Friday, February 7, 2014

Second Place Again

The Course of Empire IV: Destruction
by Thomas Cole
Falls from power tend to bruise the ego.

Warning: complaining post ahead. Overdramatic treatment of a relatively minor problem (see painting above). Self-absorption. What else is new?


I think I peaked in junior year. That was the year I ramped up my STEM education--calc BC, physics a year early, learning Python on my own. That was my first year on band staff, also, and most relevantly, that year I was the principal euphonium for the district honor band.

Notice the past tense.


We got our music yesterday. And there, on my folder: Euphonium Stand 2. Gone, all shreds of hope that my band teacher might have forgotten to mention a renewed triumph. Boom. That was the sound of my ego imploding.

I'm more disappointed than bitter, I think (and hope, because bitterness is unworthy of me). How did I let myself lose? I know I turned in an audition CD that was not perfect--why? Was it beyond me to produce one perfect take? Did I hope that I'd be grandfathered in on last year's success? (Please, let me never become like that.) Or did I just forget about the competition?

Fear complacency.

What is it like to be someone who clawed her way to the top, displacing a friend who was principal sophomore year, attained glory (status) junior year, and now, as a senior, falls back down to second place?

One Life Beautiful - Julie Giroux

That gorgeous euph solo from 3:24 to 3:52? Those notes are well within my tessatura. That could have been mine. I would have played it beautifully in concert. Last year, this would have been mine. Cantabile, dolcissimo, mio.

Anyone who has had a solo will know that feeling of being, for a minute or thirty seconds or however long it lasts, at the center of the universe, of having the great privilege of becoming the most important conduit of beauty in the room. Is this a fancy way of saying "showing off"? Maybe. Solos are a way of proving that you're worth listening to.

As a conditional: if you're worth listening to, you have solos.

The contrapositive, which has the same truth value: if you have no solos, you're not worth listening to.

A terribly unhealthy mindset, this. Yet, when your school has held the principal euphonium spot for the past four years, and you, the incumbent, are the one to lose the seat, it's difficult not to take a hit to the self-esteem. Listening to a solo like that, practicing it at home and sounding good on it...regret is really the only proper response.

Without any dodging the question, or any philosophizing, any rationalization--I'm disappointed in myself.

So what can you do?


Back to philosophizing: one of the reasons I'm putting my small personal struggles on the internet is because I'm using this year, senior year, as a test run for the philosophical tools that will let me deal with the scaled-down kinds of hardships I'll face later in life. Also because I can't talk to anyone about this IRL without the chance to edit and reorganize.

Situation: you thought you were going to be chosen for something and you weren't. You did better last year. You have disappointed people's expectations of you. You've let people down.

I reiterate: what can you do?

I want to make a distinction here between what I can do, as in what actions I can take, and what I can do psychologically. My actions are simple: play as best as I can, treat the new principal with all the respect s/he deserves, keep my IRL complaining to a minimum.

But my thoughts?


Process of elimination: what thoughts are unworthy of you? Acknowledge and then shoot them down.

"It should have been me." -- No, it shouldn't have. The music teachers listened to the audition recordings and yours was not the best. Get over it.

"The new principal is so good, I never had a chance." -- Maybe the new principal euph will turn out to be vastly, vastly superior to me--so much better, with such a greater range, and a tone to rival David Childs's--that I'll have lost not through my defects but through their qualities.

Even if this turns out to be the case, I still can't excuse myself. You don't get to let yourself off the hook for subpar work.

"It's not my fault because I was distracted by circumstances." -- Yeah, so? You made principal during junior year when your head felt like it was going to explode with stress. Don't tell me that you're incapable of producing quality under pressure because empirical evidence says otherwise.

"Principal doesn't mean anything anyway." -- Oh yes it does. Principal means best in the district, superior to all the other euphoniums including those also in the honor band. It is meritocracy. It is honor. It is recognition for good work. See: your obsession with solos, above.

"At least I'm in the honor band still." -- I get that it's called "honor" band because we are honored to play at such a high level. But I'm not going to devalue myself. You got in last year, too. If you hadn't gotten in, you'd want to slap yourself even more than you do now. This is like saying, "At least I don't need help playing the circle of fifths*."

*If you don't know the circle of fifths, I'm not saying that you're incapable of accomplishment. This is a milieu-specific analogy, since at my school you get into the wind ensemble by playing the circle of fifths.

I refuse to lower my standards for myself. I would rather be miserable and high-achieving than happy with the minimum. I foresee this causing me a lot of unhappiness in the future.

"At least you're still the first chair euphonium at school." -- Bro, if you ever think this in all seriousness, you deserve to be booted out of the honor band. The other euphoniums at school have not been playing as long as you. One of them you taught last year. The other two are sophomores. They're on their way to excellence, but you got a head start. Remember how dead set you are against the lowering of standards?


The following features assert themselves as part of my optimum psychological response:
  • acknowledgement of defeat
  • owning responsibility for the defeat (circumstances played a negligible part)
  • valuing status levels properly (principal=high)
  • maintain high standards for self
  • moving on instead of flagellating self

Seems pretty straightforward. Now what's the "party line" on this?

You lost your former position through your own inability, for one reason or another, to produce quality. Because you are a senior you're not getting another chance to win this position back. But, as Euphonium Stand 2, you must back up the new, worthy principal to the best of your ability, representing your school, your director, and yourself with honor even in your less prominent and honored position.

Tell yourself this: "You could have done better and you didn't and now you have to deal with it. Do so."

Furthermore: be on the alert for other ways that you're losing your edge, and take steps to fix it. Also, recognize that you're used to success and that your relative academic prowess blinds you to situations in which you can't get by on sheer might of brain.

(Seriously, though: I got my license yesterday but I passed with only two points to spare. Not cool.)

The thoughts align with the actions, as they should. What else can you do but your best with what you get?

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