The room was dim, with gray walls and a large whiteboard taking up most of one wall. Four adjudicators sat at a table -- three men, one woman. They smiled and greeted me, but they were in the shadowy half of this basement level room, so their faces weren’t clear. Only a few glints from glasses came through. I gave them my name, introduced my teacher who had agreed to accompany me that day, and announced my first piece: “I Got the Sun in the Morning” from Annie, Get Your Gun.
I was 17, and had less than a year of vocal training under my belt. I was a first year college student at a local community college taking more than the normal course load, and I had spent months drilling my pieces after getting home each night from a full day of school, plus a 50 minute commute each day.
I sang, and then was instructed to wait in the hall. My teacher reassured me that things had gone well and she felt hopeful. Her hopes and mine were both all but dashed a few minutes later.
One of the adjudicators, a stern-looking older man with glasses, came out and told me that I wasn’t good enough to be part of their program. He told me that he and the other adjudicators would let me in without scholarship on the grounds that I work hard and prove I was worth admitting to their fine, private institution. I thanked him and headed back up the long staircase toward the parking lot knowing full-well that without a scholarship my chances of ever setting foot back on this campus were almost zero.
That moment did two things for me. First, it made me feel absolutely worthless for a while. Second, it kinda pissed me off, and when I get pissed off, I get s**t done. Who was that old bald guy to tell me I wasn’t good enough? Even if he never knew what became of me, I was going to prove to myself that he was wrong.
I kept working. I kept studying. I spent my days at the community college, both studying and working a work-study job, and coming home to practice and teach myself music theory. As a kid from a low-income family, with no adults in my family who had gone to university, so we were all learning the process together. Because my family moved a lot as a kid, I missed out on band and choir programs until pretty late. Money, know-how, and connections? Didn’t have those. Sheer force of will? Now that, I had.
I auditioned for more programs the semester I completed my transfer degree at the community college, and this time, I felt ready. I passed my auditions, and one university in particular stood out to me as the right fit. It was one I hadn’t considered applying for until a friend recommended it. The application was free, and it was in-state so I’d get cheaper tuition. I met the teachers there, and one took some extra time to get to know me and my voice. She was bright, sunny, and had an over-the-top sense of humor. I imagined what it would be like to study with her, and accepted the school’s scholarship offer, hoping I’d get placed with her. I did and it was through her that I began to find my voice.
I failed that first audition, and honestly, I probably didn’t deserve to get in based on that performance. I didn’t stop, though. I kept going and working toward what I wanted. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be one of the first people in my family to graduate from a university (my sister was the other one). I wanted to study music and become a musician. Most of all, I wanted to find a way to make others’ lives better through music.
Today, as a teacher and performer, I have the opportunity to do that. I never discourage my students from going after what they want. When they have a bad day, an off performance, or have an audition that doesn’t go according to plan, you can bet I tell them about failing the audition I thought my whole future was riding on. I tell them about how it wasn’t the end of the world, and that I ended up in a place where I was truly cared for by my teachers. I learned that failure is not only an option, but it’s a necessary part of growing, refining, and becoming the person you hope to be. So, dear readers, don’t be afraid to get out there and bomb, get back up, and keep going toward what you want. Eat failure for breakfast and rejection for lunch, and by dinnertime you’ll be feasting on your wildest dreams.