Monday, October 13, 2014

Competition Update

I figure I should update everyone on how the competition went, especially now that some time has passed.

As a person who has always felt that competitions just 'weren't for me,' I must admit that I enjoyed the experience.  The negative aspects were more negative than expected, but the positive ones were MUCH more positive! So, you let in the bad with the good, I suppose.

The Positives

1. It's really, really good for you to practice so meticulously.  
I decided rather late to participate in this competition. It was announced in January(?) but I didn't register until late May - mere days before the deadline.  I knew I'd have to practice differently than usual, considering I had months to catch up on. 

Having to memorize the music quickly, including the tempos and all markings, wasn't a new experience, but it was good to do it again after a few years. Since my accompanist job is all about reading and listening, it felt good to focus so intently on my own sounds. In a way it was refreshing.

2. It's good to musically scare yourself.
One of the first round obligatory pieces was husband's White Knuckle Stroll.  I think I heard one person in my category play it well, out of the 25 of us competing. Most of us just survived it.  It's a difficult piece physically - SO FAST THE WHOLE TIME.  But it's also a "secret" challenge in that there aren't many dynamic markings in the score.  In other words, if you aren't a person who allows yourself to experiment every once in a while, you're going to end up playing forte the whole time and ain't nobody going to enjoy that.

In a competition, accuracy matters. This is assumed, of course, but it makes you practice differently.  Suddenly every tiny movement of your arm matters because missing that note twice in practice means you will probably miss it when it counts, so you gotta fix that mess.  In the long run, you become a more accurate player anyway, so it's a good thing!

3.  It doesn't actually matter what kind of marimba you play on - if you know it, you know it, and you can make anything sound good.
As a person who studied marimba exclusively in grad school, it was natural to "feel" like I played better on certain marimbas than others.  The maker I'm used to did not take a marimba to this competition, so I knew immediately I'd be playing on something unfamiliar.  This meant I practiced on every single marimba I could get near.  I own a Marimba One, but the university owns a Majestic.  Lo and behold - some stickings that work on a Marimba One are treacherous and awful on a Majestic, so I had to reevaluate, and I'm so glad I did!

I performed on a Yamaha at the competition (yes, very similar to a Marimba One size-wise), but I also practiced on an Adams and a Bergerault because, why not?
Note: I'd NEVER played on a Bergerault and was pleasantly surprised with what I found.  Decent spacing between notes, and the low end isn't absurdly large - well done!  Other than my personal instrument, I've never taken to a marimba so quickly.

Truthfully, Casey is influential in this area.  He plays on what's there. If his sponsor sends an instrument, then perfect. But otherwise, you just play.  Makes my former "picky" feelings seem rather petty and ninny-ish, and I'm glad this competition helped me to realize that.

4.  It's nice to hear good players.

5.  It's nice to learn that good players are nice people, too.  
The winner of the competition, Miroslav Dimov, was a person that I was able to become immediate friends with.  Mutual support and encouragement was so appreciated in the competitive atmosphere.  One of the practice rooms had two marimbas, so Miroslav and I shared our (extremely limited) practice times, as neither of us was bothered by the other one.  I was so glad he played well and was awarded First Prize.  He's also a badass, so there's that.

The Negatives

1.  Folks be sizing you up.
Yes, this is natural in a competitive atmosphere, but phew!!! it is not fun to experience.  I was totally guilty of this, too, against all my efforts to suppress it.  Some conversations, no matter how friendly I tried to make them, always ended up with topics of repertoire and how many competitions have been won, and how many schools have you been to, and blah, blah, blah. 

Sitting in the competition room during the first round was very good for me, as it was for all applicants.  You watch everyone else and wish them the best.  I felt that if I sat there and wished well for everyone else that the positive energy would pay back when it was my turn. 

2. Practice sign-up never turns out well.
Understandably, those that see that sign-up sheet first sign up for as much time as possible.  Not-so-understandably, they sign up for 3 hours when there is only time for each person to have 30 minutes.  You can do the math.

3. It feels extra-awful when you don't play your best.
Luckily for me, I was passed through the Round when I thought I played badly, meaning I was a little extra sensitive.  Eriko Daimo remarked that competitions are surprisingly emotional, and boy was she right.  This is something I expected but underestimated.  I think being a little older than the average contestant helped me deal with this aspect of the competition, but it didn't make me immune to it.

4.  You'll feel like everyone is looking at you after you get eliminated.
The truth is - nobody is looking at you.  Everyone is more worried about themselves than looking at you.  Really, they might have positive things to say about your performance. :)

Laurel's Two Cents 

If you are contemplating taking on a competition, I suggest doing it.  I feel more confident in my abilities to prepare music, my ability to handle pressure, and my all-around work in my playing.  
Though I didn't win, feeling able to take on more competitions (which I am currently researching) or concerto competitions is empowering.  Plus, if you're older like me, when you pass the first round it feels really good to know that you did it while holding two jobs, one of which is at a university. 


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