Monday, October 12, 2015

Master's Monday: What Auditions Have Taught Me about Life

This Monday, I have auditions on the mind. For some inexplicable reason, I voluntarily signed myself up for one this past weekend, and I know several of the kids from back home are going through them today as well.

Why do we musicians put ourselves through this process? Sometimes, I’m not sure. But then again, I’ve been thinking lately about just how many life lessons I have learned from my audition experiences. It’s actually quite a long list. For today, here are a few that I thought might be worth sharing.

1. Hard work ALWAYS pays off. This may sound like a no-brainer, but hear me out. On the one hand, it is true that I generally placed better in auditions when I put in more work during preparation time. And similarly, whenever my practicing slacked off a bit, so did my seating placement. One of the most discouraging situations, however, comes when you have worked hard, and you know that you “gave it your best shot,” but the results were not what you had hoped for. This is when I think it’s especially important to remember the principle stated above. There are many different kinds of rewards for hard work. Placing well in an audition is only one of them. Perhaps you’ll find that the music you expected to be especially challenging is not so difficult anymore. Perhaps the results will show up much later down the road, even in a future audition. Or perhaps you’ll find, as I have, that the discipline developed through conscientious, consistent practice makes other forms of endurance—like sitting at a desk for eight hours a day or preparing for an oral presentation at school—seem easy by comparison. Either way, as Christians we have confidence that our Heavenly Father is pleased by the discipline of his children. And if His smile is not worth working for, what is?

2. Privilege ALWAYS comes with responsibility. So you have a successful audition, you even get placed in a position of leadership. What next? Well from a violinist’s perspective, you then have to remember when to stand, when to sit, when to tune, who to tune, how many times to tune, when to start, when to stop, when to breathe, where to look—the list goes on and on. Not to mention you usually have to answer lots of questions, most of which do not have obvious answers. You also have to make sure you are perfectly in line with the conductor at all times, and you have to deal with many different people giving you many different kinds of treatment. Some will be jealous, some will be angry, some will expect you to be perfect in every way, and will be either disappointed or elated when you inevitably mess up. A position of privilege is often not all it’s cracked up to be, folks. Which is partly because…

3. “Leadership” generally means subordination. This was something that I did not realize until a few years ago. But if you think about it, it makes sense. When someone has been placed in a position of leadership, he is by necessity subordinate to, or under the authority of, those responsible for putting him in that position in the first place. When the process for selecting “leaders” comes in the form of an audition, this is especially clear. For leadership roles, judges select players whom they believe will uphold their standards of professionalism and musicianship. It can be flattering to be selected for such a position, but flattery generally comes with expectations for a response. Those who put you in leadership can just as easily remove you if you fail to meet the expectations they have placed upon you.

4. Now that I’ve made pretty much every alternative sound equally unappealing, let’s balance this out with the reminder that no single event or activity in which you participate has to define your life and your relationships with other people. In fact, unless you label your relationship with Christ an “activity”—in which case, of course, this would ideally become THE defining activity of your life—I would say no single event or activity should define your life and your relationships. We all wear many different hats at different times in our lives, often attempting to balance two or three at a time. Again, except for our relationship with Christ, which I would hope permeates and transforms every other activity in life, we really have to fight every single day to prevent any single “hat” from becoming permanently attached and appearing as if it were an integral part of who we are. Waiting for the results of an audition, I have often gotten sucked into the feeling that all the rest of my future will be fundamentally altered by this one decision, that my friends will never look at me the same way again if I don’t at least move up a stand, that even my parents might be a little disappointed, no matter how hard they try to deny it. This, of course, is all nonsense. But how easily we humans fall into nonsense, when “the nerves” are upon us and we forget to look up at the big world around us—the world that our Heavenly Father created and still today holds in the palm of His Hand. Which brings me to my final point…

5. In any interaction with other human beings (and remember, that’s all an audition is, really, just a particular kind of interaction between different human beings), there are always a million little variables at play over which I have no control. Only God knows whether my violin will react to the temperature of the audition room and leap wildly out of tune the moment I start to play. Only God knows whether the judge’s fight with his wife this morning is affecting his ability to focus on what I am playing at the moment. Only God knows whether the player before me had the advantage of a “sneak peek” at the sight-reading material beforehand. But the key here is that in each of these scenarios, God knows. I don’t. And while I try to control as many of the variables as possible by eating right and sleeping well to make sure I’m healthy and practicing diligently to make sure I’m prepared, there will always remain factors in this situation of which only God is aware. But what a comfort that is, after all. No matter what else happens, we all remain in the palm of His hand, at all times. With that knowledge, I can truly say (words I never thought would come from this keyboard), “Thank God for Mondays—even when they bring auditions.”