Excerpt – Competition in Music in the Twentieth Century by Rohrer. P. Thomas (2012) part III

The Critics of Competition

From the inception of contests, the main concern was the abuse of the system by adults who might foster a “win-at-all-costs” attitude. In a 1953 study of band adjudication in competition- festivals, Bell concluded that winning often became the primary goal rather than improvement and learning. (Bell, 1953)

A study by Ames from the same decade suggested that tension, pressure and rivalry might be eliminated, particularly from smaller schools, by the use of a festival-type format without the competitive element. (Ames, 1950)

Regarding band contests in general, Neil found four major criticisms (Neil, 1944);

1) an overemphasis on the competitive aspect,

2) too much time spent on festival pieces,

3) poor adjudication,

4) de-emphasis by the director of the other fine ensembles performing at an event.

Kohut expressed particular concern for those students who do not achieve success in competition and are unprepared for the consequences of losing.(Kohut, 1985)

The passionate pleas of many educators over the past eighty-odd years of band competition appear in one paragraph written in 1925 by Carl Engel:

“The idea [of music contests] is successful because it brings out the instincts of rivalry and conquest. There is enough of heated struggle in life without deliberately and unnecessarily fanning the spark in childhood. … In any prize contest there must needs be a winner, or a small number of winners, and a great many losers. Jealousy is born, strife is bred.” (Engel, 1925)


Controversy has surrounded U.S. music contests from their inception. Many studies surveyed opinions of band directors, students, administrators, and parents, but the inability to reach a consensus on the role of contests caused a philosophical schism within the music teaching community and a resulting inconsistency from one school to another.

Proponents of contests continue their support in present times, citing the same benefits that inspired the original music competitions. They argue that, aside from fostering an at-large interest in music, competition has educational benefits for students including

  • incentive for hard work,
  • a standard for performance
  • a good “social education.

Supporting educators stress the importance of learning “citizenship” through a competitive music program while improving motivation and public relations.


Cecil Charles Bell, Jr., “A Study of the Development of the Competition-Festival in Its Relationship to Band Adjuducation” (M.M. thesis, University of Texas, 1953), as cited in Donald D. DeuPree, “An Analysis of the Colorado Large Group Musical Competition-Festival System,” p. 14.

William Howard Ames, “A Survey of Public High School Music Teachers’ Opinions Concerning Competitive Music Festivals in the State of Washington” (M.A. thesis, State College of Washington, 1950), p. 34.

Ronald J. Neil, “The Development of the Competition-Festival in Music Education” (Ph.D. diss., George Peabody College for Teachers, 1944), p. 119.

Daniel L. Kohut, Musical Performance: Learning Theory and Pedagogy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985), p. 93.

Carl Engel, “Views and Reviews,” Musical Quarterly XI, no. 3 (1925): 628.