Three ways to lessen suffering the pain of auditions

The other day I saw a marvelous television program in which Bill Moyers interviewed Pema Chödrön, an elderly American lady, now Buddhist nun, who has become famous for her wisdom mixed with common sense.

One of the subjects she dealt with that struck me with great force was the difference between pain and suffering. The interpretation she chose to differentiate between those words was powerful. She described pain as being for example, an unwelcome event, an injury, a disappointment, and so on. And suffering is what we then do inside ourselves in response to that event.

For example, say we have an audition for a part in an opera that we really want. If we don’t get the part, the moment of finding that out may cause pain. Intense, unwelcome pain. But if the moment after that we start to say, “Why didn’t I get the part? Did they like that other soprano/tenor/baritone better? Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was. Maybe I’m never going to get a part. I should have practiced harder. Maybe I should be with a different teacher. If only the accompanist hadn’t played that wrong chord just before my entry. That really put me off! Maybe it was what I was wearing. Maybe I’m too old/overweight/the wrong color/ethnicity/sexuality…”, this is where the suffering can begin. And it has the potential to persevere for a loooong time.

Of course it’s understandable that one might experience thoughts like these. And then the emotions have a tendency to follow those thoughts. It’s tempting to immediately blame oneself or others. However, when we begin to become aware of thought patterns like these, then we have a better chance of taking a different road.

What other roads are there? It can certainly seem strange initially to begin to explore other options.

“You mean I’m not supposed to mind or be upset? Am I supposed to be made of steel? Give me a break! Anyone would be upset!”

Well, it’s your choice. But here are some other options.

The Nurturing Option

“I’m feeling extremely disappointed. I really wanted that job. Well, I think I’ll take some time out to be gentle with myself for the rest of the day. I’ll ask myself what would feel nurturing. Hmm… a warm bath… a great book… a funny video…. a good chat on the phone with X.”
(N.B. Beware of wanting to numb out– sudden longings for large amounts of alcohol/chocolate cake/TV/shopping may block out the painful feelings temporarily, but they’ll just come back in the morning.)

The Observational Learning Option
“Well, I don’t understand why I didn’t get the job. Hmmm…I think it’s worth looking at what I did to prepare… maybe get some feedback from the panel/accompanist. You know, if I’m honest, I didn’t really know that aria as well as I thought. And actually it’s difficult for the pianist to sight read, so maybe I’ll take my regular accompanist along next time.”

The Underlying Intent Observation
“You know , it makes me wonder why I’m actually doing this? What’s my intention? Well, I want to be successful. Why? So people will like me? What’s the experience I’m actually looking for? Hmmm… self-expression. Well, how else could I find opportunities to express myself? Oh, there’s that dance class/stand-up comedy class/street festival/jam session I was thinking about doing…
(Yes, I know that opera is the thing that you love most, but you might be freer in the next audition if you are feeling creatively fresh and juiced up!).

In my experience, there is a good chance that if you try one or more of these options, your pain may still be there, but hopefully your suffering will decrease. It may take great perseverance, as our habitual reactions can be hard to eradicate, but change is certainly possible. Bon courage!

4 Responses to “Three ways to lessen suffering the pain of auditions”

  1. What many singers find difficult to take is the absense of any positive feedback whatsoever from a string of auditions, even when they are singing at an extremely high level. This is one of the more difficult issues I’ve dealt with in my studio as a vocal coach.

    On the one hand, there is the “Keep on trying!” You can do it!” approach, which doesn’t ring true most of the time with professional singers. On the other hand, I liken the audition scene to telemarketing–if you’re successful 5% of the time, you’re actually doing rather well.

    The most constructive advice I have for singers in this situation is to motivate them to create their own performing opportunities and projects and work to expand the breadth of the arts scene, rather than trying to fit into a pre-existing mould.

  2. I hear you, Chris! When I first started playing for auditions in the 80’s, at least singers were getting a yes or no reply, but by the time I left London in 2002 quite often they wouldn’t get any kind of response at all! Feedback would be so helpful, and it’s frustrating when none is given. Finding innovative and fun ways to be creative seems the only way to stay sane!

  3. This article is right on target, and I also enjoyed the response from Chris.

    I have a few more bits to add …

    When I was in graduate school, I had a writing professor remark that “there is a publication for every poem; it’s simply a matter of finding the publication that wants YOUR poem.”

    Similarly, I recently entered a competition for Scottish Fiddle Music, and although I did poorly (as I expected), I learned a great deal from the whole experience. I particularly liked the judge’s comments; he began the entire competition by saying (in a broad Scots accent), “don’t let any of the competition results get your goat. No matter what happens today, all it really means is that on this day, given these circumstances, and this particular collection of fiddlers, this is how one particular judge viewed your performance. On another day, with another judge, who knows how it would play out?”

    With this in mind, I totally plan to continue competing. These events are really more about building community than deciding who’s best. And, I already play professionally to an audience who enjoys what I do, so winning any competition is more of a personal achievement than anything else …

    And I totally second Chris’s comments above: create your own performing opportunities. Being a musician is like being self-employed. You can’t sit around and wait for work to come to you.

    Good luck everyone!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Drew. I’m so glad to hear that you’re entering competitions with a healthy attitude– that’s a real achievement. And I’ve always admired your entrepreneurial spirit!

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