I used to get really annoyed when people would talk about auditions I didn’t advance in or competitions I didn’t win as a “learning experience.”
We all seem to be result oriented. Or result-entitled maybe. We expect that at some point it is going to pay off. All that hard work.
I think this year all of us musicians have had a thought or two about what we do and why. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Do people even want it? Do I even want to do it?
I’ve taken the past year off of taking orchestral auditions. I recently tallied up all of the things I have auditioned for: competitions, festivals, jobs, orchestral auditions, schools, all of it. The numbers were pretty crazy. I wanted to get an idea of what the “success to failure” ratio was.
I didn’t do this to make myself feel bad, just to be clear. I did this just to look at the data.
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself in retrospect:
I’ve applied for 5 professor jobs, taken 20 festival auditions, 19 orchestral auditions, done 15 competitions, and taken 16 college auditions. That’s a grand total of 75. I was “successful” meaning I either got into things, won the competition, or got the job 18 times.
I’m sitting here today writing materials for Flute Boot Camp excerpt edition, and I have SO much I want to write about. There is so much to talk about when it comes to the process of preparing for one of these moments. An audition, a competition, an opportunity.
I miss these moments, having not had one for a while. These opportunities. My former teacher Jeanne Baxtresser writes about these at the beginning of her newest excerpt book. She describes it so clearly, that feeling when we get to pursue a new opportunity. She quotes a short story called Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).
“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best.”
I think about the drive and ambition I've had for the past ten years. What could have compelled me to apply for 75 things (does my head spin at the application fees? yes…). But it is just this, the opportunity to do my best, to be the best at something.
I miss these moments. I get them occasionally when I’m playing for a student over zoom. I just want to keep playing for them. I miss performing for people. Sometimes I think people don’t truly know me until they’ve heard me play the flute because so much of my time and self is in my sound. In my master’s the sound of my flute became more familiar to me than the sound of my voice at times.
I shared in a youtube video that flute has always been there for me when words have failed. I could demonstrate my best. I know there will be other opportunities once we are out of this pandemic. I know that it will be a slow road to normalcy for all of us, but I think part of the struggle for many musicians has been that these chances to show our best selves aren’t happening in the way we expected they would.
This was going to be a blog post about how to handle failures, but it just didn’t go that way. I suppose this is a love letter to that feeling when you get a chance to do your best. That’s a hard thing to describe. This is a weirdly somber post, but cathartic for me. So if you’re still reading and you miss that feeling too, the performing feeling, the opportunity to do your best feeling that drives you, know you’re not alone.
All my best,