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Why Competition and Fiddle Music Don't Mix For ME!*

Posted by fiddlepogo on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When I was 10 years old, I took clarinet in school band.  I hadn't been playing more than a month or two, when the whole band got on the bus and went to some competition.  I was a shy kid, really didn't have a handle on the clarinet yet, and I was petrified- IIRC I didn't do well in the individual competition... in hindsight it was way too early for me to have had any hope of doing well.  It was such a painful experience that I repressed the memory of it almost totally.  But I think it contributed to things like having a hard time giving presentations in class, including speech class in college.

To me, a fiddle contest is so much the same thing, except the instrument and the music is different- but rather than the instrument and music I love making the contest better, somehow the competitive element just spoils the music.

There is a fiddle contest that takes place in the county every year.  I just can't make myself enter.  Nothing in me wants to, even though people locally sometimes expect me to or encourage me to.  I DID enter a couple of contests when I was 2 or 3 years into playing fiddle.  I don't think I ever placed, and it wasn't fun.

I also don't enjoy "beating" people.

I entered a model car contest when I was in junior high.  For some strange reason I won- even though the guy that won 2nd place had done a whole lot more detail work!  One day after school, a mutual friend's mom gave us BOTH a ride home in the back seat... and discovered immediately in the conversation that followed that we were the first and second place winners in that contest.  Somehow in spite of that, we managed to become good friends, but of course I never heard the end of how his entry had "spark plug wires" and mine DIDN'T.  And I felt bad about it- because really his entry WAS better than mine.  Took all the joy out of winning "first place"!!  Having had the 2nd place winner as a friend tends to cause me to see him in EVERY person I might potentially "beat".

I also don't enjoy seeing the "green-eyed dragon"- jealousy, show up in other people.  A total downer!

In a recent thread a certain someone issue a "challenge"... and at first something in me was tempted to respond-  "I'll show HIM!", I thought.  And as I practiced with that mindset, instantly ALL my joy in playing fiddle music EVAPORATED!  I could only keep it up for about a felt so... MECHANICAL.... so WRONG!  This isn't music!  Ugh!  Why bother???

Then there is this aspect- I can't MAKE myself learn a tune.  I can only learn a tune because I love the tune, or love a particular version of it.  If I can't hear a beauty in a tune all the way through, I can't learn the tune... I have to find a tune version I like all the way through.

There is also the idea that HAVING to learn a certain set of tunes feels WAY too much like HOMEWORK!!! Double UGH!!!

There is something that fuels a desire for excellence in me, and that's performing, mostly for seniors.  I've seen how music, including both singing and fiddling can bring people a lot of joy, and although you can't possibly make it so EVERYBODY will like it, removing mistakes and scratches DOES, I believe, make fiddle music accessible and enjoyable to a greater number of people.

Heh, heh- but it's not ALL atruistic... I also DON'T like making mistakes in performance situation- THAT presses buttons from the aforementioned band competition!  So that motivates my practice too!  I usually warm up for at least a half an hour the day of a gig.... it doesn't guarantee a total mistake free set, but it does improve my tone, and reduces the number and severity of mistakes.... usually.  I have been having some BAD gig days lately... not sure why... the tone's still good, but sometimes even practice doesn't stop me getting majorly derailed!  Part of that is that I tend to pick tunes on the spur of the moment... I never really know in advance exactly what I'm going to do.

EDIT (partly in response to the comments):

Yeah, in one way I see fiddle contests as being very true to the tradition- according to one interview, fiddle contests go WAY back in the mountains... actually I think it was the liner notes to Bruce Greene's "Five Miles of Ellum Wood" album that brought that out.  And Americans in the 1840's and 50's would bet on "fighting cocks" (Don't Bet Your Money on the Shanghai) horses (Camptown Races) and probably on a few other things as well.  So it's not surprising they would compete at fiddling.  And I respect that, but somehow, it just doesn't work for me.  Sometimes I wish it COULD.... I kind of envy Gary Moore's description of his relationship with the contest fiddling crowd... sounds like a great time!

* See the asterisk in the title- I changed the ME to caps to indicate that I don't have a problem with other people competing if they want to and enjoy it- this article is NOT a judgement on them in any way!

Another thing I realized after writing:  I don't have to COMPETE in contests- couldn't I just sit and listen and enjoy the music???  The problem is,  having had that bad experience with the clarinet and the band competition, I can read and feel the contestants nervousness all too well... does not make for a relaxing time listening to music.

9 comments on “Why Competition and Fiddle Music Don't Mix For ME!*”

Rene Says:
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 @3:00:40 PM

Good post....takes the fun out of it when you are under competition pressure.

bsed55 Says:
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 @7:02:23 PM

While I think the fiddle does lend itself well to competition playing
(because it's a hard instrument to master, and because so many people love fiddle music to begin with, and there are other reasons, I'm sure), I agree with you that playing our favorite instrument should NOT be a competitive sport! It's a very mechanistic way of playing that is too devoid of passion, and passion is what playing music is all about.

mudbug Says:
Thursday, June 28, 2012 @3:11:57 AM

I agree. I enjoy sports that pit me against nature and terrain as opposed to other people. To me, music is not a competition and I don't enjoy playing with musicians who feel that it is, and try to play faster or louder that others. Not to put down solo competions in any way, if that's where your interests lie, but I wouldn't enjoy participating.

fiddlerd Says:
Thursday, June 28, 2012 @5:22:34 AM

I went to a fiddle contest in April and a great time. I liked hearing the different age groups play and the style each one had. I also liked going out back and watching the bow technique they used. I also liked looking at all the old fiddle's. Even if your in the contest you take it with a grain of salt. Enjoy the day where else can you be around that many fiddler's and hear great playing.....and see all those fiddles. I love looking at old fiddles!!

boxbow Says:
Thursday, June 28, 2012 @4:40:46 PM

Competition is a part of human nature. Me, I have no desire to compete in making music. I see it as a cooperative venture rather than a competitive venture. The fact that I don't "get it" does not make fiddle contests any less legitimate, although the results must necessarily be highly subjective. Still, competition is competition, and competitors will compete, no matter what. What you can count on is that the top finishers will mostly be better than the rest of the field. If that's of significance, then much joy may it bring 'em.

bj Says:
Friday, June 29, 2012 @5:30:38 AM

I feel much the same way you do. Making music is my way to DEPRESSURIZE. Why would I want to put myself under pressure to do it?

RedDesertViolin Says:
Friday, June 29, 2012 @11:57:57 AM

I LOVED reading your take on competition. And your phrase, "Green Eyed Dragons" is wonderful.
It's hard not to be envious of someone who is better than yourself. If I am at a jam, and there is someone better, I gravitate toward them to try to learn some stuff. But if I"m at a contest, and I hear someone better than myself, my hackles go stomach starts to churn....and they become the enemy.

It's just insecurity, but yeah, contests don't bring out the best in most of us, I suspect. Good article. -Lora

RedDesertViolin Says:
Friday, June 29, 2012 @11:59:02 AM

Next contest I participate in (which will be my second in my life, ha ha), I am going to try to feel like every other contestant is a friend and colleague, because that's all we really are.

fiddlepogo Says:
Saturday, June 30, 2012 @4:25:48 PM

Actually, the phrase "Green-Eyed Dragon" to refer to jealousy isn't at all original... it's really a rather old expression I picked up somewhere (reading, I think) that isn't used much anymore... and yes, it really describes a quality of jealousy well.
I've mostly dealt with it locally. Some fiddlers don't want to jam with me because of it, or insecurity...they feel threatened, and I can see it in their eyes- fear and/or jealousy.. if they only knew that if they asked, I'd probably be willing to show 'em stuff for FREE! Or point them to an online resource. And if they only knew that the complex sounding, confident sounding, grooving bowing that threatens them is actually only an average 2 or 3 patterns per song... it's NOT rocket science!!!
The fear and/or jealous is actually cutting them off from a way of making progress.
Hang around a bowing geek, ask a few questions, and he's SURE to "spill the beans"! ;^D

Friend and colleagues at contests... hmmm... if I could wrap my head around that... MAYBE....

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