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Perfectionists and competitions #2102114 06/13/13 04:48 PM
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Nannerl Mozart Offline OP
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I have a student who is really progressing very well, he has finished John Thompson book 1 and is now doing John Thompson book 2. He just turned seven and he is also a perfectionist, he works very hard, but he does cry when he cant get things right. I have been thinking of entering him in the novice junior music festival this year, I think he can do it but my concern is 1. He's a perfectionist 2. He's also seven so he obviously hasn't developed the skills to cope with it when things aren't perfect 3. Put it all together - a seven year old perfectionist in a competition - I don't know if that is really bad emotionally

Any thoughts

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Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102121 06/13/13 05:07 PM
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If you're this unsure, why do it?

You have pointed out some risks and issues, and you haven't mentioned anything on the other side of the ledger -- other than work ethic -- that might be a good rationale for introducing competitions.

Perhaps you can give us some more information. What do you think the upside might be? What personal or family characteristics might lead you to think that competition at this age is at all reasonable?


Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102135 06/13/13 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Nannerl Mozart
I have a student who is really progressing very well, he has finished John Thompson book 1 and is now doing John Thompson book 2. He just turned seven and he is also a perfectionist, he works very hard, but he does cry when he cant get things right. I have been thinking of entering him in the novice junior music festival this year, I think he can do it but my concern is 1. He's a perfectionist 2. He's also seven so he obviously hasn't developed the skills to cope with it when things aren't perfect 3. Put it all together - a seven year old perfectionist in a competition - I don't know if that is really bad emotionally

Any thoughts

My first thought: why in heaven's name are you using John Thompson?

Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102148 06/13/13 06:32 PM
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My first thought is that, always, making young people compete is usually not propitious or conducive to Art. It just breeds the wrong attitude about it.

And we're all talking out of our collective hats, as we don't know you or your student, or the minute specifics of the situation.

If it were my student, I would probably not let him compete unless it seemed that this was the only thing that would motivate him to continue studying. 7 is awfully young, and boys mature later than girls developmentally. There's still time for him to turn into a young man who can tolerate the stresses of competing while letting the little things roll off his back. Either wait a bit, or you're going to have to prepare him so well that he simply can't fail. Which is a process you can both end up hating, and also fosters the wrong idea about Art.

If I'm coaching someone for an audition or a contest, I don't let them do it unless they are clear about what they can and will get out of it personally, professionally, artistically. If they're not clear or being unrealistic about the outcome, it's certain they'll be disappointed in the outcome no matter what it is. At the very least, it has to be fun. If it's not going to be fun, then I don't want me or my students to have anything to do with it.

You can't talk to a 7-year old boy about these things yet, usually.

Let us know what you think!

Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102171 06/13/13 07:31 PM
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Quote
My first thought is that, always, making young people compete is usually not propitious or conducive to Art. It just breeds the wrong attitude about it.


In general, my attitude toward youth competitions is quite different, and is informed by watching and guiding my own son through the process. But we can fight about that later. grin

My first instinct in this case, however, is different. I have watched youngsters this age compete, and do so very effectively. Their artistry has been at a very high level. But it takes a special sort at that age to be an effective participant in competitions. The kids that do well seem to enjoy it, and they have really impressive chops.

If you have any doubts about the kid's ability to handle pressure at such a tender age, then don't do it. There is all the time in the world for that at a later date as they mature. And you get a much better read on their personality as they reach the more sober age of …. ten or eleven!


Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102175 06/13/13 07:55 PM
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It also depends on the nature of the competition. If this festival is one of those things that give prizes to every participant, then go for it.


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Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102178 06/13/13 08:02 PM
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I'm not sure I would call that a competition. wink

Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Piano*Dad] #2102189 06/13/13 08:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Piano*Dad
I'm not sure I would call that a competition. wink

Well, I kind of figured that because the kid is playing John Thompson, plus the competition is called "novice junior music festival."

I mean, it's "novice" and "junior." I think it really means one of those "competitions" in which all the kids get prizes.


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Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102233 06/13/13 10:40 PM
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GaryD - seems like you are not a John Thompson fan. To be honest with you, I have been raised on that method myself, the studio I work in uses those books. I can see holes in the method, but I can see that it's not bad either. It works for him, to be honest with you, I haven't been teaching for very long - I'm in my third year of university... not an excuse, just saying that's how young and I am really a notice when it comes to teaching. Mind you, I have been reading a lot, and I have been comparing method books in my spare time, and comparing the order in which things are taught... generally speaking, I like to get them off method books as soon as possible and get them on graded material.

What I don't like about John Thompson is the fact that it starts with sustained notes and then moves onto crotchets and quavers. I think it should be the other way around, probably because I agree with Kodaly. I don't think the hand swapping thing is a bad idea - I know certain teachers don't like it, but to me, it gears them up to hands together playing. It's not a bad stepping stone to me - anyway that was a digression, I'm sure there have been countless amounts of other threads that revolve around the idea of method books.

Anyway - you make a good point PianoDad - Maybe it's me... when I was in school, I never really cared about marks, but I always did well - I loved reading, and I only read because I loved it, not because I wanted to win a trophy for reading so many books a year. I entered read-a-thons but they were just a side effect to the former fact that I loved reading. I have no idea if this kid really loves piano... apparently he rushes his practice (that's what dad says) he seems to be the kind that feels rewarded when I draw stars on his score (I draw stars when he has played the piece well and is ready to move onto the next piece) - he is driven to earn stars, which I know is extrinsic motivation and I know I'm so bad for implementing it... maybe I should do something else to break this cycle, then again - it works... and I keep thinking if he's driven by earning stars, maybe he'd be driven by competition, by being really, really good... and sure, it's wrong to treat arts as a sport but if it makes one better at their art is it really wrong?

I'm a fence sitter on most things... I an see the pros and cons and I never feel like I can make an informed decision. It drives my lecturers and professors nuts when I write essays, and this kind of ambiguity on where I stand happens in real life...

Anyway, what are your experiences piano dad?

Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102260 06/13/13 11:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Nannerl Mozart
GaryD - seems like you are not a John Thompson fan. To be honest with you, I have been raised on that method myself, the studio I work in uses those books. I can see holes in the method, but I can see that it's not bad either . . . Mind you, I have been reading a lot, and I have been comparing method books in my spare time, and comparing the order in which things are taught... generally speaking, I like to get them off method books as soon as possible and get them on graded material.

If you are versed in the more recent methods, I don't understand why you'd call JT "not bad." It's really bad on so many different levels.

As for taking kids off method books as soon as possible, I would suggest that you don't. Too often younger teachers can't wait to teach sonatinas or other more "accomplished" pieces. I've taken transfer students who were taken off methods too soon, raced through the methods, or didn't use any method books at all!!! And they came to me playing sonatinas as if somebody spoon-fed them one note at a time.

I currently teach one student who played Kuhlau Op. 20 No. 1 six years ago. I kid you not! I have the dates inside his Sonatina Album to prove it. Right now he can barely play Clementi Op. 36 No. 1, so I had to push him back several levels and go back to using a method book in order to bring him back up to speed.


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Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: AZNpiano] #2102283 06/14/13 03:02 AM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano

If you are versed in the more recent methods, I don't understand why you'd call JT "not bad." It's really bad on so many different levels.

First of all, you are right. You just are. I wish people would listen.

A couple years ago I had an adult start with me who was just set on JT. I could not talk her out of it. So I agreed, but with two conditions:

First, I made her play JT without finger numbers. She objected, but she finally realized I was right. I made her white out all finger numbers.

Second, I insisted that she play materials also that I said were better.

After about six months she no longer wanted to play JT. She say that it was hurting her, and why.

And this does not BEGIN to address the other problem, the jumping. JT not only skips steps, the things he chose do not even work well because they are not smoothly graded. In other words, one page is way hard than the one before, then the next may be easier.
Quote

As for taking kids off method books as soon as possible, I would suggest that you don't. Too often younger teachers can't wait to teach sonatinas or other more "accomplished" pieces.

And the reason this does not work is that even for the students who miraculously learn the materials, they end up memorizing them, not reading them. Music is a language. People have to have time to become fluent. If a method repeats many ideas on a rather easy level, those materials are not necessarily easy when they are expected to be played with a faster tempo, or difference in dynamics between the hands, or added pedal effects, or any number of nuances.

And if the music is truly too easy, it can be skipped.

But a method that skips things that are important does great damage, and jumping to sonatinas or other ungraded materials causes skipping. Things are missed. Fundamentals are skipped. In the long run this is always a disaster.
Quote

I've taken transfer students who were taken off methods too soon, raced through the methods, or didn't use any method books at all!!! And they came to me playing sonatinas as if somebody spoon-fed them one note at a time.

That is exactly what I have experienced. There are holes a truck could drive through, and trying to plug those gaps is either very difficult or impossible
Quote

I currently teach one student who played Kuhlau Op. 20 No. 1 six years ago. I kid you not! I have the dates inside his Sonatina Album to prove it. Right now he can barely play Clementi Op. 36 No. 1, so I had to push him back several levels and go back to using a method book in order to bring him back up to speed.

Let me guess: he missed many notes. Rhythm was all but non-existent. Tempo was either way too slow or so fast that everything was one sloppy mess. Fingering was terrible. Technique was horrible. And he or she had not idea that anything was wrong, because the last IDIOT who was this student's teacher was clueless about immense damage being done.

Am I close?

Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Gary D.] #2102289 06/14/13 03:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Gary D.
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I currently teach one student who played Kuhlau Op. 20 No. 1 six years ago. I kid you not! I have the dates inside his Sonatina Album to prove it. Right now he can barely play Clementi Op. 36 No. 1, so I had to push him back several levels and go back to using a method book in order to bring him back up to speed.

Let me guess: he missed many notes. Rhythm was all but non-existent. Tempo was either way too slow or so fast that everything was one sloppy mess. Fingering was terrible. Technique was horrible. And he or she had not idea that anything was wrong, because the last IDIOT who was this student's teacher was clueless about immense damage being done.

Am I close?

Pretty much! Although with my intervention, the student did manage to pass CM this past March with flying colors. He actually has a very strong sense of rhythm/pulse (probably born with it); it's just not hooked up with note values when he came to me.

His first teacher did start him with Piano Adventures, but he got rushed through the levels all the way up to 3B, by which time the teacher decided it was okay to transition to Kuhlau Op. 20, No. 1.

Sorry to hijack this thread with this riff on a problem transfer student, but I just wanted to show the importance of a solid beginning to lessons. Whether or not to send a child to a junior festival is really not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but a poor choice of method books could really jeopardize the child's musical journey, and the problems sometimes don't surface until further down the road.


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Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: AZNpiano] #2102293 06/14/13 04:18 AM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano

As for taking kids off method books as soon as possible, I would suggest that you don't. Too often younger teachers can't wait to teach sonatinas or other more "accomplished" pieces. I've taken transfer students who were taken off methods too soon, raced through the methods, or didn't use any method books at all!!! And they came to me playing sonatinas as if somebody spoon-fed them one note at a time.

Yes - and isn't that fun to fix smile


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Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102411 06/14/13 09:49 AM
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I guess my eldest is the exception that proves the rule. grin

I can't remember what method books he was assigned, and he did some, but they were gone by the end of the first year. Perhaps he absorbed all he needed, perhaps not. But his teacher managed to teach him what he needed to know through the literature. Then again, maybe he would have become the next Argerich but for ... nah.

Back to Nannerl's original question, and its followup.

Quote
- Maybe it's me... when I was in school, I never really cared about marks, but I always did well - I loved reading, and I only read because I loved it, not because I wanted to win a trophy for reading so many books a year. I entered read-a-thons but they were just a side effect to the former fact that I loved reading. I have no idea if this kid really loves piano... apparently he rushes his practice (that's what dad says) he seems to be the kind that feels rewarded when I draw stars on his score (I draw stars when he has played the piece well and is ready to move onto the next piece) - he is driven to earn stars, which I know is extrinsic motivation and I know I'm so bad for implementing it... maybe I should do something else to break this cycle, then again - it works... and I keep thinking if he's driven by earning stars, maybe he'd be driven by competition, by being really, really good... and sure, it's wrong to treat arts as a sport but if it makes one better at their art is it really wrong?


There are many teachers (even here!) who are viscerally opposed to anything competitive because it demeans the artistic process, or because draws out bad character traits -- competitiveness being one of those bad traits that gets in the way of real learning and developing a real love of music.

I'm not of that view. But I have no problem with people who take that position. Not every piano student needs to be dunked into stressful, competitive, graded, learning processes. Many families don't want their children exposed to that environment, and that's fine. That's why we have a market out there, to cater to all sorts of tastes.

My son's experience (and mine, as his chaperone through the process) shows how external validation can be a useful adjunct to learning for some personality types and in some circumstances. But I would certainly not want to generalize this view.

My son was (is) one of those introvert-extroverts. I'm sure the Meyers-Briggs test has a label for this. When he was young, he drew a lot of energy from the reactions and praise of others. It motivated him. I still remember him wanting to play in a school talent show at age nine, after all of six weeks of lessons. He knocked their socks off with the Marine Corp Hymn. grin (This was right after 9/11).

His teacher at that time did not participate in much graded stuff (Guild or Federation). I think she does now. She mentioned to me (if I can recall it correctly) that she kept using little bits and pieces from method books just to get certain points across, but she moved into light literature (Applause Book I) by the end of the first year.

I was skeptical about your little guy in part because YOU exhibited such reticence. He is quite young. Mine started piano quite late at age nine (a veritable old man!).

On the other hand, I think AZN is right. This doesn't sound like real "competition." It sounds more festival-like; everybody gets a prize for showing up. The real competition in events of that sort is with the kids' own nerves. Some kids are ready for that and others may be traumatized. Judgment call.

Mine was introduced to real competition at age eleven in his third year of study. The ground was laid very gently. He was told that this was just for fun; that his goal wasn't winning. His goal was just to do it, see the process, and meet other kids who were really, really good. Absolutely NO pressure was placed on him other than the usual recital-type nerves of public performance. But public performance has always been energizing for him. Throughout the afternoon, he glommed onto one really talented fifteen year old. They hung out in the practice rooms and played for each other. That fifteen year old was the winner!

Piano*Son played his piece creditably. He had one slight memory glitch which he overcame. Clearly not a winning performance, but he didn't embarrass himself either. He played the simple Mozart Fantasia that year. (I think the winner played a Liszt etude!) P*S worked really hard to learn that little Mozart piece, and the competitive experience showed him the link between hard work and good outcomes. Could that same message have been transmitted without the heinous competitive pressure? Who knows. We worked with what we thought were his talents and his personality drivers.

P*S is not a perfectionist, so that's a different kettle of fish you have to deal with. But everyone has to learn how to deal with failure at some point, and a piano competition isn't a particularly awful way to learn that life lesson (IMO).

Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Piano*Dad] #2102500 06/14/13 12:33 PM
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Hi Piano Dad,

Originally Posted by Piano*Dad


...There are many teachers (even here!) who are viscerally opposed to anything competitive because it demeans the artistic process, or because draws out bad character traits -- competitiveness being one of those bad traits that gets in the way of real learning and developing a real love of music...



I'm really glad you and your son are having a good time with his studies. I wouldn't change that for the world. But you misunderstand my objections. Your view is too narrow to embrace them.

My concern, as an artist and a performer, is that encouraging "competition" among young students, and maintaining it throughout their years of study, is producing some of the blandest and most uninteresting performers ever heard on concert stages at any time. I am deeply concerned that the musical profession is sabotaging its own future, and has been doing so for the last 50 years.

A lot has been written about the dying off of the classical music industry to date. Norman Lebrecht's book, "Who Killed Classical Music" is probably the best lengthy description in print. And it's absolutely true. The audience for classical music is greying and dying. Concert seasons are disappearing. The solo recital as it existed 60 years ago in the US is long gone. Symphony orchestras and opera companies are closing their doors at record rates, and have been since before the recession. It's a trend. Which is really odd, because today, there's more interest in classical music among the public than ever.

One of the reasons for this is that the type of performing artist turned out by the contest machine is not much of an artist. They are themselves machines who can win contests. And they are the blandest musical personalities imaginable, I'm very sorry to say. On the one hand, the level of technical skill is stratospherically high. Most kids coming out of good schools can play or sing the entire literature. Contest winners can play absolutely anything, and without any seeming effort. On the other hand, the music making is worse than mediocre, in many cases. It's BORING! TEDIOUS! It's well schooled, inoffensive, and intended to please whichever judge or jury heard them last. Which means that it sounds like very little at all. The more interesting, involved and inventive players usually offend at least one of the judges by showing a little personality. Even though they may be the better musician, and are as good or better a player as the others, they don't win the contest.

Which is one of the reasons why recent major contest winners generally cannot sustain a long term performing career any more. Not only are ticket sales generally down, these people are not interesting enough artists to hold the audience's attention past the two year contract they get when they win a major contest. Since the Art is growing less and less interesting, I've noticed record labels using increasingly provocative cover photos over the last 20 years, of younger and younger "discoveries", in a vain attempt to sell more recordings to a shrinking and very jaded audience. Cleavage, cleavage, and more cleavage! I'm just waiting for the concert posters to follow suit eventually.

These are not values any right-thinking person should support.

Since you are not a professional in this field, these cannot be your concerns. But they are mine, and they should be of concern to anyone interested in the survival of classical music. I'd like to go to concerts, and play in them, for the next 20 years. I'd like to continue to get good recordings at the same time. I'd like to go see a good opera regularly. I fear I may not be able to do any of those things shortly.

The competition machine we have erected and revere in music is one of the things that is destroying our industry precisely because it's not about Art. Art is long, but competition is short and exclusively for the young. There's no room for a masterpiece in that, and a masterpiece is what sells tickets over the long-term.

Look, you should do whatever you can to keep your son interested in playing the piano. But at the same, you cannot pretend that there are not larger issues at play here. And you should not be dismissing them just because they fall outside your experience or understanding.

Last edited by laguna_greg; 06/14/13 12:44 PM. Reason: thoguth of something more
Re: Perfectionists and competitions [Re: Nannerl Mozart] #2102516 06/14/13 01:09 PM
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Greg,

I wasn't actually referring to your post when I wrote my long one. I did, however, go back to reread it and given that I quoted you in my first response I can easily see why you might have thought I was directly addressing you in that longer exposition. Actually, I was building a little straw man around a view that in one form or another is well-represented here.

Now, I would suggest (gently) that using language like "not a professional in the field" and "too narrow a view" seem designed more to dismiss me than interact with me, but the rest of your post is a good argument to chew on.

I would note a few things in response.

First, besides the obvious connection that kiddy competitors sometimes grow up to become big person competitors, the link between them is not so clear.

My son is now done with that .... er ... racket. He is in college. But he participated in a lot of competitions through high school, even some reasonably big regional ones that attracted some of the best young pianists in the nation. I hear your arguments about homogenization and boring music, but in my seven years of observing these events I cannot say I ever saw it. You may respond that I'm simply not professional enough to notice. Perhaps, but I wouldn't put money on it. I never could point to clear examples of homogeneous and cautious pandering winning out over radical daring novelty. Maybe it's just in the air, ineffable except to those who understand. Oh, I saw winners I thought weren't the best that day. Flying fingers sometimes won out over simpler works elegantly played. But the opposite was true on occasion. I watched as some amazing pyrotechnics lost out to less challenging material. That often had to happen for P*S to win smile .

It's awfully hard to distinguish judicial malfeasance from either randomness or judicial taste that day. The judges for most of these events were practicing musicians and/or music faculty at universities. Unless they are corrupt/ignorant and you (not you personally) are the true arbiter of what's right in the musical universe, I saw no obvious bias toward the musically bland and safe.

When we get to the major international competitions, and the possible effect they are having on classical music, we may be in another world. The politics of these events (musical and political ... ask Van Cliburn) can dominate. Is this competition machine, as you call it, the bane of contemporary classical music? Maybe. But I would submit that it is a complex issue, and my lack of professional status does not make your contentions stronger. Whenever this issue is discussed at the Pianist Corner, the fur flies. On the one hand, many take precisely your position that the machine produces bad art. But that is hardly a consensus view, even among the more professional types that post there. And many of the competition antagonists have little to say about how to undo the process, nor why some imagined halcyon past was actually a happier world even if we could, somehow, wave a wand and get back to it. Many pianists that place highly at big competitions do seem to have productive careers. I have no idea what their career path would have looked like in an alternative universe in which the competition machine did not exist.

As for cleavage, were you around for the Yuja Wang thread? It was hot, and I don't mean sexy. Even that issue isn't so clear cut.

As you note, we are in a world of rapidly declining interest in traditional classical music in the western world. It seems to me that many of the arguments you make about the bad effects of competition are a result of larger trends. Are ticket sales down because of boring, homogenized music coming from competition winners? You would have to distinguish that from the general downward trend in interest in classical concert going as the group that goes to it gets progressively whiter (and bluer) hair. The direction of causality does not seem likely to run from audience dislike of competition winners to the declining attendance at classical concerts.

Edit: There is nothing more conservative than a classical music audience. I can't see how the competition process is a more important force for blandness and homogeneity than the fear of offending these conservative audiences. Heck, at one of the last VSO concerts I attended, JoAnn Falletta actually pre-apologized to the audience for putting The Chairman Dances on the menu. She spent time trying to reason with us for why we should care about this "strange sounding" music. Sheesh. I'm saying to myself, "you have to apologize for programming Adams???" Half the audience was probably old enough to have danced the foxtrot!

P.P.S. And this is all a bit off target given Nannerl's initial question about her little seven year old!


Moderated by  Ken Knapp 

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