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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On promoting music competitions,
with Classical Music Agony Aunt ALICE McVEIGH

La! ' Dear Alice,

I help to run a local music and drama festival and every year we seem to have fewer and fewer entrants. It can't be lack of interest, especially in acting. Every kid I know seems to go to drama school on weekends and longs to be an actor -- and quite a few learn instruments.
George Sylvester

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Alice Dear George,

Well, I know what you mean. My kid plays French horn in our local festival and this year she beat a whopping, er, zero others to win the gold in the grades 4-5 brass class. (They're talking about combining woodwind with brass next time, make it a bit more competitive!!!!) And I've often perused the list of drama entries too, and thought, gosh, you'd think in an area with a thriving Italia Conti, Stagecoach etc etc drama schools there'd be a few more kids than this willing to shove their heads above the parapet. Though the singing and piano bits seem to be holding their own, at least in Bromley.

I have a couple of theories to share with you.

  1. All shall have prizes. Can this reluctance to submit kids or pupils to being judged have something to do with our culture? I know that audiences love competitions (or else why is there all this celebrity rubbish reality TV -- where the least odious character 'wins' -- the 'How do we solve a problem like Marias?', the Weakest link etc etc). But people have an innate reluctance to tolerate the idea that THEIR kid might not be judged the best. Safer not. Better just to slog on in solitary splendour -- or as part of a dance troupe or youth orchestra, something (more or less) where everyone is reckoned equalish.
  2. The grubby and depressing atmosphere surrounding these events, which seem inevitably to be held in grimy school halls all too redolent of unwashed pupils and revolting school dinners.
  3. The judges, who equally inevitably seem to fit into one of two categories: the earnest and dull or the embittered and irritable. The first drivels on for hours about his or her personal hobby-horses; the latter attempt to subtly put down even the winners or the competitions. Both judging types have no (zero, zilch) sense of humour and were clearly given charisma bypasses at birth.
  4. Some of the classes show no imagination. When Rachel used to do verse-speaking, the powers that be would pick some book of loathsome kiddies poems (probably compiled by someone's cousin) and insist that the candidates picked one of these. Or lay it down in the regulations that each candidate choose a poem about 'flowers,' for God's sake (talk about an instant boy turn-off!!!!)
  5. Everybody's too busy. In order to compete, little Sadie would have to miss her (expensive, paid-for) riding lesson -- or Zack his tennis. It puts parents etc off their stroke, to have to trek out to some dreary school hall (as aforementioned) instead of dealing with the usual parental-child juggling situation of a weekend.

Since you are in a position of some importance with regard to one competition, at least, perhaps you could have a go at doing something about (2) ,(3) and (4) anyway? (Hint: now I personally would make the most marvellous judge ...)

Yours waiting by the phone,

Copyright © 14 March 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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