Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Improving musicianship is important in practicing and for performing music.  But, what about sportsmanship?

Webster’s Dictionary defines sportsmanship as “conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”

I especially like the part about “graciousness in winning or losing.”  That sounds like a good description of how musicians should act during and after their performances–with grace.

Recently I attended a recital of twenty or so students.  Most of the young performers did well.  However, one performer was so unhappy with his performance that he threw his music to the ground and stormed out of the room.  (Luckily, he held onto his violin!)

Another student quickly ran from the stage as soon as she played her final note.  No acknowledging the accompanist.  No bowing to the audience.  She just disappeared.

I know their teacher.  She taught them how to behave on stage and to always acknowledge their accompanist and audience.  Clearly, these students  felt uncomfortable and may have been overcome by feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment.

One of the intangible benefits of studying a musical instrument is learning to deal with less-than-perfect performances.  No matter what happens on stage, you have to hold your head high, smile, and bow to your audience.

A good model to look at is the sports world.  If those two young musicians had been athletes in little league baseball or soccer, they would have had to shake the hands of the members of the opposing team–in victory or in defeat.  It wouldn’t matter.

Baseball has errors.  Basketball has fouls.  Football has penalties.  Hockey even has a penalty box.  Built into the rules of these sports is an acknowledgment that athletes will make mistakes.

Shouldn’t we accept this fact for musicians also?  Sure, we’re striving for perfection.  But, we are human and we absolutely will make mistakes.  Musicians must be able to overcome their mistakes if they want to hold on to their sanity.  And, making an error during a performance shouldn’t change our behavior on stage.

Whether you’re performing yourself or teaching young musicians the etiquette of being on stage, I think we should put an emphasis on good sportsmanship.

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