I’m not a movie buff, and I don’t watch the Oscars. I really don’t care who wins because I’m probably not going to watch any of the movies anyway. But I do know what the Oscars are, and how big a deal they are. I am aware of the planning, precision and attention to detail that is needed to put on such an event, and that millions of people who are watching the awards ceremony on live television.
A lot is at stake to get it right.
So, I was surprised over the weekend to learn that, back in 2017, a wrong winner had been announced on stage, and that the wrongly announced winners were already giving their speeches before the correction was made.
That’s a really big gaffe.
Apparently, in 2015, the wrong winner was announced at The Miss Universe pageant! The crown was placed on the head of the runner-up, then had to be removed and placed on the real winner’s head. In front of millions of people.
At least I wasn’t on stage or on television in front of millions of people.
I got an email and phone call this past Thursday with the announcement that I had won a competition I entered. I was beyond excited, because this was the first competition I had WON. I’ve been a finalist a few times and have come in second before, but for me this was a huge deal. In my excitement, I shared it with my family, my friends, and my social media following (which is not very large.)
This wasn’t a mistake of failing to read the fine print, like the characters in the old Alpert’s Furniture commercials.
(Alpert’s Furniture was a regional family-owned furniture store. If you aren’t familiar with their incredibly funny commercials, here’s the one I’m referencing: Alpert’s Furniture – Lottery TV Commercial – YouTube.)
Unlike the almost-winners at the Oscars and the Miss Universe pageant, I wasn’t misinformed for just a couple of minutes.
Twenty-four hours later I received an email telling me there was a mistake, and I had not actually won. The winner and I both had the same title for our pieces, and they picked up the wrong one. I had come in second.
I was extremely disappointed and embarrassed that I had shared that I won. I didn’t know whether to take down my social media posts, or “come clean” and tell everyone I didn’t win or let them stay up. Two days later, I was still receiving “congratulations.” I know I didn’t lie, but I did unknowingly tell a falsehood and felt bad. I couldn’t bring myself to say “thank you” to those well-wishers (yet.)
An older friend congratulated me yesterday after church, and I told her what happened. She expressed sympathy, but then said, “You’re a winner in MY eyes.” – a sentiment that I found surprisingly touching. She told me not to take down my posts. “Let them think you won,” was her advice.
I shared this news with a composer friend of mine, who agreed it was a real bummer, but a regular part of being a composer.
If I know a composer who has been wrongly told they were a winner, I don’t know their story. That is why I am writing mine today. Anyone who reads this story and has experienced being wrongly told they are a winner can know they are not the only one.
One of the things that upsets me most about this story is that it’s a private pain: mine. There’s no public apology or announcement of a mistake. When the organization made their public announcement of the winner, they didn’t have to admit they originally screwed up and let another composer think they won for twenty-four hours. I hope there’s a change in their policies to prevent a mistake like this from happening again, but no one is not going to be asked back as an announcer.*
If I mess up my applications to these contests, I’m disqualified. If I accidentally send a broken link or a link to an empty folder, that’s it. I’m out. An overwhelming number of submissions can be difficult to process if something is missing from an application. It can also (accurately or not**) speak to a person’s ability to complete a project. Applicants to universities must have their applications 100% completed before the deadline. That’s the way the world works.
I wrote in a blog post quite a while ago that, while I am applying to Calls for Scores and Competitions, I am also vetting the ensembles and organizations. I pay attention to how they treat composers – what they are offering, how they communicate, what they say in their rejection letters, and how organized they are. They have a team of people. If someone can’t get back to me in a timely manner, or if they go and tell the wrong person they won, I question if that is a group I would want to work with in the future. That level of disorganization, to me, says a commission could be a disaster.
This is the danger of having only one shot at communication. We’ve got to get it right.
*As far as this organization is concerned, second place comes with a small monetary award and a performance next season. Nothing was said about 2nd place on the competition description, so I’m not sure if it always existed or was created for me. They still want to meet over Zoom. I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet, but I will play nice and agree to it.
**Having recently been involved in a Call for Scores and overseeing the collection of entries, I was pretty shocked to see several competent composers (who I know personally) have problems with their links and folders.
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4 thoughts on “If It Can Happen at the Oscars, It Can Happen to Me.”
Heather, what a real bummer! I think you have dealt with it in a healthy way. Your comment about vetting the group or ensemble was an interesting one because it reminded me of the calls for scores where I never heard anything, yes or no–only silence. Stick to your guns.
In the last year and a half I changed how I submitted to competitions and calls for scores and have lost track of who I submitted to when. I only know I do not hear back from many, maybe half. I know composers who say to just send it into the void expecting nothing, but I find not hearing back disrespectful of my time and effort. Like I said in my post, they have a team of people who can handle some basic communication, and there are tools for better organization and mass emailing. (When I do hear back, it is usually a mass email, and that is fine.)
I’d actually prefer to NOT hear back if my piece wasn’t selected. I am cool if an organization just posts the selected piece(s) on their website/social. If I need to check it out, I’ll check it out. Otherwise, I don’t want to see the “apology letter” because it’s a waste of my time. Unless, they provide some constructive feedback on why the piece wasn’t selected, which rarely happens.
Thanks, Jane! It is interesting to hear another perspective. I like knowing this-or-that person won and often look up their music. Sometimes it can give me insight into what the group was looking for. And I don’t want to hunt for it, especially if I have had email contact with the group asking questions and getting answers. That happened to me before, too. In most cases, I want to know the group is actually doing what they say and a winner was actually declared. I feel it wastes my time to go through all my entries, look up their dates of announcement (if they provided one) and visit websites to find the answer. More than once, I’ve had to revisit a website multiple times because a group was delayed in putting up the announcement. Just send an email!