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Should the Performing Arts be competitive?

Chris Ivey / Insights

Performing Arts and not just at the end of the year, but throughout the learning journey. We need to model a love for the Arts that sits outside the competitive nature and values it for what it is.

05 August 2022

For the first time since 2019, and now that live music events can be organised with some hope that they will be able to proceed, our students have once again been involved in the Sunshine Coast Junior Eisteddfod and as always, our results have been incredibly positive. To have ourselves and Matthew Flinders referred to by one of the adjudicators as ‘some of the best bands in the country’ is testament to the quality of what our Music Department is producing and has done so now for many years. It is wonderful to be affirmed by an external adjudicator, and I’d like to publicly thank all our Music staff who have worked so tirelessly with the students to produce such a high standard. While enjoying the accolades and obvious disappointments that come from an Eisteddfod, I did begin to wonder about what it is we are doing when we rank schools to come 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the area of Arts?

My own four children have all been involved in our superb music programmes here at the College, and for 16 years they have been competing at our Sunshine Coast Eisteddfod, which is a fabulous competition and really well run, however this is an area that I continually wrestle with. Should music and indeed, theatre be a competition? The tricky balance between the external motivation to work toward a goal and then being confident enough to have yourself judged against others? Currently Mr Dean and I are directing our Middle Years Play, Lord of the Flies, we know we are not in competition with anyone: except ourselves and our own desire to produce a play that the players and the audience will enjoy! At the same time, most Australians watch and enjoy sport, knowing it is a competition in which there is a clear winner. Historically, society has enjoyed music, theatre and other forms of art for the pleasure it brings… Consequently I have been trying to understand exactly when we decided to make cultural pursuits competitive. I will admit that I’m not sure that it's healthy to always ask our children to be competitive in almost everything that they put effort into. Of course so much of reality TV these days also focuses on creating competitions from areas that have traditionally not been competitive.

My reasoning in writing this article is not to question the value of good competition, but more to ponder aloud: where do we draw the line?... particularly with our children and in areas where we want them to enjoy the opportunities to perform and provide a positive experience for those who form the audience rather than coming away feeling either superior or inferior depending on who ‘won’. I acknowledge there are times when our children need to know the world is competitive, children need to commit to train and rehearse, but can we actually do this and acknowledge the outcomes might be different? Sport is not subjective. Art in all its forms is very subjective.

In 1996, Nick Cave wrote an infamous letter to the MTV Video Music Awards requesting that his video be withdrawn from the proceedings when, to his dismay, he was nominated for Best Male Artist for his duet with Kylie Minogue, the classic Where The Wild Roses Grow. I found his letter really powerful and it made me think about this a little differently.

To all those at MTV,

I would like to start by thanking you all for the support you have given me over recent years and I am both grateful and flattered by the nominations that I have received for Best Male Artist. The air play given to both the Kylie Minogue and P. J. Harvey duets from my latest album Murder Ballads has not gone unnoticed and has been greatly appreciated. So again my sincere thanks.

Having said that, I feel that it’s necessary for me to request that my nomination for best male artist be withdrawn and furthermore any awards or nominations for such awards that may arise in later years be presented to those who feel more comfortable with the competitive nature of these award ceremonies. I myself, do not. I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no-one.

My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.

She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves — in this case this means not subjecting her to the indignities of judgement and competition. My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race and if indeed she was, still I would not harness her to this tumbrel — this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes. My muse may spook! May bolt! May abandon me completely!

So once again, to the people at MTV, I appreciate the zeal and energy that was put behind my last record, I truly do and say thank you and again I say thank you but no…no thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Cave

So as I reflect on Nick’s words, I acknowledge that music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. So what to do? I think we need to provide more opportunities for students to perform in all areas of the Performing Arts and not just at the end of the year, but throughout the learning journey. We need to model a love for the Arts that sits outside the competitive nature and values it for what it is. Something that brings pleasure, something that inspires, something that causes us to stop and hopefully feel deeply for a moment.

Will we continue to be involved in Eisteddfods, public speaking competitions and host our Art awards?... most likely yes! I know my own kids have all enjoyed performing at Eisteddfods and it has contributed to them playing at a higher level. But we will also continue to focus on the incredible learning journey that takes place when we engage in these activities, we will also focus on the joy of performing, of making music together and sharing our journey with those around us, hopefully, enabling them to revel in the beauty and experience of the Arts.

Author Profile

Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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