"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just asking.

I have a tale to tell, but first, a disclaimer:

Although this little story involves my son and his music, it is not meant as any particular form of praise for his abilities. I am no judge of my son's talent. I love him fiercely and anything he does is golden, nay, platinum, in my eyes. This is only a story of will, not skill.

When my son was a high school freshman, he auditioned for the smallest, most elite singing group in the music department. He didn't get in, but he was accepted for the larger, still good, chamber choir. This made him happy; however, he went to the music teacher that year and said, "My goal is to be in the smaller group. What do I need to improve in order to achieve that?"

She gave him a list of things he needed to work on. He worked on them all year. He even took private voice lessons. In his sophomore year, he got into the smaller group.

By then, he knew he wanted a career in music, so he went back to his teacher. "What classes should I take if I want to major in music? What school would be a good fit for me? What else should I be doing?"

The music teacher gave him the information, and he followed her advice. He took music theory, he applied to strong music schools, and he auditioned for, and participated in, state choirs. Everything he did built his resume and helped him meet and network with both professors and professionals.

Today, he is a freshman at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, at California State University, Long Beach. He's studying vocal performance, having a great time, and finding his classes fairly easy because he was prepared.

There was another student in my son's high school classes, a lovely girl with a nice voice. As a freshman, she also auditioned for the small group and didn't get in, but she got into chamber. She was happy and didn't ask for more. For three more years, she auditioned for the small group, got into chamber, and was happy. She didn't try out for any state choirs, didn't take any theory classes, and didn't ask the music teacher for any advice.

When it was time to choose a school and a major, she chose music. After all, she had a lovely voice. What could be so difficult about singing?

I saw her mom in the store and she asked how my son was doing in school.

"He loves it," I said. "He's having a really good time. How's your daughter?"

"She has so much work. All the theory and stuff is really hard, and she didn't get any kind of preparation from the high school teacher."

I could have told her that my son got lots of help, and that all she had to do was ask, but I didn't. I figured it was water under the bridge now, and there was no way to keep it from sounding neener-neener-smug.

There's a lesson in this story, no matter if you're a writer or a singer or anyone with a goal of success at anything: what are you willing to do for it? If you're a writer, what do you do with rejection slips? Do you shrug your shoulders and send a query to the next agent on the list? Or do you take another look at your manuscript? Have you taken classes, joined a writing group, or hired a free lance editor? Are you making it better?

Or do you just spin your wheels in the same spot and blame someone else for not spoon feeding you the information?

Just asking.


Anonymous said...

Gah, I just typed out a really long comment -- and then it was eaten.

Basically, great post.

Everytime I get a rejection note (from an agent or editor), I go back to the cause: what I've written, whether it's fiction or a query. I try to figure out what went wrong, what needs to be made better, or if I should scrap it. I always want to make it better.

But I think people too often blame outside elements -- the agent, the editory, the direction the wind is blowing. I know that I'm not entirely faultless in that area, because everyone has a bad day. But it isn't helpful to blame others, or fail to take initiative. Persistence is key to success.

Anyway, like I said, good post. Thanks for making me think. :-)

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks. Sometimes a rejection is more about THEM than YOU. But I think you always need to at least ask yourself if they have a point.

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