The #11 regular white envelope nonchalantly stuck out of the stack of mail. Recognizing the return address, my stomach sank to my toes. Cheeks warming, eyes misting, I thought to myself, “No. That’s the wrong size envelope. Please, God, no.” Ever so quietly, to hide my impending embarrassment, I opened the letter and read, “Thank you for your application… We appreciate your interest… You are part of a very talented pool of candidates… We are unable to offer you a position in the incoming class…” Slinking up the stairs the thoughts came fast and furious. I became my own emotional punching bag for the next two hours. It was singer hell.
Why did I throw myself in to such a wretched emotional state? I knew that rejection was a part of the business. I still did it anyway. Even now I feel the sting of not getting into that particular graduate program. It is because I really wanted it. I had worked so hard getting ready for those auditions. I wrote multiple drafts of applications. I lived those arias. That is when rejection hurts the most. I stepped out on a limb and the limb broke. However, like everything else we discuss here at The Sybaritic Singer, there are lessons to be learned from this pain.
Rejection is not personal.
How many of those on the audition panel do you know personally? Would you recognize them sipping their soy-milk lattes at Starbucks? I doubt it. You do not know them on a personal level and they do not know you on a personal level either. (If you do know them on a personal level, you probably also already know the reason for your rejection. I think one kernel of advice might be: Don’t Burn Your Bridges.)
As singers we have a fascinating way of internalizing all matters related to our voice as value judgments on ourselves. The audition panel is not rejecting you. They are rejecting that particular audition. You – the person – are valuable and worthwhile. Otherwise, they would not have had you audition in the first place. You – the singer – are still learning and amassing experiences.
Learn from the audition and the outcome.
It’s a fact: audition days are long and grueling. Singer after singer bringing the same arias. Alas, unless your adjudicators were asleep, your audition was still rejected for a reason. Your material was simply unsuitable for the organization. Perhaps you forgot some of the requested audition materials, performed inappropriate arias, or generally lacked vigor and vitality. When you receive a rejection letter, take an analytical look at the audition. If you have done your research on the company you should know what area was inadequate. Maybe you need to revise your audition arias. Maybe you should begin with something in a different mood. Maybe it is just a matter of being more composed during an audition. Once you know your weakness, look at your upcoming auditions and apply your newly gained knowledge to your benefit.
If at first you don’t succeed…
We all know the phrase and it rings a little cliché at this point. Remember, Joyce DiDonato was the only alumni of her Houston Grand Opera year to leave the program without management. And, look at her now. That (metaphorical!) limb broke – but there was another one to take a hold. It takes a “yes” person and a lot of persistence to go through rejections and win.
Sometimes you need to reject your own work.
Rejections are a part of the singing life. It is necessary to learn how to rise above them. When you get a rejection letter turn to your materials. Find out what can stay and what has to go. Give yourself multiple opportunities to audition in front of other people. A wonderful source of constructive criticism is an audition circle. Bring together a few singer comrades and hire an accompanist for an afternoon. Have everyone perform mock auditions from start to finish. Record, video and/or audio, the whole session. Give great notes to each other. Perhaps someone in your circle can give you personal experience information about a company for your upcoming audition. What does not work for this circle will not work in front of an audition panel. Be meticulous with your own material. Do not let yourself be mediocre. Auditions are about polish.
Rejection hurts. It will continue to hurt. Some rejections will stay with you like the slow-burn of a cheating boyfriend. They hurt because of the investment involved. Before dissolving into woe and despair — wait. We must continue to inch out and take the risk of the limb breaking. The hope is there that if you continue to painstakingly hone your skills, learn from past rejections, and open yourself to opportunities you will meet success. Rejections are another drop in the bucket of a full career.
- Rejection Rebound: Young Writer Judson Merrill Blows Steam At Literary Journals (huffingtonpost.com)
- Is “Just Get Started” a Flawed Idea? (calnewport.com)
- Sing Without Fear, The Classical Singer Magazine, September 2004 (teachstreet.com)