Class of 2008
I sat in tense silence, waiting for the maestro to stroll across the stage and mount the platform for what promised to be the most rewarding performance of my life. Squinting under the stage lights I readied myself for the sound of footsteps, prepared to rise and face the thunderous applause. With the sound of my heart beating in my head, I tried to recall how I had come to sit this February evening on this grand stage.
Nearly a year earlier I had a similar case of nervous energy as I waited to begin a much different performance. The audience consisted of friends, family and the contest judge. The setting was a dimly lit high school classroom. I was about to perform the Goltermann Cello Concerto in the high school district music contest. After receiving permission from the judge, I nodded confidently to my accompanist to begin the introductory chords. Listening to the opening stanza on the piano, I took a deep breath and began counting the measures until my grand entrance. Coming in with force, I played the first movement of the piece with confidence.
I began the second movement with vigor, but soon my right arm tightened. Perspiration from my left hand made the precise fingerings a challenge. I struggled to maintain tempo with the piano and quickly lost my once crisp articulation. In that moment, time seemed to stand still as my worst fears became reality: I had stumbled through the final passage of the piece, finishing out of tune and out of tempo.
The district contest didn’t mark the first time I had made a mistake while performing but it was certainly the most disheartening. I had studied and rehearsed this piece for several months. I knew every note by heart. In fact, I had performed it successfully twice before. I felt embarrassed and discouraged when the judge awarded me a second place rating that rendered me ineligible to advance to the state competition.
That evening I discussed the performance with my teacher and decided to take some time off from lessons to reassess my goals in playing cello. Many questions came to my mind. What exactly had gone wrong? Why had I cracked under pressure? How did my performance change so quickly? Had I made a mistake foregoing my senior year on the basketball team to focus all of my energies on playing the cello? Most importantly, what was my future in music?
Two weeks later I received an acceptance letter from Wheaton College. Wheaton is small liberal arts college with a highly respected conservatory of music. As a liberal arts major, I could perform with other accomplished conservatory students in an eighty member orchestra and receive expert instruction. This was just the opportunity I had been waiting for. Over the summer I worked to perfect the contest concerto that had caused me to question my future in music, performing for anyone who would listen. Upon arriving on campus in the fall of my freshman year, I auditioned with the same piece of music that I had failed to perform successfully six months earlier. As a result, I earned the right to play in the orchestra and to study privately with the cello professor.
As I straightened in my seat that February evening I thought back on my year-long journey. This would be the most gratifying musical performance of my college career. In a few brief moments I would perform Handel’s Messiah in concert with a 200 member chorus under the direction of world-renown conductor John Nelson. This dream would not have become a reality without the lessons learned from my failed high school performance.
The importance of perseverance came home to me. My decision to continue playing cello demanded hours of disciplined practice and rehearsal. Had I not been resilient and decided to continue playing, my entire college experience would have been drastically different. I would have missed out on many valuable experiences, great memories and deeply meaningful relationships. My transition to college life would also have been far more difficult. Orchestra rehearsal was a therapeutic exercise that allowed me to cope with the difficulties of making new friends and adjusting to an unfamiliar environment during my first semester in college.
I also learned the value of seeking out new challenges. The opportunity to perform in a college ensemble presented a new challenge that led to other significant performance opportunities including the chance to perform the Vivaldi Double Cello Concerto alongside the principal cellist of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.
What’s more, the cello enabled me to overcome my fear of public performance. As a result, my musical ability and my self confidence greatly improved. I can’t think of a more valuable aspect of personal development that benefited my entire college experience.
So often we discover that failure is a better teacher than success! This was certainly true for me. Law school is the next big challenge in my life. Though I don’t know exactly where a legal education will lead me, I am confident that the lessons learned from playing the cello have both shaped and prepared for success in the study of law.