In addition to sports, I also enjoy watching cooking shows. This one I can’t justify with any kind of artistic motivation…I like to eat, and watching people make food is funny most of the time!
That said, I have noticed one interesting trend that applies to pretty much any competition situation: the simple dishes like fruit salad either make or break the chef. If the preparation isn’t exactly right, the chef gets sent home. If it’s perfect, they’re praised for their mastery while everyone else fights over the complicated stuff.
As I select recordings to send into graduate schools, I’m left facing a similar dilemma to the chefs on TV. Do I want to submit something that’s simple and profound? Or would it be safer to submit something more intricate where there’s more room for error? Ironically, picking the simpler thing is a gutsy move. There is less room to be “almost great” with simple tasks. If you mess up the grapes in a fruit salad, that’s a fourth of your dish. Even though you might be a great chef with lots of technique, a simple error might cost you. So, most of the younger contestants try to put a lot of stuff on a plate. If one spice doesn’t work, they still have several others to fall back on.
Ultimately, the choice of what to make and how complicated you want it to be depends on personality and circumstance. There’s no way to compare John Coltrane to Miles Davis because they’re both great artists in totally different ways! What is clear however, is that simple can be dangerous when used for competitions. As an artist, you hope that even the simplest things you play demonstrate maturity and experience. But if you don’t for whatever reason, or others aren’t listening for the intricacies you’re trying to imply in the space between the notes, those simple pieces fall flat. I’ve become convinced that it takes a lot of experience and maturity to figure out how to sell something really simple. Young people have the hardest time with it, since everything is still fresh and exciting. It takes years of playing everything before you can learn how to play less.