As we’re on the cusp of a new year, it’s not only a chance for us to “reset” but also to reflect on the past. To that end, I’ve been thinking a lot about my musical failures - not in the guise of dwelling on something negative, but rather as opportunities for professional and personal growth.
As an undergraduate during the 2005-2006 academic year, I saw a flier for paid singers at a prominent church in Washington, D.C. Living in Baltimore, and already having a weekend church position in the city, I could only sing there as a substitute and after auditioning, got on the list to be called for events that did not conflict with my existing church schedule. I worked hard, prepared my music, and most of all (knowing this building and music program) was thrilled to be singing with this group in this massive space. Now I’ve always been ambitious, but in this instance, I learned quickly that I may have “bit off more than I could chew.”
One summer evening, I was called to sing as a member of a small vocal ensemble. It turned out I was the only one singing the bass part on several occasions, and I thought I was prepared for that experience. Yet when it came down to it, I couldn’t hold the part on my own which led to an uncomfortable situation and other shifting parts to help carry my part. It was an uncomfortable situation for all involved, I was incredibly embarrassed and down about it, and as one would probably expect, I was never hired back to sing at that church. Again, I THOUGHT I was prepared for the gig, but as it turns out maybe I just wasn’t ready.
When I started my undergraduate program, It seemed like I either came to music late, or didn’t get the same instruction as everyone else. I watched my colleagues pass out of introductory theory and aural skills classes, and I wanted to keep up – I wanted to be at the top of my field, but I wasn’t ready. Maybe I wanted the church job in DC because it was a status symbol, or a rite of passage for me; I needed to prove to myself and to my classmates (they probably weren’t judging me, but I thought they were) that I was capable. That experience in DC led to a type of complex with my professional choral singing experiences after that. I thought that, no matter how much I prepared, I wasn’t ready. I made stupid mistakes, and although I got through, I needed a change.
Even up until a few years ago, I was embarrassed to talk about that unfortunate event in DC. I realized that it was a long time ago, but as it was still eating at me, I started looking for something positive that I learned from going through that experience. Long story short (sort of), you can’t compare myself, my development, my station, or my career to others. Not only is it an unfair comparison, it’s selfish, and if we’re doing it right, we should be selfless with our music making; that point is for another post. This admission has also become empowering to share with others, and especially helpful in my teaching.
I know this seems self-evident, but for those who are experiencing something similar to what I’ve described here, own your situation, and your station. Be reflective, but be grateful; the only experiences that got you to where you are today are the ones you’ve gone through – all of them.