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random musings about contests..lonnng...

Jun 13, 2017 - 11:07:04 AM
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890 posts
Joined Jun 13, 2011

Lot of interesting threads on the forum about contests.  I like it, I find the discussions pretty interesting. I have never entered a fiddle contest or other music contest, doubt I ever would.   I have watched a couple. In particular I enjoy the Deer Creek Fiddle convention in Maryland. Their rules are here:

I enjoy watching the competitors. The nervous anticipation, followed by the relief of the competitors when then finish their piece. Followed by tense excitement as they wait for the judges decision.

Anyway....thoughts about music competitions..

...I like the jamming at fiddle conventions for sure.  One time, (not at a convention) I got to play mandolin with a fellow who had won first place in a few Banjo competitions. (Bluegrass style). He could really rip through some fancy banjo tunes...but...could barely figure out a 1-4-5 progression and could not play back up or improvise hardly at all....good competitor, not so good at actually making music.  Kind of a weird human jukebox.  

I once got to take a workshop with a really amazingly good Scottish fiddler.  She told me about a tune she was working up for a competition.   She said she really liked competitions because it forced her to (in her words) "Really Live with a tune for awhile."  She enjoyed really focusing and knowing a tune for months.  I always thought that was a good idea. to "Live with a tune".  Personally, I have a hard time sticking to one or two tunes for months...I jump around too much. But..I'm sure it would be good for me.  (I have probably seen more Scottish Fiddle Competitions then other styles...I like Scottish/Celtic festivals...they always have good beer and food.)

One time I was taking a weekend long fiddle workshop in Galax, Va.  At one break, the subject came up of "Flat Foot Dancing competitions".   One young lady remarked that you really got to know what you are doing, as the judges know Flat Footing.  A young boy there, maybe 12 or 13, who was a really talented fiddle player laughed and said in all seriousness:  "Last year I took second place..and I had never even done it before in my whole life!"   Made me laugh.

I guess competitions can be fun, though personally, I take little stock in them. I can't see the point in competing in music, that's just my opinion.  They can be way to get people to show up to festivals an such, which is a good thing.  To others they are a way to hone skills, to some others, they are just a fun thing to do, to a lot they are serious business..

I'm curious what some folks here think of music competitions. Do they really have any merit, other then a fun pastime?

Jun 13, 2017 - 10:15:21 PM
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Dave S


697 posts
Joined Oct 18, 2009

Sure, if a fiddler wants to place, they pretty much have to get very serious about every aspect of their playing, as technical standards (here in the US, anyway) are now so high. I consider improving one's playing to be a merit.

"Living with a tune" sounds like Natalie MacMaster. I love her playing. Lots of great Cape Breton fiddlers. Seems to be in the air or water there.

Edited by - Dave S on 06/13/2017 22:16:52

Jun 14, 2017 - 6:25:52 AM
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1270 posts
Joined Oct 22, 2007

Fiddle contests are a tradition that goes back as far the fiddle. I have entered several. Never really placed in any. Never had expectations. In every instance i was an outsider. Unless one truly is undeniably better than the rest, an outsider is judged differently. If a judge knows you, he knows your passed and capability. It's only human this will influence a judge. My opinion, a contest takes second place to other jams and festival settings.  Because of the super competitive few.  It doesn't take long to figure who they are, and steer clear. My favorite contest was where we were all jamming, and one by one we left to do our tunes, and returned to jamming. I never knew who won or placed. It didn't matter.

On the other hand, i wouldn't go to a contest and not sign up if everybody else was signed up. Being the one square peg, one way is like being the square peg another. Like i don't go to jams to listen. Playing with others is what a musician does. My first choice would be under a shade tree. My second choice would be on a stage. But i don't let that stop what I'm meant to do.

Jun 14, 2017 - 6:32:04 AM
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1736 posts
Joined Oct 1, 2008

I have heard and read "live with a tune" advice all my musical life ...... If you want to show your best in a contest or performance it is apparently something you just have to work through. I had a fiddle teacher for awhile that told me to pick three tunes and " make them mine" she called them "go to" tunes best I recall. These are tunes you can always pull out of your fiddle no matter the situation and feel comfortable with them. If you listen to fiddlers live or haunt YouTube you can hear or see fiddlers playing a tune or three at several concerts of on many videos. This hints to me that either my teacher gave me some good advice , likely , or these pros have played contests .. likely both. As pointed out above this has very little to do with understanding the entirety or an instrument or music in general ....... technique specific to a tune can travel and so can a lick or three depending . Still ....... I muddle through new tunes and even some I have been flirting with for a while..... but playing ... searching each tune I play to smooth out or speed up or intonate travels across my fiddling and plectrum playing in a positive manner ..... so .... the more I play the more I can play. Contests ... not so much .... better fiddling ... so far so good R/

Jun 14, 2017 - 9:47:30 AM
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1628 posts
Joined Sep 12, 2007

It's been quite awhile since I've posted here but this thread caught my interest. I started doing fiddle contests in the early 1990's. Although I didn't place in a contest until 2005, I enjoyed meeting new fiddlers and hearing new fiddle tunes. Living in Minnesota at the time, I was exposed to upper mid western and Canadian styles as well as the Missouri styles of Pete McMahan who, in those days was judging the Minnesota State Championship. Wanting to do well in the contest I learned how to prepare for them by making a tune my own. Yes it helps to have those " go to" tunes that have become automatic under your fingers because of repetition. I would pick my contest tunes in the fall for the following year and play each one three times every day. By the time the contests came around I was comfortable & confident with each tune and there was little or no performance anxiety. In 2005 I place third in the Ohio State Championship and I have not failed to place in a contest since then. So for me, contest fiddling has helped me to improve as a fiddler and a musician as I also play backup guitar & upright bass. I am not competing in many contests now as I prefer to participate as a judge. One of the best things about contest fiddling is the youngest group, teens and down, usually have the highest number of contestants. That type of exposer helps keep fiddling alive.

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