Disappointment as a musician. How do I get back up again?

My story

When I was fifteen, I auditioned for a local youth orchestra. I practiced right through the December holidays, I even took my flute with on my family vacation to the Cape and practiced every evening. The day of the audition came, I was extremely nervous and looking back (I didn’t realize it at the time), I played quite badly. After a nail-biting wait, the news arrived. 

I didn’t get in. 

I was devastated. I cried for days and didn’t practice for the next two months. That audition had been my sole focus, and not getting in was crushing to my 15-year-old self.

I auditioned again the next year.

I didn’t get in.

I auditioned for another youth orchestra later that year.

I didn’t get in. 

I eventually got into the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra, as a “floboe” (a flute playing the oboe part). At the end of the year, I re-auditioned in attempt to be placed as an actual flute player and… 

You guessed it. I stayed a floboe. 

It’s ok to ask “why?”

Disappointment as a musician

For each of these auditions, I practiced hours on end, was well-prepared, and played to the best of my ability at that time. Each of these perceived “failures” led to me crying in my bedroom, doubting myself and my ability and questioning why this thing that I loved so much wasn’t panning out the way I so desperately wanted it to. In between all of this there were numerous competitions where I didn’t even make it past the qualifying rounds, examination results that weren’t what I wanted them to be and more. 

The truth of the matter is: being a musician means a lifetime of failing. It’s wonderful and fulfilling, but it’s hard and it takes courage. In all these failures, I learnt a few things about how to get back up again. 


You are not your achievements


First, understand that a disappointing outcome is by no means a reflection of your ability or potential. There are so many factors that go into a performance- you might be battling severe nerves which affect your playing for example or dealing with a difficult acoustic or an unfamiliar instrument. 

Regardless of these factors, the audition panel or judges may also have criteria you aren’t aware of, they may think you sound great, but might not be the best sound choice for the section. They may be looking for someone older and more experienced. And sometimes, there were just others who played better that day. 

None of those make you any less of a musician. Identify what factors you could control and what you couldn’t and make peace with that. 

What are your motivations?

Secondly, consider your motivations. What is your ultimate goal? To be famous? To win? To make money? To impress people? If those are what drive you, disappointment is going to hit you like a truck and it’s going to be really hard to get back up again. But, if a real love and passion for making music is what drives you, you will be able to deal with the pain of rejection, because no competition judge can take that away from you. 

Step back

Thirdly, step back and look at the bigger picture. All that practicing might feel like a waste but think again- think about all the improvement you made while preparing. Maybe you learnt a piece you’ve always wanted to play, or you improved your technique or your practice stamina, an increase in learning can never be a waste, even if the outcome isn’t what you had hoped for.


Give a little grace and get back up again!

Finally, give yourself grace. You can’t learn if you don’t fail, and you can’t fail if you don’t try. Allow yourself to be disappointed. 

Be sad. 

Be angry.

Cry in your room. Whatever. 

It’s part of being human and it’s important for your heart to heal properly so that you don’t become bitter against what you once loved. 

Keep looking forward and don’t worry if not everyone likes your playing or your music. It’s not about them. 

It’s about you. 

Eventually after years of auditioning I became principal flute of both the Johannesburg Youth Orchestra and University of Pretoria Symphony Orchestra. I finally won a competition. I passed my final examination. But for every success there were at least two disappointments. 

And you know what?

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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