All In a Day’s Work

I came across a quote on Facebook this past week which said, “The business of theatre demands you have a completely fortified heart to withstand all the rejection, but the craft of theatre demands your heart be wide open so to create vulnerability and truth. And the effort of sustaining both states is….a lot.” I don’t know if Paco Tolson first said this, but his name is on the quote.

That is a true statement, and it is true for all the arts. Whenever someone is creating something, they are taking a risk in being vulnerable by sharing their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives, ultimately their heart. Art that comes from the heart resonates. But not with everyone.

The constant auditioning or submitting to competitions and calls for scores is exhausting. Rejections roll in, but you have to pick yourself up from the dust, shake it off, and keep going. Even when you feel bad; even when you’re exhausted; even when you feel like the wind was kicked out of you. You have to tend your heart and keep it soft and supple, open to the Spirit, willing to share your heart and let it speak in hopes that it resonates with another person out there, somewhere.

Most people who are kind enough to write rejection letters write decent ones. They are polite, though in my opinion the letters are full of empty promises. “We may consider you for a future project.” How many years do I need to wait before I know if this is true? My guess is, in reality, within a year or less my name is forgotten. I have to keep sending in work over and over again to keep my name fresh in anyone’s mind….if that organization even holds another call.

Sometimes, my work feels like riding a roller coaster. The highs are so infrequent that they are really high. It does help temper the lows of rejections when they arrive close together.

I got two rejections and two “acceptances” in a 24-hr period this week.

First, I got an email on Monday morning telling me that my piece, “Three Short Pieces for Unaccompanied Saxophone” will be included in the University Interscholastic League Prescribed Music List in Texas. This is great news! I am hoping this means in the next year and following that many saxophone teachers and their students will find my piece on this list and choose to play it. Shortly after receiving that news, I got an email telling me I was not chosen for a choral commission competition I entered. I had truly sent in my best work relating to the competition. Since it was for chorus and strings, I sent in “Our Dwelling Place” and “Daughter of the Stars”, two pieces I am very proud of. If that doesn’t help me win, I’ve got nothing else. At lunch time, I found out the short pieces for piano based on Satie I sent in weren’t used for the project. Bummer. Then the next morning I found out I was given the place of first Honorable Mention in an Emerging Composer Competition sponsored by Arcady, a choral ensemble in Canada directed by Ronald Beckett! I had submitted my art song, “Mirage.” I was actually surprised by this result, because this very piece had recently been rejected by a publisher and, compared to many art songs I’ve heard recently, is pretty straightforward, lyrical, and not too outrageous, harmonically speaking. Yet, I came in 4th place out of ninety-one entries from twenty-five countries. This is a big “win” for me, especially since the director told me himself that the judges all “loved the interplay between piano and voice and the opportunity that it presented for the singer to really be expressive.”

It sounds to me like they loved the vulnerability in the piece: the communication from my heart and the space given for communication from the singer’s heart.

It’s impossible to know who will like a piece and who will not.

Back when I was running a Multi-level Marketing Business when my kids were little, I learned that I should not decide for other people whether or not they want to purchase something or host a party. If I decided for them they weren’t interested, they definitely weren’t. Instead, I told them all that I was going to ask every person because that was my job. Now, my job is sending in scores. I can’t decide ahead of time that this or that ensemble or organization is not interested in my work.

My husband likes to say, “You cannot know your own impact.” This is true. Most of the time, we do not see the ripple effects from what we say or do, whether positive or negative. The effects ripple as how we treat one person dominoes into how they treat another.

And I can’t know the impact my work will have on another person. One person may find it useless. Another person may find it life-giving. One may find it boring; another may find it inspiring. Who can say? Not me.

So, when the rejections come I have to remind myself that’s only one part of the story and the ripples are only just beginning.

Rejections, acceptances, exhaustion, determination, the tending of my heart, the willingness to be vulnerable, the commitment to create. It’s all in a day’s work.

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A professional recording of my piece for string orchestra, Daughter of the Stars, is now available. It can be found here.

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