competitions behaving badly



Alphabet Soup wrote a blog post discussion competition competitions behaving badly, and I too have written a blog post about the most exploitive comp comp ever. But I probably found one that's worse because it targets only young composers.

Who would think that the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) would be able to sleep at night charging an exorbitant fee for their comp comp? Check out the divisions and the ridiculous fees:

Elementary Age: 5–10 as of January 1, 2012 Entry Fee: $50 Junior Age: 11–14 as of January 1, 2012 Entry Fee: $70 Senior Age: 15–18 as of January 1, 2012 Entry Fee: $100 Young Artist Age: 19–26 as of January 1, 2012 Entry fee: $100

I know what you're thinking—how many fifteen to twenty-six-year-olds have access to $100?! How many eleven to fourteen-year-olds have $70?! And what five year old has an extra $50 lying around?! Because, if I were five and had an extra $50, I would take all my fifty one-dollar bills and throw them on a mattress while jumping on the bed proclaiming, "I'M RICH! I'M RICH! I'M FILTHY RICH!!!" Instead I'm yelling, "WHO HAS THAT TYPE OF MONEY?!"


Anyway…what does the winning (national) composer get in return?

Awards made possible by Morty and Iris Manus. Elementary Winner: $500 Elementary Second Place: $250 Teacher of Winner: $200 Awards made possible by Morty and Iris Manus. Junior Winner: $1,000 Junior Second Place: $500 Teacher of Winner: $200 Awards made possible by Hal Leonard Corporation. Senior Winner: $2,000 Senior Second Place: $1,000 Teacher of Winner: $200 Awards made possible by the MTNA Foundation Fund Young Artist Winner: $3,000 Young Artist Second Place: $1,500 Teacher of Winner: $200

I'm honestly curious where the money goes. In fact, one composer did email Chris Goldston, national coordinator AND Winner of the 1993 MTNA Composition Contest for North Carolina, why on earth there was such an oppressive entrance fee. He said:

"The entry fee covers various expenses that occur by holding the competition. Most of the application fee goes towards judges fees. If a composition goes all the way to the national competition, for instance, they might get comments from as many as nine judges! Many states use three judges, division always uses three judges and national always uses three judges…and we pay the judges per score. Then there is the cost of mailing compositions to the judges and back, administrative fees like the online application, etc. As expensive as the fee may seem, this is certainly not a money making competition!"

Although this response seems reasonable, this obviously reeks of poor business sense. Have they not done their research in regards to average entrance fees? Have they not realized how furious we composers become if charged entrance fees? And where does the money go, really? They have sponsors for the prize money.


So here's my question: how do they cut their expenses so that the entrance fee isn't so crippling? They could eliminate mailing costs by asking the entrants to use PDF files. (If they're paying for administrative fees for the online application, might as well.) They don't have to give composition teachers any prize money. (Frankly, I would NOT want to receive any prize money for something my student earned.) They could lower the amount of the prize money given based on how much the sponsors were willing to contribute. I believe any of these suggestions could work.


Ultimately, I believe the organization is clueless: they believe they are encouraging students to write music by entering a competition and awarding the winners huge gobs of cash, but they do not realize this comp comp violates their Code of Ethics. It states under their "Commitment to Students" section:

"The teacher shall conduct the relationship with students and families in a professional manner. The teacher shall respect the personal integrity and privacy of students unless the law requires disclosure. The teacher shall clearly communicate the expectations of the studio. The teacher shall encourage, guide and develop the musical potential of each student. The teacher shall treat each student with dignity and respect, without discrimination of any kind. The teacher shall respect the student’s right to obtain instruction from the teacher of his/her choice."

Obviously, this comp comp does not "encourage, guide and develop the musical potential of each student" because this oppressive fee does not encourage children of poor families from applying. I could go further and state that this burdensome fee prevents minorities from applying (since minorities tend to be poorer), so therefore, this competition is discriminatory. How's that for treating each student with dignity and respect?


So…my comment section is open. In the meantime, I am boycotting this competition. (The entire state of Ohio must have boycotted it last year since they had no applicants. You'd think they'd get a clue.)

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