The Conservatory Rejection Letters: The Initial Shock

Being rejected by your dream college or conservatory will obviously lead to some unpleasant emotions. Now, my situation is likely not very similar to most others, as I already had a pretty good idea that I wasn’t getting in after… like, two measures into my piece. As soon as I walked out of the audition room, I literally went into the second floor bathroom to cry. Like, ugly crying. Like, before my audition date, I can honestly say that only about five or six people had ever seen me cry; now, that number is probably closer to thirty if we’re being honest. And then after crying in there, I went down to the student lounge in the basement (which only current BW students really know about, so none of the other auditioning students were in the room, and I was by myself for awhile) to silently cry. I got to pet a dog, so I ended up semi-okay after awhile, but things were rough.

I got most of the crying out of the way on that day. When I actually got my admission decision, I was on Spring Break (as you might imagine, my break was kinda ruined) and I was about to take a break at work. I shouldn’t have even been on my phone at the time, but when I saw an e-mail with the subject “Your BW Conservatory Admission Decision” with the first line being “Dear Hope, thank you…” I already knew what it was about to say. I ended up reading the rest of the e-mail in the employee bathroom.

Oh.

That’s what I remember thinking after I finished reading. That familiar sinking feeling in the chest and watering of the eyes hit me like a freight train.

Now, I wasn’t actually supposed to be on break anymore (yes, I went over the fifteen-minute time limit… I was grieving, okay?), so I told myself I could cry about it later, but for now I had some books to shelve. Even worse? Well, not much worse, and actually not worse at all, but still pretty bad? I made plans for later. So, not only could I not cry at work, but I had to go meet up with three of my friends and pretend I was okay.

I ended up not pretending I was okay. I texted one of them beforehand, straight up saying, “I just got the official rejection letter, so if I seem off today, that’s gonna be why.” Also, while I was there (trying to have a good time and make fun of STEM majors), one of the friends asked me about it. I tried to not talk about music at all, but I think I might have slipped up and made a self-deprecating joke about my abilities. This friend goes to BW as a National Security major, and had tried to convince me that I didn’t do as bad as I thought I did, and probably got in (little did she know that I was being realistic– I knew) until I said, “No, like I actually got the e-mail today. It’s official.”

I could tell everyone in the room felt a little awkward about the situation (I mean, what do you say? “That’s rough, buddy”?), but I think the subject got changed somehow.

Long story short, I never actually had the time to cry about it. But I’m glad I didn’t cancel my plans (even though I really, really wanted to). Sometimes, the best way to deal with bad news is to surround yourself with friends who take your mind off of it. However, it is important to note: the way you deal with the initial shock sets the tone for your recovery.

It took me two months to “get over it.” And by getting over it, I mean not thinking about it every second of the day. I still think about it at least once or twice every day, even though I’m in at Cleveland State. If I had simply allowed myself to be sad for awhile, the healing process might have accelerated. Yeah, the facade I tried to put up didn’t fool my friends at all, but I still feel like I put a cap on my emotions. As a result, the admission decision kept nagging at me for weeks until I was nearly driven to insanity.

By the time April arrived, I was expected to be over it, or at least that was what I expected of myself. I felt like a nuisance by talking about it with others, especially when talking to non-musicians (which, only one or two of my close friends are musicians; only one is actually working towards a B.M./B.M.E.). I even considered talking to a therapist at one point, but that ended up not happening for some stupid reason (I may not be a talented musician, but I am talented at avoiding conversations and society in general). I just felt like I was stuck in some never-ending cycle of emotions, and I never fully dealt with any of them. I even began to have these weird things during choir when I couldn’t sing– I was always slightly hyperventilating and on the verge of fainting, my singing being like, “Si…cu-u-t ce-e-rvu-u-s de-e-si de-erat ad fo-o-o-o-ntes.” And all of this, I believe, was caused by hiding from my emotions.

I tried to power through it, acting like I wasn’t hurt at all. In reality, I went through one of the most devastating things in my life. I mean, I have been to a few funerals for loved ones. So that was worse. But this? My entire existence revolved around the arts. Musical theatre, creative writing, guitar, singing, culinary art, voiceover– it was my passion. Being told that I actually sucked hurt, even if I knew it wasn’t my best performance. Shockingly, self-deprecating jokes didn’t make me feel any better, either.

So, what is the best way to deal with the initial shock?

The best way to deal with it is to acknowledge what happened, and understand that your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid. The main thing that held me back was the feeling that I shouldn’t be hurt. That what happened was minor, so why was I so upset about it? There are people who are victimized by crime, who have faced failed relationships and marriages, who have failed out of college, and I was sad about this?

Yes, there are other issues in the world. But yours matters, too. Give yourself some time to be upset, and when you’re ready, get back out there.

The Conservatory Rejection Letters: Confidence

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.

The Conservatory rejection letters

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.

STOP.

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.