other places as well, but I can't seem to recall what they were. Having had no individual instruction in composition, I usually shy away when a contest requests school and teacher information, figuring that they are basically rigged in favor of "university composers" or whatever we are calling them now.

Wait, what's that I hear? Ah yes, it's the footsteps of the NewMusicBox graduate student types walking over to their computers in order to attempt to rationalize with me. "It's not like the judges actually take that into consideration." Well then maybe they should ask for everyone's favorite color as well. I sure hope they don't actually take your education into consideration in the judging process, but why request the information in the first place? Do they judge you more harshly if you had a really good teacher and more favorably if you had a really shitty one? If it really didn't matter to them either way, you'd think that they would want to avoid learning these kinds of things about the entrants so as to remain as unbiased as possible. And yes, I know that one does not remain "unbiased" when judging artworks against each other, but the "bias" in that case is an aesthetic (musical) bias, not a personal (extramusical) bias. Or could it be that the absence of formal compositional training is such an accurate predictor of aesthetic bias that this information is actually useful to them in the judging? In other words, is it so that they can separate the "serious" (schooled) entries from the junk (unschooled) entries?

Some people may disagree with me, but I find that attitude to be more than a little bit misguided. (seriously Colin, an analogy between training composers and racehorses??!! I couldn't have fabricated a more timely critique out of thin air and bottle of hard liquor.) Of course, it's their contest. They can do whatever they want, and I should have better things to worry about anyway, like writing more unschooled music and not fixing my embouchure. I'll never be happier about being wrong than if someone can tell me conclusively that there is a valid reason for requesting this information with a submission to a composition contest.

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