Why Do We Fall? Your Musical Failure Isn’t A Failure After All

X-factor judges at the auditions

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is one of the most difficult aspects of playing music.

“How did your audition go?” I had spent two weeks with my student, preparing an audition for a talent show at her school, and she had worked very hard, but looking at me sheepishly she said, “I didn’t make it.”

“That’s alright. I’m proud of you for trying out.”

Wait a minute, you might be thinking, isn’t the point of lessons to have the student improve so they do make the auditions at their school? And isn’t being proud of her for not making the audition ridiculous? Partially, yes. The point of lessons is to have the student improve. And my student did. She put a lot of effort into that song, and we made progress with reaching higher notes comfortably, shaping vowels and using consonants. There was one moment during those lessons that I wish I had a recording of her before and after. Just opening her mouth made such a difference. And more importantly, she retained some of what she learned and has incorporated it into her regular singing. So, yes, I am proud of her. I am proud of her because she approached singing with a willingness to try and learn; because she was brave enough to go up there and sing in front of teachers after just a few lessons. I am proud of her for doing the best that she can. This isn’t a ribbon for good effort, this is real world putting yourself out there for others to judge, and taking the hit, and getting back up again.

As musicians, rejection is part of what happens to us. We go up in front of people whose job it is to judge us, and we lay ourselves bare for them, we open ourselves up and give them everything we have, and more often than not, they look at it and go, “I’ve heard better. Next!” And that hurts. It hurts for a thirteen year old girl, and it hurts for a thirty year old woman. But that rejection is not tantamount to a failure.
Yes it is, you might be thinking. You failed the audition, that’s a failure!

Technically, yes, in a myopic sort of way. But what did we learn from that failure? First, if we did our job correctly, as my student did, we put time and work into preparing for that audition. We learned a new song, so our repertoire is expanded. There were difficult passages in that music that we needed to traverse, and we did—we conquered them, and now that experience is ours to reap later. Perhaps we conquered a difficult chromatic passage, or dug down deep inside of ourselves to pull out an emotional response we didn’t know we could feel. We were courageous enough to stand up in front of people staring at us with disinterested patronization, told them our names, and then gave them our souls, despite our nerves. And then, when they said we weren’t good enough, we were brave enough to pick ourselves back up and keep working.

Of course, I want every one of my students to succeed. However, I also want every one of my students to know that if they worked hard, if they learned something and made progress during those lessons where we worked on that audition material, if they were brave enough to try out, get rejected, and keep coming back to their lessons, then I am proud of them. Those experiences will help them grow as musicians and as people. Their failure is not a failure because they can take something away from it, learn from it, and have the courage to go at it again.

Music is hard, and putting yourself out there for others to judge you is even harder. She didn’t fail, she learned. And that is what being a student of music, or a student of anything, is all about.

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