Last week I had a conversation with one of my high school flute students that went something like this:
Me: I’m so glad that you’re going to do the competition this Fall! I think we’ve picked a great program and you’re doing really good work to get it going.
Student: Me, too! So, do you have any other students doing the competition?
Me: Oh, yeah—A and B are doing it too, and maybe C.
Student: A IS DOING IT?!? But she beat me by one chair at honor band auditions last year! Oh no! This is terrible!
Me: No, no—that doesn’t mean she’ll always beat you at every audition. Not at all!
Student says nothing while applying a generous amount of teenage side-eye to beloved teacher. She clearly does not believe me!
I remember being these girls’ age, and I remember feeling like that all important honor band result, which in our state also determines who goes to All-State, was the most important ranking that would ever be applied to me.
I was wrong then, and they are wrong now, and if there were a way to make them believe it instantly, I would do that in a heartbeat! Unfortunately, only time and experience, and perhaps more results from more auditions, will tell that tale.
When I hear these students play, I hear that each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. The student from the lesson in my example is ferociously expressive, and we’ve picked music for the competition that will show off that innate gift as well as all the technical proficiency she has developed and the phrasing she has learned to do. Student A has a more subtle, elegant style, and we’ve picked music for her that will show off all her control and depth. They’re still young enough to believe that difficulty level is the only thing that matters—more fingers, more tempo, more range—so I am always having to sell repertoire to them in a roundabout way. Will either of them win this competition? Maybe so, maybe not. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care! The journey they’ll take by preparing for this event, requiring 25 minutes of music from at least two different eras, will ensure that no matter the result or the judges’ perceptions of their playing, they will emerge stronger, smarter and better able to face musical challenges.
That’s the real value of the experience—not a trophy, but an enhanced skill set.
Teenagers are so susceptible to external opinions (like random numbers assigned to their playing by unseen adults…) They can forget that their level of expertise will grow and change an awful lot in a year, and that they don’t all progress at the same speed. That all-important audition result from Fall 2018 means exactly nothing for Fall 2019, if there has been steady, mindful work and growth. They haven’t yet learned that we are our own worst enemies, every time. If my student decides that A is better than she is and always will be, then that is very likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if that student decides to compete with herself, to strive against her own past self in terms of practice time, practice technique and attitude, then she wins, regardless of the outcome of any audition. Nothing is set in stone!