I used to be a bit against singing competitions, I thought singing should be about making music for joy, for everyone, a supportive, communal activity. I found the idea of taking this beautiful art and turning it into a competitive contest very troubling.
However, once I got to music college I realised that singing professionally is exactly that. Every audition is a competition between you and the other candidates, every performance is a competition against every other performance the audience have heard. Competitions and prizes are a microcosm of our professional world.
Although I have now embraced competitive singing as a good performance platform, networking opportunity and CV plumper, I still struggle with the amount of personal investment involved. Unlike auditions each competition tends to have a very specific repertoire set, so each competition can represent hours of extra research, learning, practice and coaching. Although, naturally, I also put in all this effort for auditions, I have a basic set of well rehearsed, comfortable arias to choose from for auditions which I recycle as much as possible to give myself my best chance of success. A competition might involve 3 different programmes of specialist repertoire, each polished to perfection before the competition so much as begins. I usually end up with a real emotional connection to my programme which can introduce problems as well as benefits. The emotional connection raises the stakes hugely. The thought of how much I love my final round programme helps me to sing my best in the semi final, however, it also means the anti climax is all the bigger if I’m not selected.
I find it is so important to remember that, like our entire profession, competitions are subjective. It isn’t possible to please everyone and if the people you please, how ever many they may be, are not on the panel, then you won’t win. Equally, you can’t predict who will be in competition with you or what they can bring, which may be exactly what the panel are looking for. I have competed in prizes where the winner has been chosen on interpretation, programme choices, technique, stage presence, even how nice their dress was. I could not have predicted what the panel were after before I sang, so my only hope is to sing my best, perform my best, be my best, and hope they like it. And if they don’t, as long as I was happy with my performance who can do more?
That said, it is a difficult creed to live by. Being judged slightly less favourably than your peers is tough, particularly at the moment of adjudication, when months of preparation, tension and build up are potentially swept away in less than a minute. The adrenalin dump is huge, so allow yourself a brief wallow when you get to bed, mourn your beautiful programme for a moment, then realise how well you did in getting so far in the first place.