The Beauty of Competitions

By Viviana Guzman

We heard the results of the Tchaikovsky Woodwind Competition this weekend (the results are posted below). I hosted the San Francisco Flute Society's Competition at Flutes by the Sea in Half Moon Bay, CA last month.  For the first time ever, I was neither competing nor judging.  I listened to all the contestants. I had been against having a competition, for the simple reason that I had wanted to foster an environment where there were no losers, and where everyone was applauded a winner.  But after taking a moment to reconsider my decision, I realized that competitions are wonderful arenas in which to sharpen your skills.  Competitions force one to practice diligently every day.  One learns greatly from the training alone. And for this reason, I decided to host the competition.

I can remember competing in the Houston Symphony Concerto Ima Hogg Competition as a young flutist.  I did not win the competition as the first prize was given to a violinist (I was awarded 2nd Place).  Years later, I ran into one of the judges of that competition.  He singled me out and said, you played brilliantly in that competition!”  My response to him was, well, why didn’t I win, then?”  When I was in my 20’s, my only goal in competitions was to WIN. I had gotten Second Prize in the Ima Hogg Competition (named for an influential, wealthy benefactor), but because I did not receive first place, I obliterated it from my mind, I never put it in my bio, I literally deleted it from my past. I did this despite the fact that it was a very prestigious event.  It should have had a place of pride in my resume.


Competitions can seem grueling and harsh, but we can all learn from the process.


I sat in on the entire San Francisco Flute Society Competition. I cheered some of my own students, and applauded the work my colleagues had done with all the contestants.  As an audience member, I saw them all as winners as they all were dressed up and performing beautifully.  They had worked hard to showcase the best of their abilities.

There are so many different options in any lineup of performers, and judges can focus on different aspects of playing or happen to pick up on a particular flaw that others overlook.  Having served on many judges’ panels, I realized that there are several ways to decide the winners. At some competitions I was asked to add up points and the recipient of the highest points, became our winner. At other competitions I judged, the sole goal was to discuss and come up with a unanimous decision.  In the Texas Tech Wind Competition I judged a few years ago, we were given a formula I had never worked with before, that I found to be a wonderfully interesting way to calculate the winner.  The whole process is (almost) completely subjective, at least once you get to a certain level.


Healthy competition is vital in any career.


We learn from our competition.  After forming The Flute View with my flutist partners, I realized the value of teaming up with colleagues.  The partnership has made us stronger as a unit.  In a competitive setting, the urge to be better'” makes us work harder, to strive to play faster, and to practice more.  And this brings me to what I think is the crucial point.

We learn so much from the competition process. We work hard to ensure a stellar performance. Receiving commentary from the judges is also a wonderful way to learn how to improve the next performance.  While losing can be devastating to your feelings if you let it be, you have to be able to discern the difference between constructive criticism and artistic preference, as well as the objective merits of your performance and that of the others you are competing against. There's no shame to losing out on a given day to a talented player, and you can take pride from a second or third place showing, as long as you gave it your best and did the hard work to ensure that it was your best.  If you did play your best but still didn't win, you can look at how the others played and ask yourself if you agree that they played better, and if they did, what you need to work on to match or surpass them.  One might play their best and win in one competition, and not even place in another competition.


The goal should be the process; to learn from the journey.


Since competitions in the music field are subjective, winning depends to some degree on who is on the panel, their tastes, and how the decision is made, so the best thing is to just focus on playing your best and learning from the process. People interested in symphony orchestra positions must all compete to get the job they want.  Competing in different scenarios helps prepare us for going through the process when a job is on the line.  And while I think my desire to avoid there being any "losers" was well-intentioned, it ignored the spur that not winning, even coming in second or third to tough competitors, can contribute volumes to a young musician.

My natural competitiveness pushed me to enter a contest as a teenager largely because I believed I was better than someone else I knew who had entered. Winning the Houston Youth Symphony Competition at 13 years old, which entailed a full fellowship to the Aspen Music Festival, literally changed the course of my life.  But had I lost, I like to think I would have come back the next year, more practiced and determined than ever. I do know that winning so whetted my appetite for continuing in music and going back to Aspen that I worked incredibly hard to win that same competition again in successive years (I won that same competition and a full Fellowship to Aspen for 10 summers).  I attribute winning this competition to changing my life course.  Entering that competition was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Preparing for a competition serves as an amazing boot camp.  Playing for different juries also helps get your name out in the business.  For the emerging artist, doing well in a competition is like getting a healthy shot in the arm, especially if the prize includes a concert tour or management for a period of time.  Who knows, you might even win a bit of cash.


Once you start winning competitions, the wind in your sails makes you want to keep going.


People are given opportunities for all sorts of reasons.  Competitions might be in the cards for you….. then again, maybe you are destined to walk a different path.  It is rare that a competition win “makes” a life-long career.  Although helpful, the performer needs to be able to withstand the test of time.  Winning a competition can be regarded as “the beginning” of a career, especially the high profile competitions like the Tchaikovsky Competition, Carl Nielsen Competition, Prague Spring Competition, Kobe Flute Competition, and the American competitions which also provide concert management for a period of time, Concert Artist Guild, Young Concert Artists, and Astral Artists.  Certainly a competition win is never regarded as a drawback.  Let’s face it, competitions are necessary in our profession--not to mention in life itself.    In order to have a career in music, throughout our career we will be needing to audition whether it be for an orchestral job, or a teaching position. We might as well embrace competitions and learn to look for the beauty of competing.  Learn from each experience and focus more on the idea that each competition you enter, brings you one step closer to achieving your goal regardless of the competition outcome.  Learning is more important than winning, and if you play your best, that is the greatest reward of all.

Viviana Guzman is an internationally touring multi-genre artist who has performed in 127 countries. Her album “Traveling Sonata” received a GRAMMY Nomination.  She has presented a TEDxBerkeleyTalk speaking before Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple, Inc,  and her album "Song of the Whale" received a Global Music Award, Gold Medal.  A graduate of The Juilliard School, she has performed in 127 countries and currently teaches flute at the University of California Santa Cruz and is the director of Flutes by the Sea.   Follow her on FB, IG and Twitter.



Tchaikovsky Wind Competition Winners 2019

First Prize and Gold Medal: Matvey Demin (Russia, flute)

Second Prize and Silver Medal: Joidy Scarlet Blanco Lewis (Venezuela, flute)

Third Prize and Bronze Medal: Alessandro Beverari (Italy, clarinet)

Fourth Prize and Diploma: Lola Descours (France, bassoon)

Fifth Prize and Diploma: Nikita Vaganov (Russia, clarinet): Juri Florian Alexander Vallentin (Germany, oboe)

Sixth Prize and Diploma: Juri Florian Alexander Vallentin (Germany, oboe)

Seventh Prize: Lívia Duleba (Hungary, flute)

Eighth Prize: Sofiya Viland (Russia, flute)

Metvey Demin 2019 Tchaikovsky Woodwind Competition Winner

One thought on “The Beauty of Competitions

  • July 10, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Thank you for this article. Great perspective on competitions. Will share it with my students.

Leave a Reply