Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

Is music a competitive sport?

Following hot on the heals of the announcement by the BBC that they are going to commission a “Choir of the Year”-style competition for amateur orchestras (here), there has been a fair amount of discussion and debate about whether this is a good idea. Or is it simply another cheap-ish way to fill air time by using participants who don’t demand media-style salaries?

In real life, nearly everything is competitive in one way or another, either directly or implicitly, leading to a hierarchy of price/cost/importance/prestige*. The BBC in particular has a long track record in musical competition, including the “Young Musician of the Year” started in 1978. There are legion other musical contests – Cardiff Singer, Leeds Piano, etc etc. The very act of auditioning to play in an ensemble is competitive. It’s a way of life for Brass Bands.

Is this then the start of the same process for orchestras? Traditionally, in Great Britain at least, non-professional orchestras were often somewhat different. For one thing they are made up of a mix of complete amateurs, music teachers, semi-professionals and often a professional conductor and/or leader. Often they rehearse with available players and supplement the numbers with paid musicians come the concert. The way the competition is currently arranged will exclude many ensembles – more than 40 but less than 75 members, for example – and the amount of time required may well interfere with the normally running.

I’m still trying to make up my mind whether I think it’s a good idea. I know that my regular orchestra (< 40 regular players) will not be participating. I’ve long used the term “amateur orchestra”, but the term “community orchestra” is a far better description in most cases – a local group for local players. Should a community be competing?



* take your pick