When the Worst Possible Thing...Actually Isn't

Last Tuesday the Living Room reran one of our earlier episodes, called What I Gained When I Lost. As I listened a second time, it reminded me of an experience I had back in high school:

It was the audition for Concerto Night, a competition amongst my musical peers for a chance to perform in the spotlight with a live orchestra (the high school orchestra, but still, a pretty big deal). I had been studying and practicing this particular concerto, the Beethoven I, for over a year and a half. I had all 28 pages thoroughly memorized, backwards and forwards, they were polished, and perfected. I even had two amazing master classes with concert pianist Grant Johannessen. I was ready. Except for a tiny little problem I have called Performance Anxiety.

It turned out that my cousin’s wedding reception, in which I was a bridesmaid, was the same night as the concerto competition. I slipped out of the reception line a few minutes early, and my mother and I raced our car through the slushy city streets, arriving at the A cappella room just in time for one of the last remaining audition slots. I sat there, wringing and shaking my hands to warm them up after being out in the brisk February air.

They called my name. I stood up in my burgundy velvet bridesmaid dress, took a deep breath, and walked to the piano. All eyes were on me. The room was deathly quiet. I sat down, adjusted the bench, uttered a silent prayer for help, and nodded to my mom, who was playing the orchestra score on the second piano, to let her know I was ready. I’ve never been more ready for anything in my life.

I listened for the opening chords, then attacked my entrance with confidence and aplomb. The runs were rapid and crystal-clear. My fingers were flying fast over the arpeggios. I was off! Then  about halfway through the concerto, in a section that I knew so well I could play it in my sleep, I hit a wrong note.

It completely threw me off. I couldn’t find the next note, or the one after that. That passage I could play in my sleep suddenly became my worst nightmare. Flustered, I went back to a section where I could start over. When I got to the exact same spot I panicked again and couldn’t find the note.  I began again a third time, and eventually muddled my way through to the end. The finish was big and dramatic. But I knew I’d completely blown the audition.

I was devastated. Everything I worked on so diligently for over a year and a half suddenly seemed all for nothing. My dreams of playing with the school orchestra were shattered. I didn’t have to wait for the judges’ decision; I knew. I couldn’t even look anyone in the eye as I trudged back to my car in the snow. My mom was powerless to console me. God had let me down. My prayers hadn’t reached him…or they got His answering machine!

I stepped completely away from the piano and didn’t touch it again for 18 months. I couldn’t stand to be part of an art where you could perfect something, and still have it go abysmally wrong on the final performance. I thought about my writing, where you perfect a story or an essay, submit it to a contest, and win a scholarship. I thought about my artwork, and how you perfect a painting, put it in a frame and hang it up on a wall. It stays that way. Everyone who walks by can see it, just as you intended it to be.

I decided right then and there that I was going to major in art. For my creative sanity. I would create pieces and frame them and hang them. Period. No risk of the final product gone awry.

Looking back on that moment—where it seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen had just found me and dragged me down to the abyss—from my current mid-life vantage point, God didn’t abandon me at all. He used that moment to nudge me with a course-correction. He was being kind. And even a little bit generous. To let me discover my career path early, rather than after several other failed attempts. In retrospect, the demise of my piano-playing future signaled the birth of who I was really meant to be.

What I gained when I lost? Was my better self.





   Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, teacher, and adjunct art professor at UVU. She and her husband have 3 kids and 2 dogs, and she spends every day possible rejuvenating her soul in Utah's glorious mountains. She writes at divergentpathways.blogspot.com and exhibits her work at janaparkin.com.

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