Competition and Contemplation

I had a lot to be grateful for this year, developments and opportunities I was eager to share, but I deliberated for a while before deciding to share some of my very private thoughts about singing in this year’s Musical Merit. It would have been easier to say nothing about my experience, but as this blog is about life and not just the best and most amazing parts of being a singer, I felt it was important not to sweep it under the rug.

So what happened? I was nervous in the hours leading up to my time slot, but once the music started, most of the nerves melted away. I started with “At the Well,” and the judges asked for “Silver Aria,” Presentation of the Rose, and “Green.” Everything went just fine. Nothing terrible happened. Perhaps if something had gone horribly wrong, I would have been able to come up with a clear cause-and-effect — I made Debussy roll over in his grave with my intonation and horrible French diction, therefore I did not place. 

There were a few things I wish I’d done differently (hmmm that C# could have been narrower and taller), but overall, I was happy with how I sang. I left the room in a great mood and ready to enjoy the rest of my mini-vacation:


Feeling pretty good after the semi. San Diego, 2014.

Immediately after getting the news that I did not advance to the finals, I was still in good spirits. Here’s proof from 5:08 PM:


Positweet. San Diego, 2014.

Pretty peppy, right?

But as the news sank in, I started to wonder what does this say about my singing? And what does this say about me? 

By 10 PM I was disheartened. You could say defeated.

I won’t go into more detail because it’s not this inner-monologue that deserves the focus. It’s what followed afterwards that I wanted to share.

I was in San Diego for the next two days, and I’d publicly committed to enjoying myself. So I smiled even though I didn’t really feel like it, went outside to soak up some sun, and filled the rest of the weekend with friends and activities when I probably preferred to stay indoors and mope.

On my last day in San Diego, my friend Kristina, whom I had been staying with, and I went to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. We hiked along the coastal trails, winding our way up, down, and around. The sun was out. It was a warm day. The trails were dusty. I was sticky and thirsty. But it was all worth it for breathtaking views like this:


Hiking along the Pacific. Torrey Pines, 2014.

And everywhere I looked I saw these determined, beautiful flowers making themselves at home, bright splashes of color alongside the dusty paths.





They put their roots down despite the sand and fought their way through the scraggly brush. Undeterred. Defiant.

I could hear the sound of the waves crashing beyond the rocks and feel the sweet cooling breeze on my skin. I let it all wash over me. And although it took me two months, I talked myself off the ledge (with the help of Baritone Boy, my teacher, Astoria Music Festival, and Dante) and arrived at the meaningful conclusion I’ve been searching for:

These flowers, blooming so fearlessly despite harsh conditions, were a reminder that good things can come out of challenges.

… that struggling isn’t a sign of failure.

… that slow progress is still progress.

… that just because you’re not an international opera star by your mid-20’s doesn’t mean you should get out of the business.

… that even though I didn’t place in the competition, I can still say, think, and believe that I performed well.

… that two individuals who have heard me over the years commented on how well I sang in the semis, one of whom has given me very honest feedback in the past.

The path we chose isn’t always easy, but it can still be beautiful. Less-than-ideal circumstances don’t preclude worthwhile outcomes. So keep going. Keep learning. Stay passionate. Stay positive. And never give up.


Letting the world flow around me. Pacific Beach, 2014.

Congratulations to all the Musical Merit winners and participants. If you didn’t win this year, don’t let that stop you. Get fired up, and start learning music for next summer!

Please feel welcome to comment and share. Was there a particular moment that changed you? What discoveries have you made about yourself? What gets you back on your feet and ready to try again?


4 responses to “Competition and Contemplation

  1. I was told once that in order to succeed you have to learn how to recover from your disappointments and the most successful people usually have a string of recoveries behind them.
    Just be true to yourself is my favourite mantra.
    Best wishes to you Joyce 🙂

  2. This is such an inspiring post Joyce. And I adore the photos! You should print some for your rehearsal space to continue the inspiration. Looking forward to reading of your success in the time to come.

  3. Pingback: Competition and Contemplation

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