The Gift in Failure
A couple weeks ago, an opportunity I've dreamed of for a long time came to fruition: the chance to audition to be a featured vocal soloist with a local symphony. I made it through the first round of auditions (video) and was invited a few days later to do the second round (in person) along with 4 other female vocalists.
Upon arrival it quickly became clear that the other women knew as little as I did about what, exactly, the conductor was looking for, how many soloists they'd pick, etc., so we chatted nervously as we warmed up in the hallway.
One of the ladies had brought her aunt along for moral support, and as I struck up conversation (in part to keep my nerves at bay), she mentioned two striking things to me: first, that her dad had played with Louis Prima (a fixture of New Orleans jazz and one of my biggest swing music influences), and second, that she wished she had picked up an instrument as a kid but didn't think it was in the cards for her now.
I shared with her my own story of putting music aside, then learning the ukulele and eventually finding so much more of my voice vocally, and let her know that it wasn't too late for her to connect with music!
Then it was my turn to audition and we parted ways.
A few days later I received word from the symphony that I was not selected as one of the finalists this year, but they highly encouraged me to audition again in the future.
This news was disappointing, of course--I was SO CLOSE--but at the same time, I was truly proud of getting that far. All those who were chosen were more operatic singers than me, and all had vocal performance degrees (two of them even had vocal masters degrees!).
Additionally, one of the finalists messaged me on Instagram a few days later: "When we left," she wrote, "one of the first things my aunt said (and I have to agree) was that it was so nice talking to you and she felt uplifted when you mentioned that she could still learn to play an instrument!"
So even though that audition story didn't end with me singing with the symphony this Christmas as I'd hoped, this unexpected interaction with a stranger brought a bit of joy and possibility to her life.
That is a true gift in my eyes :)
I hope this story inspires you to share a bit of your own joy with others during this busy holiday season. You never know what positive effect you might have on people, so make it count!
Make Your Audience Right
A few days ago a friend of mine gave me tickets to the Baton Rouge symphony. We ended up sitting just a few rows away from the stage with a great view of the front line of musicians.
As the concert began, the first thing I noticed was the special guest conductor. He was young and not very imposing in stature but projected such energy through his movements and body language (even with his back to the audience) that you could feel his presence and leadership of the orchestra as it played.
I loved that he wasn't afraid to hold us in silence with his gestures at the end of one particularly poignant piece until the whole orchestra (and room) was silent, too. For a few brief moments, you really could hear a pin drop. Then as his arms and posture relaxed, so did we.
But what most endeared him to me was his impromptu interaction with the audience. Usual symphony tradition says you should NOT clap between movements of a longer piece of music, and I wouldn't be surprised if a few conductors throughout history have scolded audiences at times for breaking this rule. This conductor, however, embraced those who didn't know about that tradition, even turning around after one movement when a few VERY hesitant claps echoed throughout the hall to let us know with a welcoming gesture that it was perfectly "OK" to clap at that point, too.
This experience demonstrates one of my favorite tenants of charismatic communication--that oftentimes, HOW we say something is more important than WHAT we say, because it's our tone, body language and facial expressions that most affect how people FEEL in our presence.
That conductor took a moment when we as a collective group were hesitant, unsure, nervous even, and he connected with us (even for a second) to reassure us and "make us right."
Similarly, the musical genius and performer Jacob Collier, who is known around the world for turning his audiences into impromptu choirs, uses his charismatic communication and leadership skills to get everyone in the room to "go out on a limb" for him. You TRUST that he will lead you through an incredible musical experience, that he won't lead you astray, and so you follow him. But once you're there--singing in a concert hall among hundreds of other strangers--his #1 JOB as a leader is to make sure you feel safe and to GUIDE you to be RIGHT along with everyone else in the room. And he does. THAT is the root of his magical connection with the audience.
Find a way to make YOUR audience (even an audience of 1) feel OK, reassured, laugh or at least less awkward in the moment. It can have a huge impact on their overall perception of you and open new doors for collaboration together.
Do you sometimes feel like you've bitten off more than you can chew?
I feel like that some days with music.
Since moving back to Louisiana, I have basically started adding an entire new subgenre of songs (traditional jazz) to my repertoire, which means a lot of practice and occasional baptism by fire.
It's exciting AND equally terrifying :)
On the days when I'm feeling more overwhelm than enthusiasm for extra work I'm putting in to prepare, it's important to pause and look back at how far I've come.
You can do this, too, for anything you're currently working on.
Incorporating this practice into life regularly can put things into perspective and help you not only ACCEPT where you are in that moment (or even feel joy for it) but also recognize just how far you've come (and celebrate that).
It's a simple technique that works wonders. Try it and let me know what you think!
Ashley Orlando is a jazz vocalist/ukulele artist and coach who helps growth-focused leaders find their voice, grow their presence & amplify their impact.