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Helping Students and Parents Enjoy the Competitive Journey: Part V, Carrying the Experience Forward

Amy Beth Horman

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Published: August 4, 2014 at 7:37 PM [UTC]

This is my fifth and last installment in this blog series that I began while on vacation this summer. The time away from my normal schedule allowed me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on last year’s many challenges inside the competitive calendar. I hope that in writing this series, it started a healthy amount of discussions and sparked some new ideas for others.

Click here to read Part I, The Application Process, Part II, Managing Expectations, and Part III, Preparing for Final Rounds, and Part IV, Competition Etiquette.

This last blog shares my thoughts about carrying the experience of a competition forward. As the “sun sets” on our performance and competitions, what should we be doing to absorb and process everything we have learned? It likely wont be the last performance or competition we participate in so this last thoughtful chapter could really add up over time.

We work so hard for these events day in and day out. There is so much mental and physical preparation and immeasurable sacrifices to get to the finish line. The awards have already been handed out and even with the best results at hand, where will this take us tomorrow? The fact is most competitions won’t launch your career. They are mere stepping-stones. And while we should revel in what we have accomplished on cloud nine for a while, I think it is wise to ask ourselves what we can take from this experience and make one last set of thoughtful efforts.

There are so many things we can take from each experience. Perhaps we learned the power of gradual steady preparation finally paying off and will now trust it completely as we begin new literature. Maybe we have learned a few hard lessons in setting boundaries with family and friends so we can prepare the way we know we should. We even had students have epiphanies this year about what they needed to be eating before competition. Correct instrument care, adequate rehearsals, score study, positioning on stage…. any of these things could have finally paid off and made it to your new hit list for performance success. Maybe you have a few negatives on your list too like an experiment with gut strings on a whim, not enough sleep, cramming in practice…. all things you wont dare to try again!

The important thing in my view is to honor the experience and acknowledge what you have learned and how it can be applied to the future. Don’t just look at the things you would change about your performance. You knew that as you walked off the stage. Dig deeper. Take a look at what it was like leading up to the event, what your stress level was, whether you were able to network with other musicians afterwards, what you learned about stage deportment and maybe even something new that worked for you playing under pressure.

When I played with orchestra the first time after winning a competition, it changed my life forever. I learned both how excruciatingly challenging it was and also how beautiful and empowering it felt. It was the largest and most complex set of feelings I had ever had at age 14. But it didn’t stop there. I also learned how necessary metronome practice was, how to lead and telegraph information without moving around a copious amount, and how to project sound efficiently. I was thrown in the deep end. I had to borrow someone’s dress and didn’t know what I was going to wear until the day of the concert. When my first rehearsal with orchestra was rocky, I cried instead of digging in my heels right away. The winning concert went beautifully but I was reeling. I wished so badly that I could do it all over again to test my newfound theories but knew I would need to win another competition to even get that chance. While that was agonizing, it only made me want to practice more. Luckily, my parents wanted to know all about it so I was able to process it all in relaying the stories to them. From then on, post competition or concert wrap up became well loved tradition.

I think parents and their kids should sit down and have the post competition pow -wow as a team. After all, the parents are driving, taking notes, paying for lessons and rehearsals and have had a front seat view to the whole experience. They also know their kids the best. They know their capacity for stress, history with challenges, and resilience to disappointments.

Go over ways things can be streamlined more for next time individually, at home, and in the studio. Be brutally honest about what you know you should do differently already. In my experience, if you embrace humility in this process, everyone around you will follow suit. Explore options for how to simplify other aspects that are harder to solve by asking for help from people who have been there. Talk to older members of your studio or call that mentor you have on speed dial. Invite your teacher in on the discussion. Schedule 15 minutes to have this discussion in your next lesson and you will find yourself moving forward with confidence and clarity. Taking every opportunity (having won or not) to discuss where we go from here diffuses possible disappointment and turns it all into an opportunity for growth. This is healthy for everyone. When you win on your worst performance and lose on your best, everything pops into perspective. Your response to an event might be the only thing you can control and your musical journey depends on it.

Most of all don’t just plow ahead as if there is no time to take a moment to acknowledge what you have accomplished and how it got done. If there is one thing I have realized with my busy musical existence, it is that there is always time. Once you realize the value in the post competition analysis, finding the time wont ever be a problem. You might even look forward to it. After all, closing one chapter means you are opening up another!

*The picture above taken from vacation one night after dinner – the perfect scenery for carrying last year’s experience forward…

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