Being Denied Does Not Make You A Failure

It is getting to be that time of year when prospective musicians/composers are on their way to interview and audition at various institutions and universities around the world. One can not avoid, when discussing the act of interviewing or auditioning, the worst fear of anyone in that place; being denied. 

The plain truth is, no matter who you are, you will not be accepted for everything you apply for. Whether you are a new student applying for their first year of undergraduate studies or an emerging artist applying for masters degrees, doctorate programs and summer festivals; you will deal with denial from the programs that you are applying for. This, however, does not make you any less of a musician or composer that you are.

Let's first breakdown a few different sub-topics :

  • Being denied is tough
  • What to do after being denied
  • Learning from the situation
  • Repeat the process

Now that we have broken down the topic into some smaller sub-topics, we can begin examining the process of being denied and how it can ultimately be a beneficial experience. 

Being Denied is Tough

There is no hiding that getting denied is hard for anyone. No matter what your background, or what you are applying for, we can not fight our basic emotions. However, it's not the emotions that are tough but it is the act of actually handling them that can be tough. Are you mentally strong enough to be denied time and time again until you are accepted? Are you mentally prepared when you walk into an audition that there may be a chance you do not receive an acceptance? These are qualities that have proven to be highly valuable in the act of creating a career in music. Ask any musician and the odds are they've been denied positions more times than they've won a position. However, they did not stop trying until they succeeded.

What To Do After Being Denied

The easy thing to do after being denied from a program is to get angry and possibly place blame onto things that were not in your own control. These actions will not get you anywhere further in your career and certainly become exhausting when you go through the act a few times or more. I see this often in younger students applying for their undergraduate studies. Many times these students are at the top of their class having won awards and being recognized by their school districts. They have been on "the top" for awhile and do not know any other feeling. They begin applying for programs and competing with prospective students that are also "on top" of their own school districts and eventually rejection occurs. When it does, they do not know how to deal with it.

Now that we have established what not to do after being denied, lets discuss the many things we can do to create a positive situation. The first thing is as simple as this; move on. If you've applied for something and you do not get it, dwelling on the situation is simply a waste of time and energy. Until time travel is possible there is nothing you can physically do to change the situation at the current time. A better use of your time would be to research the application/audition process and decide if you will continue working toward that same goal when applications for it come around again. Not only should you research that same application but you should also look for similar applications that are relevant and possibly coming up soon. The simple math is, the more opportunities you apply/audition for, the higher chance you have created to getting accepted into at least one of them. The last, and most important, thing to do after getting denied is to try and learn as much as possible from the situation. 

Learning From the Situation

As you move from one application to another, you begin to realize that each situation is slightly different. That being said, you can learn something new from each application/audition you take part in. If at all possible you should try and get any feedback you can from the committee or judges during any application/audition process. Sometimes what you learn can be simple and sometimes what you learn can be selective. Either way, collect the feedback and create an educated decision based on your own knowledge combined with what they're suggesting. If you are a composer it could be as simple as submitting sample scores for mostly chamber works when they were looking for samples of large ensemble works. Maybe you are a timpanist and they did not like your mallet selection for a Beethoven excerpt. No matter what the advice is, take it and consider it. 

As you begin collecting feedback from various sources remember to always remain focused on your own artistic goals as well. Often you will find that you will receive contrasting feedback from two separate sources that are both valid statements. You need to, as an artist, make educated decisions based on your own artistic goals. Not every person is going to like what you do, but it does not mean what you are doing is bad or wrong. With this statement I will leave a simple quote that was given to me early on in my compositional studies:

"Remember that when you are writing [or making] music to always create what you want to hear. It is impossible to make everyone happy and someone will always be there to not like what you are doing. So if you create what they want to hear and you yourself do not like it, then why create the music at all?"

Repeat the Process

This step is quite simple, continue repeating this process until you succeed. For some it happens sooner than others, but that does not make them a better musician/composer. Often it's simply being in the right place at the right time or just taking a chance on something you may normally not have gone after. Either way, if you want it bad enough you simply don't stop working at it until you succeed and then you work at it some more. 

-Nicholas V. Hall