"Flutists are so competitive!"
"I can tell you are a flutist..."
"Flutists can't be friends..."
I'm sure you have heard at least one of these popular phrases in your career. For some reason, we flutists live with the stereotypes of being extremely competitive, catty people. Is it because we are the highest pitched woodwind instruments? Is it because flute is a popular instrument? Is it because we are divas? No matter the reason, it is a popular opinion that will likely plague us throughout our entire lifetimes. I have dealt with my fair share of competition thus far, and some of it has not been pretty. Especially with young flutists, it can be very challenging to make sure your voice is being heard when there are so many talented people in the world. Often, people revert to gossip, backstabbing, and even sabotage of auditions when they feel their talent is being threatened. I have had my own fair share of not-so-pretty moments over the years when I felt the same way. I have certainly had to learn the hard way that these negative actions will get you nowhere. Talking poorly about other flutists, saying that he or she "isn't as good as everybody thinks they are", saying that "so and so didn't deserve to win that competition over me" is not only extremely unprofessional, but it is also an awful way to deal with rejection. Chances are, you will receive some form of rejection at least once throughout your career as a musician. For most people, including me, dealing with rejections will be come a frequent occurrence and can be very dangerous to your confidence levels. While I strongly feel that music should not be a competition, it is a fair and square way to provide wonderful marketing opportunities and opportunities to win money and masterclasses to the winners of musical competitions. Even finding a job in music can be extremely competitive. Coping with rejection should become a vital component of our pedagogy, and unfortunately there is not enough emphasis placed on teaching young students that not winning everything they enter is okay, even beneficial to them in the long run.
One competition I entered I made the final round, and traveled four hours to get there. I had my piece memorized backwards and forwards and I had performed it from memory countless times that year. There were ten of us who made finals, and the final round of the competition was a concert in which all of the competitors were to watch everyone before them go up onstage and play their piece for the judges. I had just met my accompanist that day, and we rehearsed my piece that same morning in the hall. I was so confident about the way I played, and I vividly remember walking off of that stage physically exhausted because I knew that I had given that performance every ounce of musicality that I had in me. In my mind, it was a flawless performance. After the last competitor performed, there was a reception for the performers and their families in the lobby while the judges debated the results. After a long 30 minutes, we were finally all called back into the performance hall. I was certain that my performance would place. First, they called up audience favorite. Not me. Second, they called up third prize. Not me again, though I was confident I had at least first or second place on lock. Second place was called, still not me. I thought to myself, "did I really win first prize?". As they paused, my mind was racing and my heart was beating. I heard them call out the first prize winner, and had a bit of an out-of-body experience. They said someone else's name, not mine. I was completely devastated, because I knew I had given that performance absolutely everything I had in me. I started to jump to quick conclusions, saying to myself things like "this competition had to have been rigged". But at that moment, I realized that I was making myself absolutely miserable. The winner of that competition had played flawlessly. Their performance was absolutely beautiful. While I was still upset that I didn't place, at that moment I realized how catty and negative I was being. Then I thought to myself, "sure, I may have played my best, but my accompanist and I weren't agreeing on tempos and there were some form mistakes because of that".
The bottom line is, talking behind others backs during competitions will get you nowhere. Being jealous of the winner of a competition you entered will not make you any better of a musician, and certainly no better of a person. The best thing you can do to cope with rejection is to swallow your pride, congratulate the winner no matter how hard it may be, hold your head high and be proud of the way that you played because it is all that you could offer on that day. My favorite quote I think I have ever heard in regards to petty competition was over the summer in one of my lessons with Bonita Boyd at Aria: "I have learned to never apologize for the way that I performed in a recital, etc. I gave my audience all I could offer them on that day and no more. I will tell them that if they were not satisfied with the way I performed, to come back and listen to me tomorrow because I may have more to offer musically. But I am happy with the way my performance went and there was absolutely nothing I could have done on that day to make it any better than it was." I think that attending the Aria International Academy this summer was the turning point in my mentality towards competition. I had spent years and years before loathing other flutists that were better than me because I thought that the only way to become better was to knock others down. Now I understand that in order to grow I must actually learn from my competitors, and I must respect their talents because they have worked just as hard to get where they are musically as I have worked to get where I am. Some of the best friends I have ever made were flutists at that camp, and it has changed me so much. I made myself absolutely miserable focusing on the competition, where all along I could have been focusing on the positives and being grateful that I have the opportunity to study music and to play my flute all the time amongst some really talented people. I have also learned to not put myself down, because my musical journey is just as valid and just as important as others. I also have talent, and I have learned that some may feel the same about me as I have felt about others when I hear them play and I think that they are good at their instruments.
If you ever find yourself experiencing negative emotions in regards to performing, competitions, etc., I highly advise you to look within first. Do you feel jealous because you are insecure about the way you have been practicing? Do you feel threatened by others talents because you are not confident with your own? Practicing yoga has been extremely beneficial to me in the sense of developing my own self-worth and finding peace with the fact that I certainly am not and probably will never be the best flutist in the world, but I am exactly where I need to be at this moment in time. I became jealous and felt threatened by others because I was insecure about my own abilities, and I have learned to redirect these feelings of insecurity into analyzing why my practice techniques weren't working for me anymore and how I can change them so that I can continue to improve. Become best friends with your fellow flutists, because you will need them throughout your entire career. The flute community is so small, and you will be much happier amongst dear friends than enemies.