“Can I please go another day?”
This question was from an Ear Training Student. In her class, we spot-check the students on prepared solfege singing examples or sight singing examples. Not every student is evaluated every day.
“No. You will go today.”
“But I’ve had a very busy week, and I’m sure that if I go Thursday instead, I will do a better job.”
I can think of about 1000 things on my task list right now that would go better if I could wait until Thursday to do them, but the problem is, I must do them today.
Sometimes, the NOW is what is demanded of us.
I’m quite sure that this particular student really did have an unusually busy week, and that she really was concerned that her performance would be less than her usual on that day.
We train our students to do everything so perfectly perfect, and sometimes neglect to train them for reality. While it is true in the business of music performance that we strive for perfection at all times, the reality is, no human being ever achieves that. But we keep trying.
As the Millenials say, “Adulting hard.”
You will often be asked to perform something on very few rehearsals, and maybe your child isn’t sleeping at night, and so some of the practice time you would have devoted to learning your music for that performance is given over to napping.
And that’s ok.
Maybe your pet is ill, or every one of your professors decided to assign something big the same week, or maybe your roommate is in crisis or YOU are in crisis.
We are, after all, only human.
And so it’s important to remember that it’s never the one test, the one performance, the one assignment, the one rehearsal.
It’s the series of events and choices you make in your life that create your resume and your track record.
When one is a 20 year old college student, it can be hard to imagine that the sight singing quiz you take today will be but a pebble on the path in 10 years, a distant memory in 20, and completed forgotten in 30. It’s important for us to point out that it’s the journey, and to hold them to task. Their career and their reputation will be based on that track record, the sum total of ALL the pebbles on the path, and never just one sight singing quiz.
Recently, I congratulated a private flute student on her marching band’s competition win. She replied, “Yeah, we were 8 points ahead of last year’s score at the same competition. So we’ve improved. But the band that won the Grand Sweepstakes was 10 points ahead of us, so that’s where we need to go.” That student’s band director has done a fantastic job of instilling in his students that it’s not about the one performance or the one win; it’s about the track record.
And this lesson applies to so many aspects of life. Maybe you inadvertently said something careless that hurt a friend’s feelings, or made a mistake at work, or forgot something that was important to your kid. You can apologize to the friend (or she can realize you weren’t thinking and let it go), your boss will likely look at your complete record and judge you based on that, rather than one mistake. Your kids know that they are important to you based on a whole slew of things you do that show you love them – things you don’t even register. I’ll never forget receiving an assignment my son completed in preschool. He had to finish the sentence, “I know my mom loves me because . . . . ” I had thought he’d talk about a toy I bought him or a trip we’d taken, but instead, he finished the sentence, “she gets down in the floor and plays with me.” That’s something I did every day then – a track record.
Having recently returned to university teaching, I am getting used to a new online grade book. A colleague who teaches another section of ear training and I merged our classes. One day during the first few weeks of classes, I saw a number of new columns in the grade book that I had not put there. I assumed my colleague had inadvertently added columns to my grade book while adding them to hers. I deleted the columns. Turns out that deleted them from her grade book too, student grade entries and all. I was beside myself with embarrassment when she told me, but fortunately, my new colleague chose not to judge me on that one mistake, that one bad performance.
We all have bad performances sometimes. Ever accidentally find yourself going the wrong way on a one way street? Spilled something all over someone else? Or maybe your prepared talk to the board really bombed?
I told the ear training student, “You’ll go today, and I’m sure you’ll be perfectly fine.” (What I meant was, “I have no idea how you’ll do, but I know you won’t die doing this.”)
The student performed her example. She missed one solfege syllable and hesitated at one point, but she still earned an A – .
(Side note: what sort of pressure are we putting on our kids that an A- is not ok?)
I told her this experience was great practice for real life. We’re almost never as prepared as we’d like to be. (Were any of you parents out there prepared for becoming parents?) I pointed out that her professors would often like to be more prepared for their lectures and rehearsals, too, but we just keep moving forward and doing the best we can. This is not permission to slack, of course, but simply to put the results of our honest efforts into perspective.
The student later sent me a kind email, “Thank you for boosting my confidence.”
(Please note I have the student’s permission to share this story.)