A Digital Competition for a Digital Age

The Music Academy of the West’s annual Summer School and Festival normally includes a few opportunities for artistic competition. The Solo Piano Competition and ever popular Marilyn Horne Song Competition are, of course, well known to our audience. And there’s also the Duo Competition, a new addition as of last summer. As the Music Academy Remote Learning Institute (MARLI) began to take shape during the planning phases, there was some discussion of proceeding with these competitions in a digital format. But in the end it became obvious that a virtual version of these events would be shadows of the real thing. What was needed was a new competition fit especially for these extraordinary times, one that would ask the question, “How can fellows shape and change their approach to performance in a new medium.” A digital competition for a digital age.

The MARLI Digital Challenge is new competition open to any fellow participating in the Creative Extension. The rules were straightforward: create a three- to seven-minute video that showcases some aspect of performance ability, although the performance need not necessarily be seen. That’s it. The simplicity of these guidelines was meant to leave lots of room for the fellows’ creativity, to encourage them to push themselves outside of their comfort zones. In fact, the MARLI Fellows’ Atlas, a digital guidebook provided to all fellows, implored them to do just that, to “Take Risks!”

In this competition the fellows had to be more than performers. They had to become sound engineers, directors, videographers, writers…the list goes on. There were 19 very strong submissions for the Digital Competition. A panel from 21C Media was given the unenviable task of narrowing this pool down to a short list of finalists. Three winners and one honorable mention were then selected by an esteemed panel of judges: violinist Jennifer Koh; MARLI Keynote speaker and founder of Beth Morrison Projects, Beth Morrison; Music Academy Board member Pamela Strobel; and pianist and composer Conrad Tao. The judging criteria for both rounds reads like a distillation of all the aspects of the MARLI experience: musical and artistic excellence, cornerstones of the Music Academy mission; technical proficiency, the ability to produce professional content within new digital media; and creativity and innovation, both crucial pillars of the MARLI curriculum.

The Digital Challenge is no simple effort to avoid cancelling competitions, to do something. Like MARLI, it moves the Academy’s mission forward during an unprecedented time. This new competition neatly sums up what this summer “at” the Music Academy has been all about: advancing the development of the next generation of classically trained musicians, learning and refining new technological skills, and looking to the future with a spirit of creativity and innovation.

Tune into the Concert Hall Online today at 5pm or later to view the three winners and one honorable mention of the inaugural Digital Challenge.

– Henry Michaels
Resonance editor, Audience Services and Community Access Manager, Music Academy of the West