Competition and Creation: Can they Co-exist?

Unlike my tiniest cello friends...

I started playing cello in 5th grade in the Texas public school system. I learned to play the cello from a violinist along with 30 other kids who wanted to play a stringed instrument. I wish I had taken private lessons right from the start, because I began learning an instrument in a competitive environment, naturally the cello became a competitive thing. Who was going to winthe coveted position of sitting 1st chair? Who would be the shunned ones and sit last? [There are so many reasons why I don't think this is a good introduction to a musical education. but I digress...]


5th grade through 7th grade, I sat at the front of the pack in my school's top orchestra. I later auditioned and became a member of the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra, and in those orchestras I always sat either 1st or 2nd chair. And I had to work HARD to keep that chair too. And you know? I never felt a real satisfaction from getting to sit in the first stand. I just remember thethreat of embarassment if I left that first stand.

College presented auditions.

I worked my butt off for 4 universities and was chosen for 3, 2 of which I got scholarships. THAT's a good feeling, let me tell you. Working hard and having it pay off. Man it feels good. I still remember running and screeching through the house to find my mom after I opened up thescholarship letters. So fun.

What's not fun is the college level competition. That sucked the life right out of my bones. I became bitter and snobby & I hated that. The same questions asked earlier in school were not as comforting as before. "Who's sitting first?" became "Why aren't you?" which became "Don't you practice?" which became "Why don't you care anymore?" and finally became "Where were you?" I was knocked off my high horse and fell hard.

I obviously saw this as a great problem and so readjusted my context from the orchestral to thefolk/pop/rock scene. I found a renewed craving for creativity. I wasn't just inserting Song A and spitting it out perfectly, I was CREATING Song B and C and D and... I had to work hard at it, but when I did, it turned out really well and felt really good.

So zooming back to today,

I find myself considering re-entering the collegiate and competitive atmosphere for an evenhigher education, and possibly be there for quite a long time... Now that I've experienced thecreation of music I can't go back to just competitively spitting out tunes over and over again.

Having tasted the sweet nectar of creation, I wonder what it will be like to truly be part of thegroup but still feel outside of it. Will I be dubbed the underachiever or black sheep? Will I be harder on myself when I'm not "giving in" to the outside structure of this competition? Or is theoutside competition actually the kindest way to excel and be the best you can be? Can I trust myself to create my own structure and discipline? Or do I surrender to the outside discipline structure?

I know my answers, but I'm curious to hear your own experiences with competition and creation in the world of music...