Overcoming Competition with Support and Closeness

In my work situations (orchestra, studio, and small ensembles) I have been getting closer to other musicians, asking them about their lives, and encouraging them to talk about what it’s like to be a musician, to be playing in an orchestra, and so on.

A string quartet I am in had many rehearsals to prepare for a concert. At the first few rehearsals, I noticed a lack of trust in each other and an atmosphere of competition. I suggested that we begin each rehearsal by taking a few minutes each on what was going on in our lives, anything about our day so far, or whatever. I discharged and shared quite intimately about what was going on with me, such as feeling scared about the concert and worrying about whether or not I was ‘good enough.’ As time went on, other members of the group shared more personally about themselves. I also often expressed what I liked about our music-making and about each of them as musicians and people. This was contagious enough to spread! Rehearsals became fun, light, productive, and constructive. On concert day one musician in the group cried and shook about how scared she was. The concert went well.

I have talked to fellow musicians about competition, holding out the (sometimes unpopular!) position that competition is not necessary and needs to be eliminated in our field in order for all to flourish. (I like to pass on the pamphlet Competition: An Inhuman Activity, published by Rational Island Publishers.) Last year I organized a ‘play-in’ for all the cello players in my city to get together, meet each other, and notice how we love to play together outside of the freelance scene. The layers of nervousness, fear, competition, and doubt peeled off as we laughed our way through lots of music-making and hundreds of mistakes.

In my private teaching, I spend the first part of each lesson listening and finding out what has gone well and what has been hard in my student’s week. My teenage students, in particular, now share with me many details about their lives. Recently a fifteen-year-old male student cried in his lesson about how he wanted to please his mother by doing well on the cello. More discharge is happening in lessons as I remember to listen and to love. The effects on learning are, of course, noticeable.

About every six weeks, all of my students come together for what I call ‘cello jams.’ We do introductions and mini-sessions, and each student plays something he or she has prepared for the occasion. After each performance, everyone in the room (including the cellist who has just played) can say what he or she liked about the performance or what he or she noticed went well. There is now wonderful support and closeness in the group.

Getting close to certain musicians in my work, and now inviting them into my fundamentals class, has pushed me forward tremendously.

Heather Hay
International Liberation Reference Person for Musicians
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Last modified: 2014-10-03 09:35:22+00