Not Your Best Isn't Good Enough

June 16, 2009
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“Mallet player number seven, please enter the room to begin your audition.”
I rose from the dirty, blue tile floor and brushed myself off. Mallets in one hand, audition music in the other, I barely heard my band director whisper, “Do your best, Jeff,” as I passed him. Of course I was going to do my best. Didn’t I always?
That’s why the posting of the All-State band placements 30 minutes later came as such a shock. Why wasn’t my name next to “Mallets—1st Chair”? There had to be a mistake. Maybe the judges had lost part of my scores? Perhaps, since the auditions were conducted in two separate rooms, the judges had instructed me to play the wrong part in the wrong room. Or, even worse, was it possible that I had been practicing the wrong music all along? Whatever the error, I couldn’t let it go uncorrected.
Unfortunately, my last threads of hope were severed when my band director double-checked that the placements were accurate and final. Six months of arm-cramping, mallet-fracturing, sanity-sapping practice had been wasted. What had I done wrong?
Later, after the last band parent had posted the last placement sheet, and the last brokenhearted flautist had packed her instrument away and dejectedly boarded the bus home, my band director pulled me aside and let me have an early peek at my score sheet.
Before even looking past the second line of the music, I incredulously read comments that tore my performance to pieces. Dynamics were monotonous. Phrasing was confusing. Accents weren’t pronounced. But I knew I had worked on these!
At first, I refused to believe what I had read and later tried to forget the entire ordeal. However, after a few weeks of retrospection, the hard truth slowly hit me… I hadn’t played my best during the audition. And knowing that was even worse than not making the band.

Exactly one year later, I stared at the very same wall as I had a year before. Yet again, the chair placement sheet failed to list my name beside “Mallets—1st Chair.” This time, however, I quietly accepted my defeat without assuming the problem was the judges’ fault. As I reviewed my score sheet, I noted where one judge had complimented the sixtuplet I had practiced repeatedly and the octave double-stop I had nailed perfectly at the audition. True, he had taken off points for other passages, but they were beyond my skill level. This time, as painful as the feedback was, I couldn’t help but smile—because this time around, I had accomplished the one thing I had set out to do. I had done my best.





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