Con reject. That is the last thing I wanted to be able to label myself as. However, though the road to accepting the title has been difficult, being a music conservatory reject has made me into who I am today.
If you’re reading this post, you’re most likely a Con Reject™ as well. Not much that anyone can say or do will make you feel better, especially if you were (like in my case) rejected by the only program you auditioned for. However, with time, you will learn to grow as a musician and person from this experience. So, welcome, fellow Conservatory Reject™. Here is my advice for you.
Stop waiting for someone to validate your talents.
If you auditioned for college/conservatory, you have likely auditioned for other ensembles and productions in the past. Therefore, it likely was not your only rejection that you experienced. However, it was probably the most painful one. And if you’re anything like me, you not only saw the audition as admission into your dream major, but also as validation of your abilities. “If I can get in,” I told myself prior to auditioning, “then I’ll know I’m not crazy. I’ll know that I can actually sing.” But you know what’s crazy?
I can sing. I was cast in Les Miserables with my community theater. I performed with the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra during their closing concert of the 2014/15 season. I was one of the top five junior female vocalists in Ohio at the 2012 Fine Arts Festival. I was offered lessons in one of the Wittenberg University professors’ vocal studios. I received a Superior rating at the 2015 National Fine Arts Festival for a trio I sang Alto in. I am in a collegiate choral ensemble.
So why did I need evidence that I was actually good? I kept thinking of my achievements as little.
I’m not tone deaf. I was only an ensemble member. Anyone could have done that MVSO concert. Maybe the competition I was against wasn’t that steep. Maybe the professor offered me lessons out of pity. I was only one member of the group. Maybe everyone who auditioned for choir got in.
But, here’s the thing: even if I had gotten in, that achievement would have been added to my list of pride turned into doubt. I would have said that I got in because I wasn’t a performance major, because of my essay, because of my GPA, because of my already being a BW student, because of my interview. Eventually, I would have begun looking for something else to fill that void where my confidence should be.
If I get an A in this jury, then I’ll know I’m good.
If I get a solo at the choral concert, then I’ll know I’m good.
If I get this internship, then I’ll know I’m good.
I know I’m good because I’m better than I was yesterday.
Stop comparing yourself to your peers.
My roommate during orientation overnight the summer before freshman year can hit a high C like it’s a middle C. My roommate during the actual school year was a choralier at her high school. My friend in my night class was in Motet Choir this year (basically the best choir at BW). My classmates in my FYE were in the highest two sections of Theory. Me?
I have taken exactly one piano lesson in my life. I have been singing since I was ten, but I didn’t begin training in opera and art songs until I was preparing for my college audition. I tried studying Theory the summer after my junior year of high school but I didn’t actually retain anything. And I could not for the life of me read the bass clef.
So, how did I handle this?
I could mope about wishing my parents had sent me to an arts school or even just my district high school
instead of one without a freaking music program and I’m still a little bitter about that because I probably would have gotten in if I weren’t a voice primary or if I had more classical training but that’s not the point. I could complain that I “just don’t have an opera voice,” and that it’s unfair that you must have a classical voice to get into most Vocal Performance and other music majors (which, I mean, although I have developed a classical voice, I still hold onto the opinion that it is not the only genre that should be accepted; holding European classical music as the standard sets the belief that music of other cultures is less challenging or less important, which is not true, but that is a different post for a different time). I could give up because I will never sound like them.
But I did the opposite. My Twitter background is the bass staff. I bought Music Theory for Dummies and studied it like it was biblical text. I improved my sight singing. I made a point to warm up on my own before choir and then sing some of my own repertoire after choir. I started learning how to play piano (I am working on “Engagement Party” from La La Land currently). I worked on expanding my range (I have improved my upper range by two whole steps). I learned how to transpose. I did other things that I don’t remember.
And you know what happened? I improved. I stopped comparing myself to people who had more opportunities growing up than I had. Obviously, Suzie whose parents enrolled her in cello lessons at the age of six will know more (and have better technique) than a girl who taught herself everything. But hey, I taught myself everything I know– that’s an achievement in itself. And for someone who started with a great disadvantage, I have begun to close the gap. I am better than I was yesterday, and someday, I will be at Suzie’s level. That day just is not today.
Lastly, learn how to take a compliment.
Every musician I know (myself included) is guilty of this one. Someone tells them they did a good job after a concert or recital, and then here it comes:
“I made so many mistakes!”
“My voice cracked like, three times.”
“My bow needed more rosin.”
“My guitar was out of tune.”
“I shouldn’t have pressed the sustain pedal as often as I did.”
With all due respect, learn to shut up.
Maybe you did make a lot of mistakes. Maybe they noticed, and maybe they didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that they most likely meant what they said. Despite any flukes, they think that your overall performance was strong enough that they either didn’t notice them, or felt the performance wasn’t hindered. So, own it. Just say “thank you.”
As musicians, too often we focus on our failures. And as Con Rejects™, we do so tenfold. But we must remember our strengths as well, and use them as encouragement to move forward. Every day is a new day, and a new day is a new opportunity to grow. Take that opportunity, and try again.