Buckle up, this is a rough one.
This is the first time since I had my kids that I've thrown myself back into the orchestral audition scene. I’ve been practicing pretty intensely since November and, while I had some great performances, I also had some terrible losses. This past month was full of many missed opportunities and many incredible disappointments. Some say that the orchestral dream is dead, but on my end, it's just as alive as it's ever been...but should it be?
Auditions are the thorn in my side. They’re my biggest failure to date, and the main obstacle that stand in the way of what I really want. Every person that I talked to or played for in preparing for these auditions went into February as audition winners and are enjoying their new offices as professional musicians. In fact, I can't think of a musician who has listened to one of my mock auditions that hasn't won a job at some point. After watching my colleagues parade into success over the years, and having nothing to show for these years myself, when is it time to give up on my dream of joining the roster of an orchestra?
It’s a tall order to maintain a freelancing schedule and to put in the practice hours it takes to stay in audition shape. Mock auditions and studying aside, an added insult to injury is that I chose to invest in audition coachings this time around, thinking that my issues were primarily mental. I'm continually stuck in this internal debate: how is it that, in almost 20 years of playing professionally, I’m still without a job or any real success in auditions, despite the level that I am capable of in performance? What am I missing that is keeping me from making a job stick? Is it a slim margin of mental preparation, am I missing the talent or - at the very worst - is this all a tangent based on my pride that was never meant to work out in the first place?
I had a day in January where I felt great in my warm-up sessions, I played the worst audition of my life, and I had a great performance that same night performing the job that I couldn’t get out of the first round for. Perhaps the saddest part of that situation is that I've found myself before in that position of working with wonderful people and feeling that I've let them down by failing to come out a winner. After developing that musical camaraderie and being told “we want you to win”, I've had to face my colleagues shortly after while remaining positive and professional. I’ve not always been successful at this. The hardest part of that song and dance is knowing that these musicians won't remember me in a year's time: they'll have moved on with the winner they chose (as well they should), and my musical life will still be in purgatory.
Last week, I forced myself to wake up early and attend the Ash Wednesday service at the lovely Episcopal Church I call my home. For those of us that see charcoal crosses on foreheads and chuckle nervously, the message is this: we come from dust and to dust we shall return, so stay humble and behave. In being so hard on myself and wallowing in my less than favorable audition results, I am living a form of pride because I’m expecting that I should be somewhere better than I am. The truth is, I have lost over 50 auditions. I’ve taken dates at last-minute knowing that someone else is getting the opportunity of a lifetime with a great orchestra while the most I can hope for is being able to immunize my kids and supply them with fruit and shoes. Why am I still putting myself through this insanity for this specific goal?
I don’t have any signs that my process is improving, and I still have no idea what my next step will be. I have come to realize that my instrument is in severe disrepair, and I have replaced it with a used version of the one I currently own, but learning to play a new instrument is a task in an of itself that won't immediately yield the results I want. And still, after this very long and difficult path, nothing excites me more than hearing anything Richard Strauss wrote and hoping I get to play it before I die. Nothing picks me up quite as much as seeing an excerpt of a piece that I haven’t played before. When it feels like the end is upon me, I realize that there’s still so much I haven’t done in an orchestra, and I hope I get to do it while there’s still some of me left. Excuse me, I have to learn this horn so I can be ready for the next audition.
If any of you are reading this, a special congratulations to my wonderful colleagues that have won those jobs that they set out to win! You have figured out a puzzle that I have failed at fifty times over. It's hard for me to be happy for others that have what I want, but it's inspiring and daunting at the same time to watch others get it done. I hope one day I can get rid of the envy, but I love you all and look forward to hearing about your new adventures...I just need a little time.