Sunday, May 02, 2010

Guitar Competitions 1: To Compete or Not to Compete?

That is the question.

While it is possible to answer that question in the negative from a purely philosophical position, it is not possible to respond positively to it in that way. IOW, if you have philosophical objections to competing, it is a simple matter to say, "I choose not to participate," but is is not possible to say, "I chose to participate" without measuring up to some very particular physical criteria that are out of your control, because they are genetically defined.

To begin with the obvious and overwhelming anecdotal evidence, who are the men you think of when you hear the word "virtuoso," especially when you filter that question through the prism of velocity? Niccolo Paganini, Franz Liszt, Pepe Romero, Kazuhito Yamashita, Andre Watts and Paco DeLucia spring immediately to my mind in the classical-related genera. Then, Al DiMeola, and Steve Vai are the first two names when I think of for contemporary steel string guys. Who is the only female to measure up to that level? Galina Vale.

What do they have in common? South European or Eastern European ancestry in most cases, and Asian and African ancestry in the cases of Yamashita and Watts. Galina Vale is Eastern European and is physically larger and stronger than most male classical guitarists (I love her!).

To put a point on it, who do you think of when you think of great players who don't quite measure up in the velocity department? John Williams, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, John McLaughlin... I could go on.

What do they have in common? Ancestry from the British Isles.

My last name is Pepper, which is about as British as you can get (Ever wonder where the idea for, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came from?).

So, here's the deal: If your ancestry is anything other than British/Scots-Irish, then there is a chance that you have the proper genes to be effective in guitar competitions. Northern Europe/Scandinavia is nearly as, "bad," but if you are from the British Isles, you can pretty much forget it. France is kind of an iffy proposition, but the Eastern Europeans, Italians, and Spaniards have it made.

Why is this? Well, the same genetics that make it possible to do things like i/m alternation very fast also give you a faster basal metabolism, and that faster basal metabolism was a hindrance to survival in the harsh climate of the ancient British Isles, so those genes disappeared from those populations.

Being a natural philosopher versus an academic exempts me from having to link to all of the studies I've read on this subject, but if you do some Google searches, you'll discover what I have: As you get closer to the equator, genetic diversity in human populations increases. Northern human populations faced so many environmental challenges, that, well, only the fittest survived, and those who were fit had low basal metabolisms, and relatively lower upper body strength.

Here's another way to look at it. When was the last time a British Islander held the world record for the 100 meter dash? It was before the modern age of integration in athletics: As soon as Africans were allowed to compete, it was all over; African human populations have the highest levels of genetic diversity on the planet. That's just the way that it is.

Now, there are some British-ancestry guys doing well in competitions, but I've heard them, and they absolutely do not have the capacity for strong bravura playing that, say, the dudes from Central America do. The fact that there are a few is simply because there are so many attracted to the pursuit (And who are in an economic position to be afforded the luxury).

Next post we'll look at whether people who don't compete - or can't effectively - should bother practicing like competitors do (Short answer is no).


I've been thinking about this because the GFA is just up the road in Austin this year, and I had been planning to go. Then I looked at the concert schedule.

After thinking about it for, oh, about a nanosecond, I thought, "I don't want to drive 140 miles round trip every day to see that crap."... and I'm a guitarist. The classical guitar world has a huge problem. They can't generate any enthusiasm for their concerts, because it's the same old boring performers playing the same old boring music on the same old boring acoustic guitars. There is nothing on that concert list that excites me in the least. I believe the whole competition mentality is largely to blame: You end up with cookie cutter performers who all sound the same. No diversity whatsoever from my perspective.

That's it! I should find a nice Asian girl!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow man, interesting post

7:38 PM  
Blogger Minicapt said...

Go grand:


3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not cute at all. You should come here to Japan. Just site down at any good cafe and enjoy all the beauty around you. Even your 'girl next door' here is far more attractive.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Anonymous, I lived in Japan, so I need no pointers in Asian feminine beauty. I was a teenager then, so all of my early girlfriends were Japanese-American girls (My dad was a USAF pilot and we were stationed at Yakota AFB).

10:56 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Hit post too soon: I did notice that what Japanese men and Anglo men consider beautiful are often quite different. I happen to find the girl above extraordinarily beautiful.

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" cookie cutter performers who all sound the same. No diversity whatsoever..."

Way to go, Huc. Who wants to spend a week hearing sixteen identical renditions of the same Brouwer tune? On the other hand... I was much amused by your "stairway" which although equally overplayed at least continues to put money in the tip jar. Made any tips playing Brouwer lately? Ever even been asked for Brouwer? Can you imagine GFA with 16 versions of "Stairway"?! (what alternate universe would that be in...) No - there would be an iconic arrangement by Yamashita that they would all use as the basis of a competition. It would get the ratings up...
- jack - SMA

1:14 PM  

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