As classical pianists, taking part in competitions is inevitable. For many people, it is an extremely stressful situation because you are presenting yourself against other pianists. Also, as human beings, we want to be recognised by others, especially our peers, and somehow we tend to equate recognition to our self-worth. Therefore, some pianists avoid doing competitons altogether so that they can avoid the possibility of being rejected and disappointed. Bela Bartok once said, 'Competitions are for horses, not artists' Yet, so many artists-pianists rose to fame through competitions, including Martha Agerich, Murray Perahia and Daniil Trifonov, just to name a few. My professor once said to me that competitions are horrible, but we've got to do them to better our levels.
So how can we make competitions a positive experience despite the outcome?
Recently, I came across a chapter of the book, The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey about the meaning of winning. He said that he always thought competitions were unhealthy and brought out the worst in people, until one time he had a discussion with his father which changed his mind about competitions.
To begin with, the author thought that surfing wasn't a competitive sport, until his dad pointed out in fact surfers did compete with the waves they were riding on. Surfers wait for the biggest waves that they think they can handle as a challenge to overcome, in order to realise their full potential and increase their self-knowledge through self-discovery. Similarly, tennis players compete with each other to create the greatest obstacles to each other, and only through this do they give each other the chance to find out to what heights each can rise. Although your opponents might seem to be your enemy, they are in fact your friends and you are helpinng each other to unleash your potential. Winning might be important, but the process in which you put in all your efforts to overcome the obstacles to reach your goal is more important and valuable as it allows you to grow further.
When we apply this change of attitude towards winning in piano competitions, we can see other competitors as our friends who are here to create the greatest obstacles for us by being fully prepared and giving their best performances. Similarly, we have to rise up to the occasion, put in all our efforts and simply do our best. It is through these situations where we have to give it all that we can learn the most about ourselves. That is all that matters and that is all that we can control.
Use competitions as a means to better yourself and don't use them to measure your worth.