James Nelson Not a lot of people know this, but I am a past-winner of the ‘Tiny Tots Trophy’ for piano solo at Sligo Feis. A couple of years later, my flawless performance of “The Minstrel Boy”, at Sligo Town Hall,scooped me another 1st Prize. As a young pianist, I was often highly placed.
I want to publicly acknowledge the huge musical influence of the late, inspirational, Ger Cole. I hope Mrs. Cole fully realised how much I appreciate her early guidance and I hope she was proud of the direction my life was to take, as much of it is thanks to her. She remains my biggest single musical influence. As a singer in the Sligo Feiseanna in the late 1980s, I fared less well.In Dublin Feis Ceoil, I had been awarded First Prize in the “Lieder Bowl” (for German song) and the “Plunkett Greene Trophy for Interpretation” . On the day, I was ‘the sound’ that that adjudicator was searching for. An adjudicator often has a particular vocal quality that he/she thinks is suitable to a particular genre, and then, that’s that really. I have witnessed a singer on occasions winning 5 or 6
First prizes in a Feis, and the overall award, purely because the adjudicator liked that particular vocal quality.Like an examiner, an adjudicator can have a ‘preferred sound or style’ on the day. “I am going to award you 2nd prize Mr. Nelson, as I feel you are actually a baritone!” This was said to me in the late 1980s at the Hawks’ Well Theatre in Sligo a Feis adjudicator. What the adjudicator failed to recognise was that, as a young insecure singer, my top was still work-in-progress and lacking in confidence, and that I had a strong natural lower register. Many tenors have a baritonal lower register, Domingo and Björling for example. Basically, I was, and remain, ‘a tenor with a good bottom’! (pun intended).
As a young singer starting out on the lowest rung of a musical ladder one puts one’s life, and larynx, into the hands of singing teachers, but also into the hands of competition adjudicators. This led me to have mixed feelings about the merits of competition . In hindsight, I think that if you go in with the right attitude and see it as a means of gaining vital performing experience, then I think competitions can be a positive and character-building exercise.
Some singers suit competitions, but it by no means follows that if you win lots of competitions you will have a world-class career. Good competitors don’t always make good performers later on.Aside from all of the above, many other things can influence a competition performance such as nerves, your accompanist, vocal and musical preparation, health, and simply one’s general demeanour on the day.
As long as you have prepared well and you view competitions as a means of bettering your performance, then competitions can be a positive exercise.Don’t be over-competitive. Enjoy competitions.In the last couple of years, as I watched my niece Claire and nephew Andrew pick up Gold medals for recitation in Sligo, I have seen what a positive and character-building experience Feis performing can be. If you are prepared and use competition as a way of getting out there and performing in public – go for it! If you lose – what the hell! Just enjoy it.