In a really wonderful turn of events, I won a competition this past month! My very first one!
It was the 2015 Canadian Band Association Composition Competition (*whew!*) and my piece for concert band “The Meeting Place” took home the prize. I really like that tune, and so do a lot of my students – more than many of my other ones, actually.
The funny thing about that particular piece is that I’ve had a really hard time finding a publisher, which freed it up to compete, but it made me feel self-conscious about the work. Maybe it wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. Maybe the structure or the voicing needs more work. Maybe I need to rewrite some parts…
Then I thought back on it: I already rewrote the parts, actually. The commissioner’s (Alexis Silver’s) band had some pretty beefy instrumentation, so I standardized the score and parts after the premiere; like condensing the six percussion parts into three, for example. Then we recorded it and it works – it all works, so what was in the way?
If the piece is winning competitions, the reality is that nothing might be in the way. Maybe it just didn’t make the cut in that particular round of publishing submissions, but you’ve got to keep on keepin’ on. I needed to keep resubmitting it and, finally, it’s getting picked up by a new publishing house in the US (which I can’t say too too much about yet!), but it might still be sitting on my desk had I not kept on.
The same is true with the CBA Competition: This is the third time I’ve entered it. It would’ve been very easy to quit after the first try, but there are so many factors that go into getting work submitted and getting it accepted. The first time I entered was after I wrote Filum Vitae and I didn’t win, though I later learned that it was between Filum and the eventual winner, Christiaan Venter’s Rocky Mountain Lullaby. At the time, all I knew was that I didn’t win. Not the end of the world, but still not a great feeling.
The second time I entered was with Prairie Wedding and it got an honourable mention, which was a nice feeling, but it still didn’t win. That being said, it did get some pieces sold and I made some good connections, which rings true to what composer Eric Whitacre says about competitions: You should do them for a myriad of important reasons, but you probably won’t win, and he’s right.
There are so many lessons in losing something, far more than you’ll ever learn if you win. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring for jobs I wasn’t qualified for or competitions with some pretty big players and it’s taught me one really important lesson: It’s not no, it’s not yet.
For example, I applied for the Composer in Residence job with our local symphony and, as you might have guessed, I didn’t get it. I didn’t make it past the first round. However, it got my music into their hands and now I get some smaller gigs with them like arranging or work with schools. While that’s not a commission for writing a symphony, that’s a heck of a lot more than I was doing with them before. Maybe with more orchestra work under my belt and, you know, a Master’s degree, maybe I can break into that scene in 5-10 years.
That is, unless I don’t apply for it again, because I didn’t get it once, so why would I get it later?
I’m being facetious, that’s a terrible argument, but a common one. I ran into one of my former students who’s studying music in university, getting ready for an audition to get into the Performance program there. She said “I’ll do my best, but if I don’t get in then I’ll probably quit, because it would be so demoralizing.” After two years of crazy practicing and wild success, she might quit if she doesn’t get into this one thing the first time. To me, that is absolutely crazy, but it happens all the time and to all sorts of people.
Think about all of the people who write a story, send it to one publisher, get rejected, then never write again. Think about that person who wants a job in finance, applies for the job, doesn’t get it, then works in a job beneath their qualifications and spirals downward thinking about what could’ve been.
It’s so common because rejection is hard, it really is, but it’s how you deal with it that’s important. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected not once, not twice, but twelve times in a row. Imagine a world if she gave up – I don’t want to!
Even as Robert Galbrath, her Cuckoo’s Calling was still rejected by publishers.
Yes, J. K. Rowling, go take a writing course…
The important thing is persistence, to keep on keepin’ on. When you put yourself out there, there are a variety of factors that aren’t in your control, the only one in your control is whether or not you put yourself out there. That doesn’t mean you’ll be 100% successful, but doing nothing guarantees you’ll be 100% unsuccessful.
The best way to not get into music school is to not even apply. An audition doesn’t mean you’ll get in, but with some preparation, you just might.
The best way to not date that really awesome person you like is to never, ever speak to them. You might try and they might not go for you, but they might just be surprised by how wonderful of a person you are.
The best way not to have a successful show is make sure you don’t tell anyone about it. Or, consider telling people about the show and then being super happy that they came.
Put yourself out there and if you don’t achieve your goal, figure out what you can do differently and try it again. Rinse and repeat until you get it 🙂
Let’s have a great week.