Failure and Integrity
Recently, I was discussing some college beginning-of-semester auditions with a university professor.... Apparently some students found out what the sight reading on their placement audition was beforehand, and they had a chance to prepare the music before their turn to play came... I have to say I had mixed feelings about this. Part of me feels like, in an audition, I'm going to do anything I can to get an advantage, especially if a great job or career enhancing position are at stake... However, in a school setting, where we are there to learn, I was somewhat appalled at this type of behavior...and, these students passed up one of the greatest gifts of making music in an educational setting - permission to FAIL!
Failure is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves in our musical lives. I don't mean not showing up for work and getting fired from your job... I mean taking a chance, giving your best effort, and falling short. And then, LEARNING SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF.
I feel that most people have forgotten what a great tool failure can be. As John Kitzman once said to me in a lesson, "If you sound good, you're just entertaining yourself!" That statement couldn't be more true! What John was getting at on many levels was that we all tend to do those things that are safe. We play the solo we sound good on, we practice the things we already can play well, we take the piece to our lesson that we play well so as not to endure the embarrassment of not sounding our best in front of our teacher... In short, we shy away from failure.
Look, no one likes to fail. I mean, if someone tells you they enjoy failure and having their weaknesses exposed for all to see, they're crazy. BUT... and it's a big one... I will say that none of us learn anything without failure.
There is a big qualifier to that statement. Failure in itself doesn't do anything for us. Only failure where we STUDY WHY WE FAILED has any value.
Say I take an audition and don't advance past the prelims... What did I learn? Did I take my recorder in to the audition and record my performance? Was my time poor? Did I achieve the musical goal I had for each excerpt? What happened? Did I just spend $1000 in travel expenses to take an audition from which I literally learned nothing?!
Take a lesson from our military. In the military, most units have what they call a post operation analysis or debrief. Every aspect of the operation is reviewed and all mistakes are called out and discussed. No one gets the feel good treatment and a pat on the back if their part of the mission wasn't performed well. People's lives are at stake! Do you do any post analysis of your own performances? What went wrong? What should you have done differently? Do you have a recording to review? How could you have prepared more thoroughly?
Back to the students who cheated on their sight reading... What is the real issue here? Well, the biggest thing is integrity. I don't want to hire someone who has a problem with being honest or with fulfilling their commitments with a clear conscience. Second, these players missed a golden opportunity to see where they really stand with their sight reading ability. You can train sight reading! (Future blog post...) Finally, those young players have planted the seed of doubt in the minds of people who matter in their educational and musical careers. And as we all know, first impressions are hard to overcome!
In summary, prepare to succeed but don't pass up the chance to learn something about yourself when you fail. Lead your life with integrity, work hard towards your goals, and when you fall short, use that experience to make yourself better. Keep moving forward!
The Virtual Trombonist