I had an interesting conversation with my son in the car yesterday (which is where we tend to have most of our more intriguing talks). We were coming home from a cello lesson and he was lamenting how difficult and boring the music is that he has to learn for an upcoming required audition. He wasn’t so much concerned about learning the music, however, as he was about the audition itself.
The issue? He doesn’t want to do well.
Ever since he started playing 3 years ago, he has enjoyed it and shown an aptitude for music. He learned to read music very quickly and started listening to songs he liked and figuring out the notes so he could learn to play the tune. He improved a lot during 6th grade and ended up making it into the advanced orchestra in middle school. While I think he was pleased to have been placed in the Sinfonietta, as they call it, he was also a bit dismayed. His concern all along has been that, while he likes to play the cello, he doesn’t want to “play cello like he plays hockey,” meaning he doesn’t want to invest as much time and energy and spend every day practicing for hours.
I get where he is coming from. While he has musical talent and might be able to be a fairly good cellist, he really plays because he likes it. He likes to figure out the music and learn how to hit the right notes and he gets pleasure from playing music that challenges him. He does not want his cello playing to be high pressure – I think that if it gets to be too intense, that is when he will give it up. We have tried to keep things low pressure over the past few years to keep him interested. He has to practice, but only for 20 minutes or so at a time. He has a private teacher, but she is a college student who is very helpful but isn’t requiring him to learn additional music above what he has for school and doesn’t keep track of practice time. He loves working with her and it has been a great fit. And, so far, he has stuck with it.
Now, however, he sees this audition as that high-pressure “stuff” he doesn’t want to do. And he’s trying to figure out how he can blow the audition so he won’t make it. This is what led to our discussion in the car about giving it your best, no matter what.
I told him about how my belief is that you should always try your hardest, even if you aren’t particularly motivated to be successful. Not doing so cheats you and, in this case, cheats his teacher, who has the belief that he is good enough to be in this advanced orchestra and has a chance, like everyone else in his class, to get a spot in the District Orchestra. We talked about hockey and how, even though he does well in goal and could rest on his laurels and remain a decent goalie at the house or lower travel level, he continues to keep working hard and trying to get better. He has some natural talent, but he doesn’t stop there and keeps working to improve. Playing the cello should be no different – he has some natural talent and, since he has committed to play in the orchestra at school, he owes it to himself and others to put the work in and give this audition, and every song he plays, his best. To do otherwise just lets him and others down.
I asked him how he’d feel if he didn’t practice the song and went into the audition and completely bombed. Being his stubborn 12-year-old self, he initially said that if it meant he didn’t have to be in the other orchestra, he’d be happy. However, after we discussed it some more, he admitted that he’d be a little embarrassed and probably not feel to good about himself. He also said that if his teacher saw that, she’d be upset that he didn’t try (as someone who gets a lot of my self-esteem from knowing that others are pleased with my effort, I understand how disappointing his teacher would bother him).
In the end, I am hopeful that he took some of our conversation to heart and will view rehearsing for the audition more positively. He still may not like the song, and he still will not want to make the orchestra, but he might just learn a lesson about how it feels to know you gave it your best shot and didn’t let yourself down by “phoning it in.”
Because a sign of a life well lived, in my opinion, is being able to reflect back and realize that you did your best with what you had, in the situations you faced, and can be proud of what you did and who you are. We can’t ask for much more out of ourselves and others than that.