sábado, 3 de marzo de 2018

SOME REFLECTIONS ON CHORAL CONTESTS


Río de la Plata Corearte Choral Contest

In September of this year, Coreate will hold the first edition of a choral contest.  This type of event provoked an endless number of questions about its realization, and about the positive and negative aspects of contests for choral activity.
If we compare South America with North America or Europe where the contests are deeply rooted, we see that there is a long way to go and to make singers and directors see that contests have a very positive side for the growth of choirs at the musical and human level. 
We chose the city of Montevideo for the this first edition, where we hope to have an excellent sampling of choral music. 
The maestro Santiago Ruiz de Córdoba – Argentina, brings us his experience in choral competitions in this article which is a very interesting personal vision. 
I invite you to read it.

Carlos Sesca





“SOME REFLECTIONS ON CHORAL CONTESTS”

“Competition shows a smiling mask to preside over – at least in music – the crowning of success.  But behind this mask, dark events can occur that make us doubt the value of its validity and even the value of its mere existence”

César Ferreyra,  from “Cuentos Corales”

Although surely no one would doubt how important it is for an athlete to compete, how stimulating the Olympic Games or Children’s Soccer Tournaments are, it is very possible that facing the question of “Would you participate in a Choral Contest?” many choral directors and singers would end up answering: “NO! There is no way.  It doesn’t make sense.

I would prefer a good festival or a nice choir meeting.
Contest results, positive or not, never manage to make up for the effort and exhaustion.  The judges, as respectable as they may be, never will have the truth about what is “the best.”
Competition, on the other hand, is not something that should go along with choral (including artistic) activity.  No one needs choral contests.”

And personally, I would agree with everything stated.  However, on several occasions I have allowed myself to try these occurrences with choral groups.  And in each case, and far beyond the results obtained, the experiences were always of great personal and collective enrichment for each of us who belonged to the choral project. 

I would like to share some reasons why it was not so crazy to participate in a choral contest:

* Artistic Reasons:

Contests are, in and of themselves, one of the best opportunities for the finest and most detailed technical work possible for a choral group.
They are occasions where we can try to “measure” some technical parameters with the most objective tool and compare our own development, establish new, concrete goals, and above all, organize the work in pursuit of the fulfillment of a common objective.  

The majority of choral contests foresee that at some time we will be able to listen to other choirs that will fill us with music and that will allow us to learn many things.  Above all, bearing in mind that in one way or another we are united by an experience: we have all prepared for the same thing.
Often, we have had to prepare even the same imposed work required by the contest, and this means that almost every time there are situations where some or all of the participating choirs sing together at some corner of the meeting with unity that transcends any competition. 

For the directors, especially, it is an opportunity to listen and learn from other types of work from colleagues, and to get to know and contact choirs and directors, and for listening to a lot of repertoire which is generally excellently prepared and often innovative. 

* Human Reasons:

The involvement of a whole group in pursuit of a very specific common objective that will also be judged by third parties at a very special occasion for the groups to come together… or quite the opposite. 
It all depends on the philosophy of the group and its leader, but it is an excellent opportunity for growth. 

Getting to know people who belong to choirs in other places (eventually other nations, continents, totally different cultures) is always an unforgettable and enriching experience.

Traveling as a group (something that obviously can be done without going to contests, but which almost occurs in these cases) is an incredible transformative experience.  Many choir singers leave their province or see the sea or travel by airplane for the first time due to a project with their choir.
And they do it as a group, with their choir travel companions.  Contests are good opportunity for this.

* Economic Reasons:

In several of the contests that we participated in, if we were selected, the organization took charge of part of our group expenses or offered significant discounts on their fees with an extremely convenient amount. 

The existence of cash prizes which allow for part of the investment in the trip made by the group to be recovered.
Although this implies that there is some minimum and dangerous expectation to gain some recognition, it is still a variable to be considered.

Reading these possible reasons might not manage to tip the balance to encourage you to participate in a contest with the group that we have created, but if at any time you did, there is one thing I am sure of: once you decide to participate in a contest, two epic sagas will begin, one logistical and the other artistic. 

The first one exceeds the objective of this text, but I would love to share some possibilities for facing the second one:

In addition to working with joy and commitment, with desire to excel, with great love for music and for our choral activity; with the choir, we use some funny analogies to prepare ourselves:

- A Choral Contest is similar to a 100-meter race:

The runner can only do the best that he can.
It is very unlikely that he will do a time that he has never done before… and if he does, it will surely be by a millisecond, nothing more. 
When it is time for the race, the biggest job has already been done and there will not be many new developments. 
He is not competing against anyone but himself in order to leave everything on the track and to leave his best mark.  Often, he does not know if he will have slower or faster opponents, and that definitely (except at the highest levels) would not make any difference in how he would run. 

- A Choral Contest is similar to a beauty contest:

In general, all beauty contest participants (as happens with all choirs that are admitted to participate in a contest) have a significant level of beauty.  And it is never unanimous about who should win.  In a similar way, choral contests are filled with subjectivity: even in the analysis of technical parameters such as impasto, intonation, the presence of choir, etc., each judge, and each person in the audience, will fill out “their scoresheet” according to their criteria, their hearing, their taste, and their history. 


- A Choral Contest is similar to a food contest:

These days where competition shows for almost everything are popular, and where also, at the gastronomic level, we can all eat something exotic from another place in the world more or less around the corner (or at home if our grandparents or great-grandparents came from other places and kept their traditions), who could say if Chinese food is more delicious than Arabic or Mexican food?  Could we compare the exquisite dishes from each place, with a proper culinary technique that is totally different in each case, with the best possible ingredients from the region (according to the soil, their raw materials, and possibilities), created with the greatest of loves for the culture of the place, and decide which is best?
Or ask all of the chefs of the world to cook a typical Argentine dish?  Obviously, there are contests that are this complex, and in some way, choral contests are like this.
We must know that whether they “choose our dish” or not, that does not mean much. 
It just expresses the taste and criteria of a group a people among whom, in general, I would not like to be.  To go to a contest, I think that it is essential to be fully prepared not to win any prize or external recognition. 

And finally, if you receive prizes, I recommend that you think of them like candy: they are delicious, sweet, and fun… but no one lives on candy.  The nutritious part of life and art is never there.   

In one of his most valuable “Cuentos Corales,” César Ferreyra says: “What a judge can do is give his opinion on what he likes and what he does not like; give advice on what his own experience has taught him; recommend certain ways of working; suggest resources for improving the expression of choral singing; in short, to accompany the artist on his path, which is much more worthwhile than giving a medal or a diploma, or a small amount of money, which is usually very insufficient.”

For those who ever go to a contest, I would like to share with you a phrase from Gandhi which has accompanied the Cantoría de la Merced (Córdoba – Argentina) since our first adventure:

"SATISFACTION LIES IN THE EFFORT, NOT IN THE ATTAINMENT.  FULL EFFORT IS FULL VICTORY"

…and that is how it has been every time!

Santiago Ruiz

Is a Guitar teacher graduated from the Conservatorio Provincial de Música in Córdoba, has taught at all educational levels and is a full professor of the Choral Singing I, II, and III, and Choral Practice and Directing I at the Facultad de Artes at the National University of Córdoba.
Choral and orchestral director, founder of the Cantoría de la Merced (2004) and in charge of the Orquesta de Cuerdas Municipal of Córdoba since 2014.

Participation in FESTIVAL CANTO JOVEN 2005 (Buenos Aires), receiving the Audience Award with the Coro de Jóvenes del Colegio Santo Tomás

Participation in 5 Choral Contests, 3 in Argentina (2 international) and 2 abroad with the Cantoría de la Merced.

Argentina –Ansilta 2007 Contest     - Second Prize
                                                          - Audience Award
                                                          - New Director Award

Argentina - CIC Trelew 2009           - First Prize for Mixed Choir
                                                          - First Prize for Women’s Choir
                                                          - First Prize for Sacred Music
                                                          - First Prize for Popular Music (shared)
                                                          - Best Choir of the Contest
                                                          - Best Interpretation of an Argentine Work
                                                          - Audience Award

Argentina - Venado Coral 2012        - Second Prize
                                                          - Audience Award

Spain – 35th International Cantonigrós Festival 2017 

                                                          - First Prize for Mixed Choir                                                                                                                                                      - Third Prize for Women’s Choir

Spain – 63rd Habaneras y Polifonía de Torrevieja International Contest 2017                                                            
                                                          - No prize