Oh, my girl

I am so in awe of my daughter. She is so strong, stronger than I ever was at her age. She has this passion for music, this talent for flute, and it has become an intricate part of her life. I can’t think of flute without thinking of her, and I often can’t think of her without thinking of flute. They are intertwined. She has worked hard over the last seven years and grown into a gifted musician, and she’s seen a lot of rewards from that work. She’s earned spots in district bands, state band, honor bands. She’s earned top ratings at competitions and played solos without a hitch.

But with every bright spot, there is a bit of darkness hiding. There is so much competition in this world. She hasn’t succeeded at everything she’s tried; she hasn’t gotten every first chair or solo she’s wanted. And to try so hard, to practice and work so diligently, and not get the results you want, must be incredibly disheartening at times. I can’t say for sure, never having been in anything so competitive. But I imagine, and my heart aches when it happens.

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It happened yesterday. We went to District Band auditions. After an early bout of nerves a couple of weeks ago, she was feeling confident. She was practicing, working new tricks from her flute teacher, and getting good results. She felt good at the first audition, felt good after the callback audition, and we settled in to wait without too much anxiety. But the callbacks ended, and the wait stretched to 45 minutes, an hour, 90 minutes, and the stress built. What could be taking so long? 27 flutes for 13 spots (including the two honorable mention spots), surely it couldn’t be that hard to sort it out?

Each musician is scored during their audition, and the scores are tallied at the end. The drama comes if there are ties, and the judges have to come to an agreement on who gets which chair. Many flute players also play piccolo, and if they earn a chair on both instruments, they’re given the choice. If they turn down piccolo, the judges move to the next piccolo, and so on, until the piccolo spot is filled. So if you’re sitting waiting, and you see other flute/piccolo players getting called back to talk to their director, you know the results are coming soon. We did our best to stay patient and positive.

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It took almost two hours after callbacks ended for her to get her result: second chair in the district band. That’s an awesome result. It really is, to get second chair out of all the flutists in the area who auditioned. And given how long it took to get results, it must have been an extremely tight competition, coming down to the smallest of details.

But. Last year, she had first chair. And when you’ve had that, and you think you’ve earned that again, second chair is bittersweet. I understand it, even as I know how wonderful second chair is. Like I said, it’s a competitive world. She’s been competing against the same musicians for the last couple of years, so it feels a little personal. You don’t just miss out on the spot, you see your competition in that spot. I can imagine how sharp and sour that must feel in your chest.

Plus her experience as first chair last year wasn’t all she wanted it to be. First chair typically comes with a certain spot in the band; the first chair flute is next to the edge, right beside the piccolo. And the first chair flute is given any flute solos in the band’s music. But last year, the district band director decided to switch things up, and he flipped the seating so that she was in the middle of the band, and had the entire flute section play all the solos. So while she knew she was first chair, she didn’t get to experience the perks that usually come with it.

So this year she was, is, disappointed. Sad, frustrated. She knew she’d done the work. She knew she’d improved. So why didn’t her spot show it? It’s hard to remember that even as you’re growing and improving, you’re not doing it in a bubble. The others are doing the same thing. You have to remember that there is some subjectivity to each audition, and something like first and second chair can come down to very small differences. It reminds me of Michelle Kwan when she won silver at the Olympics when everyone expected her to win gold. They’d ask her, “How does it feel to know you lost the gold?” And her answer was, “I didn’t lose gold. I won silver.”

That’s what my girl did yesterday. She earned that second chair. And she’s learning that you have to take each setback and use it as an opportunity for growth, without getting distracted by what everyone else is doing. She still gets to audition for All-State Band, and I think it’s likely that this will motivate her to work even harder to perform as well as she can.

And that’s why I’m in awe of her. Every time this happens, she finds the strength to rally. She sits back and feels the disappointment, and then she stands up, puts it behind her, and goes on to the next great thing.

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I am immensely proud of her results yesterday, as I am every time she auditions. I can’t wait to see how it goes at State. But the greatest thing for me yesterday was watching her interact with the middle school musicians. She works with the 7th and 8th grade bands at the middle school, and she’s built lovely relationships with these kids who admire her and look up to her, and she found so much joy in encouraging them. She called them her “babies” and kept notes of who got what results, and she hugged them and cheered them on, and it was so sweet. She is going to be a wonderful teacher. I love that not only will she create beautiful music herself, but she will also help create future musicians. To have such a gift and be able to share it with others, that must be the most wonderful feeling of all. And how lucky I am that I get a front row seat.

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P.S. There was a LOT of knitting happening yesterday, what with over eight hours in one building. That post will be coming soon!

11 thoughts on “Oh, my girl

  1. Your story of your daughter makes me want to be a more dedicated musician, especially as I also play flute as one of my instruments. I’m technically the first flute in my band (although it was definitely not an auditioned position!) and I’m always delegating solos to the rest of the flutes to encourage them to step up and realise they’re actually quite good*… but I know that’s not how it goes in ordinary bands or orchestras, so I was quite upset on your daughter’s behalf when you shared her experience of being first chair last year. That’s just not fair! Plus, that end spot is the best position for flute players, who always have to contend with angling themselves the right way to face the music without sticking the end of their instrument in someone’s face. I do hope she has a fabulous experience as second chair and keeps coming back for more.

    * Although the other day, a fellow flute looked at a piece of new music and said to me, “You have a solo!” so perhaps my approach isn’t sinking in yet. 😉

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