This is it—the day they’ve been dreaming about for years. The competitors have trained for hours a day for months and even years on end. They’ve sweated; they’ve cried; they’ve trained their bodies and their minds. They arrive at the venue; their family and friends are there, waiting anxiously with cameras in hand. The first competitor is announced. He takes his place at the…piano?

Yes—the piano!


As many of you know, musical competitions require the same level of drive, focus, and training as premier athletic competitions such as the summer Olympics (although a different kind, of course). Moreover, there are quite a few similarities between the competitions themselves.


The following are just three of the things musical competitions and the Olympics have in common.


International flavor


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The Olympics are, of course, a competition between athletes from countries all over the world. In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, athletes from a whopping 207 National Olympic Committees are participating, including first-timers Kosovo, South Sudan, and the Refugee Olympic Team.


Some of the most important classical musical competitions also attract participants from a number of countries. The 2016 Fischoff Competition featured competitors born in 19 different countries; the Queen Elisabeth Competition is open to classically trained pianists from all nationalities, and in 2016 participants hailed from 23 different countries.


These are impressive numbers, but they’re not surprising; as you know, music transcends language and borders!


Challenging events


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In the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, there are 28 Olympic sports, 41 disciplines, and 306 events. It goes without saying that the events are incredibly challenging and only a very select number of athletes in the world can compete in events at this level.


Music competitions often have multiple categories and are extremely difficult, as well. The Fischoff Competition, the largest chamber music competition in the nation and the world, has both wind and string categories, as well as a junior division. The Queen Elisabeth Competition offers prizes in piano, cello, voice, and violin. And the Sphynx Competition, which is open to junior high, high school, and college-age black and Latino string players living in the U.S., has competitions in violin, viola, cello, and double bass.


In both the Olympics and these top classical musical competitions, participants are competing against the best of the best in some very difficult events.


High stakes


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For winners of the Olympics and prestigious international musical competitions, there are fantastic—if not life-changing—consequences.


U.S. Olympic athletes who win a gold, silver, or bronze medal receive a cash prize from the U.S. Olympic Committee: gold-medalists receive $25,000; silver medalists get $15,000; and bronze earns you $10,000. And U.S. athletes often need all the financial help they can get: unlike top athletes in other countries, U.S. athletes receive no financial support from the government. An Olympic medal can also earn athletes a coveted sponsorship; these are sometimes worth millions of dollars.


Winners of musical competitions also receive cash prizes as well as a fantastic addition to their resumé, scholarships, and even the chance to launch a solo career.


The Sphynx Competition hands out over $100,000 worth of cash prizes and scholarships, as well as solo performances with major orchestras around the U.S. Many of the competition’s past winners have gone on to study at prestigious schools or began careers playing solo or with orchestras. Similarly, many of the winners of the Fischoff competition have also gone on to build distinguished careers in both performance and education.


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While starkly different in several obvious ways, prestigious music competitions actually have a lot in common with the Olympics. So, for those young musicians who have always longed for athletic prowess, fear not; the glory (and the financial payoff) from winning a top music competition is just as great!


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