In January of 2017, I decided to audition for a spot in the best youth orchestra in the entire state. To get just one of the 100 spots, I would have to compete against 300 other adept musicians, many of whom would be returning players.
Most of the string players in this youth orchestra began playing their instruments at the tender young age of six or seven. For someone who had only been playing the violin for a little over three years, my new aim was rather ambitious, yet I remember eagerly doing my research online to find out as much as I possibly could. I checked the website every day to see when the application forms would be available for submission, and I also learned early on that the judging system was professional and unbiased. Judges chose participants by holding blind auditions, a system in which a dark screen concealed the judges’ line of sight while the musician played. This ensured that they would select members based on skill and not other factors such as appearance, gender, or nationality.
After I submitted my online application form, I received the mandatory audition excerpts in my inbox. I opened the email expectantly and eagerly printed them onto crisp white sheets of paper before glancing through them. This seems easy enough, I remember thinking. In doing so, I severely underestimated the difficulty of the few lines of music in front of my eyes.
Now, I don’t really mind practicing, but I knew I would make excuses and stop practicing like I normally did when I undertook any big projects. To overcome this issue, I used my disadvantage (my comparable lack of experience) as leverage to motivate myself. I actually managed quite well for the first few weeks, but eventually, I began to make excuses. On the weekdays, I told myself I was far too busy because I had a barrage of approaching tests and quizzes to study for. When the weekend came, I told myself that I would relax and resume practicing on the weekdays. And so on and so forth. All the while, the sheet music just sat there, gathering dust in a lonely corner of my room.
Days faded into weeks, which then faded into months. The audition quickly approached, and I was no more ready for it than I had been at the beginning of the year. I got so caught up with making excuses that I neglected my responsibilities and didn’t do the most important thing: actually practicing.
Eventually, the day of the audition came.
I had been warming up in a rather cramped audition room with a few other prospective violinists before a kind-looking woman called my name and gave me a few reminders about the process. I was not to talk loudly so that the judges could hear me, she said, before directing me to the stage where I would play my excerpts.
Except for a single music stand, the stage was empty, its starkness accentuated by the bright white lights. As I started toward it, they shined in my eyes and blinded me momentarily. I cast a self-conscious glance at the empty seats of the auditorium, which was strangely silent and dark. As far as I could see, I was the only one in the entire concert hall.
The auditorium loomed above, casting a portentous shadow over the stage that overpowered the brilliance of the lights almost like it was mocking me. My hands shook slightly as I placed my sheet music on the cold metal stand. I got ready to start playing- no, performing- and took a shaky breath. I set my bow on my violin. My once familiar and comforting instrument felt strangely leaden and alien. Then, I drew the bow across the strings and began to play.
If this were some work of fiction, you might have been expecting some miracle, some kind of godly and unrealistic moment where I explain how I played flawlessly against the odds. But sadly, this is real life, and to say I failed miserably is an understatement.
The acoustics in the concert hall were incredibly bright- so bright, in fact, that I was immediately put off by how the resonance of the violin had seemingly magnified by tenfold. I hastily played through my solo piece and prepared excerpts, which were riddled with mistakes of all kinds. The echoey and distant sound further amplified each and every stumble I encountered. Although the entire ordeal lasted less than ten minutes, it felt like thirty. After I finished, I abashedly hurried off the stage, cheeks burning. I knew I had failed. But hadn’t I known this would happen if I delayed the inevitable?
I received the audition results electronically a few days later. As expected, I didn’t get in. It was all on me; there was no one to blame but myself. I had been the only person holding myself back from reaching my full potential.
At school, I always won the familiar race against the clock. I routinely put off assignments until the day before they were due and stayed up until the early hours of the morning to complete them. I somehow managed to get good grades in the process, but I was trapped as a desperate prisoner in this abysmal cycle of sleep deprivation and irresponsibility. Perhaps this was the reason I never did anything about it: why bring about change when the results are telling you that you’re doing just fine?
But the audition made me come to terms with myself. It was evident that the real world would not tolerate procrastination, and those who failed to overcome their own hurdles would find themselves finishing last in the race.
That day, I stared calmly at the email, slowly filling with the smallest touch of dissatisfaction, an adamant refusal to accept this as a fact of life. Since then, I have worked towards becoming more accountable for what I do.
Overcoming procrastination is a lifestyle change, and it certainly hasn’t been easy.
I think I’ve come a long way. At the very least, I’ve certainly improved, but I still falter and experience lapses. To top it all off, I’m beginning to believe that I’ve lost the motivation to care. My performance in school has deteriorated with my added focus on the violin. Learning to balance school and extracurriculars is difficult, and a lot of the time, it seems I will continuously face some new and unforeseen obstacle blocking my way to success no matter how hard I work. Sometimes, I just want to drop everything all together.
But deep inside, I know that success isn’t completely out of my reach. I like thinking that I’m rekindling the lukewarm embers of tenacity into a crescendo, an incandescent blaze that will once again burn fervently within me.
I’ll be ready next year, I promised myself.
And I don’t plan to repeat the same mistakes I made again.