Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Outsider

Last night I was in the Provo Tabernacle accompanying our local Elementary School's Fine Arts Choir. And it made me sad.
But before I explain why and what and who and whatever, I need to give you my personal music history (and please forgive me if it sounds like I'm bragging. I'm not trying to brag. I'm not even trying to make me sound fabulous. I just need to show you what my strengths were so that you can understand the story--and my sadness--better):

It started the summer after 1st grade. My parents, both pianists themselves, were happy when I approached them and wanted to learn to play. I spent the summer playing Primary songs and basic things until I could get a piano teacher in the fall.
After three years, I begged to quit. Begged! My parents wouldn't relent. I was angry at first, but soon I hit my first "sprint" and I excelled very quickly. I never thought of quitting again!
By the time I was 14, I had to get a new teacher who could teach at my level and I was accompanying the school choirs and things at church. At 16, I was the ward organist and go-to accompanist for everything. At 17 and 11 months, I went to BYU to audition for their Piano Pedagogy Program.
And I was ready.
I had pieces by Kabalevsky, Beethoven, Bach, and Rachmaninoff prepared. My teacher said I was ready. I felt ready. I was ready! In fact, the year before I auditioned I had won the Junior Miss Talent Scholarship for performing the Rachmaninoff piece. But I knew BYU was going to be different --I would no longer be the big fish in the pond --I would be the little fish in the sea. But I was ready, dang it! And I really, really wanted it, too.
I remember, very distinctly, walking into the room and seeing three piano judges waiting for me. And then it's all blurry from there. I remember I forgot the names of my pieces. I remember having to start over once. Ack! I remember bombing the audition so badly that I cried for hours afterward (silently).
I was so humiliated!
The confusion I felt was amplified two months later when I won another scholarship with my Kabalevsky piece. I played it flawlessly!
This made me determined. I went to BYU and signed up for piano lessons so I could audition again in the winter. They put me with a teacher (whom I won't name for anonymity's sake) and she was not what I was hoping for --no desire to see me make it into the program, never complimented anything, etc. Plus, I began to realize very quickly that I did NOT want to practice 4-5 hours a day. I was barely fitting in my 1-2! And besides, maybe God was telling me something with the bombed audition? Maybe?
So, I never auditioned for the piano pedagogy program again.

I went home for three weeks at the end of my Freshman year. I spent my time at home substituting around the school district before going back to BYU to start my summer job on campus. I took the time to talk to my former music teachers at the high school and they both told me I needed to forget piano performance and get into teaching --in fact, my band teacher went even further than that. He set up an appointment with me to see the Dean of the School of Fine Arts at BYU (they had been roommates in college), and told me to explore my options. "Be a percussionist if you have to just to get in!" he said. "Then make a choice about what kind of music teacher you'd like to be."
(Side note: I was actually a percussionist in high school! But not very good. I couldn't play snare or quads, you know...)
Oh, I was so excited! I had never thought about it in that way. Fast-forward to BYU --I met with K. Newell Dayley (the Dean at the time), we talked about options. He set me up an appt. with Paul Broomhead (music ed. guy). He set me up with a voice teacher because I had said that I had always imagined myself as a choir teacher. I took lessons for over a year (her name is Martha and she was amazing!).
The next winter, I took a class from Broomhead that taught us how to get into the School of Music and what field would best suit us. I decided (with Brandon's input) that I needed to be a Secondary Education Choir Teacher.
I submitted my fabulously diverse portfolio (to quote Broomhead: "I had no idea how diversely talented you were! Band, choir, piano, drama... You have it all!"). I aced my interview (aced it, yo!), sang in the choirs, and auditioned to be accepted into the vocal department.

Was completely rejected by the Vocal Department.

Broomhead called them --begged them to let me in. "She will be an amazing choir teacher! You need to let her in, please?" I found out later he only begs for a few people every few years.
The Vocal Department's response? "She's not good enough. She's too big a risk."
I had aced everything but one vocal audition. And did they realize that I had woken up early that morning with a cold? And had three other people to accompany before my own audition? And was stressed out because I had recently been married and had another Open House/Reception that very night?
Wouldn't have mattered if they did know. Only the performance matters (which is how it should be, people. I'm hard-nosed, too).
Broomhead told me to consider options --take voice lessons all summer and audition for them in August! Try, try, try!
I was tired. I was married. I had a real future to think about. I had to pray.
I prayed hard.
And I realized I wasn't supposed to be in the School of Music. That there was a purpose for my failed auditions (the plurality of that statement still stings. Sigh...).
So, I graduated with a degree in MFHD (marriage, family, and human development) and I minored in music. And I had a baby...and more...and became a piano teacher. I'm still the go-to accompanist in all things in my ward, I can play the organ, I was the choir conductor for a few years, I can teach children to sing, and I enjoy incorporating music into my life when I can.
But I always wonder what would have happened...

Which brings me to the Elementary School Choir. When their music teacher asked me to be the accompanist this year, I was elated! It's been a lot of fun to do something public again (and not church related), and it's pretty easy music to learn. But the last few weeks --and especially last night --have been very hard for me. Here's why:

1. Our choir has had a student teacher --and she's great! She's fresh from BYU and about to graduate (thus the student teaching). She uses techniques from Broomhead I remember learning, and she's full of energy and excitement!
2. The Provo School District had a Elementary School Choir Festival (that was last night's performances) and we had a huge practice for the combined numbers on Monday morning. The choir director they picked for the combined numbers was a former El. school music teacher who stopped teaching when she had a baby. She is also a friend of mine! She worked with Brandon and I the summer of 1998 when he and I met and started dating. Can I tell you how fun it was to watch her in her element? To see her mold those hundreds of kids into one voice and make them laugh and get them to be serious? It was amazing. Amazing! (side note: It's incredible to see how far we have come from silly 19 year old girls to women of 30...). She didn't even know what she wanted to do before her mission (college-wise) and here she is --the top-choice musician to lead the choirs (although I do remember she was an accomplished flautist).
3. I was asked to sing with the music teachers for one performance (they did three very silly, but way fun, barn-yard folk songs) and I accompanied our choir for their one performance. But I still felt...odd. As I sat there watching the performances, I realized why:

I was The Outsider.

I didn't have a degree in Music Ed. I wasn't a professional. I really didn't deserve to hob-knob or laugh or commiserate or socialize with these people. I was some lady in the neighborhood who happened to play just well enough to accompany the choir. And please don't tell me, dear reader, that I DID deserve to be there and what-not, because I knew the feeling! I knew what it was like to be one of them! Back in College! I was almost one of them.
And the difference was staggering, between then and now.
What made it worse? I couldn't see the conductor, so I couldn't seem to stay in time with the choir. The piano was up on the balcony (anybody been in the Tabernacle and know what I'm talking about?) and the risers for the choir were down below near the ground floor. I felt so dumb. I already felt out of place, but to not even accompany correctly? Oh, sigh, sigh.
Luckily for me? Everyone else was out of sync/time, too. So... you know... :)

So, suffice it to say, it was hard for me to see all these music teachers and to realize what I could have been. And I know, I know --trust me, here, I KNOW --that I shouldn't waste time on "what could have been" and "what if" and "woe is me" because it won't help. But I seriously couldn't stop myself from wondering what it would have been like if I had been a music teacher in one of these schools. Or better --in a high school nearby, taking my kids to Carnegie Hall (the Provo HS Chamber Singers were singing in Carnegie Hall just recently!) and molding their voices and sounds to perfection. Teaching music theory (AP class!) and preparing kids for solo and ensemble festival. Teaching kids how to be top-notch accompanists, and teaching voice lessons in the summer. You know, becoming like Mrs. Mann (my HS choir teacher)!

Sometimes I flirt with the idea of going back to college in 10 years (or more?) and trying again. Other times, I convince myself that having music in my life is good enough --I don't have to make a career out of it. I mean, I'm elated with the idea of only having 6-8 piano students next year instead of 17 (elated, I tell you!) and I'm even more elated I'm giving myself a 4 month break from teaching this summer. How would I feel about having my five children and working full time? And let's not forget my desire to be a writer...and a Marriage and Family Therapist... and...
See? It doesn't fit. And I really believe Heavenly Father knew what was best for me. Staying home with my brood has been the best thing for me, and I really do love it! I mean, my mother has taught 2nd grade for 30+ years, and she has loved that, too (and it was what she was supposed to do). So, I know it's not about my motherhood and "giving up" something for motherhood (it's really not, dear reader. I know you may disagree with me, but that's not an argument I want to get into right now because I don't believe my mother gave up her motherhood for a career --she was fabulous at both).
I'm also sure God will let me know eventually (or soon, or already?!) why I wasn't allowed to excel in this area of my life, but that doesn't stop my longing for something that could have been...or living vicariously through my kids.
Haha! Just kidding.

Have you ever had dreams that you never saw fulfilled? Do you ever wonder why they weren't fulfilled? Do you think they are "fulfill-able" in the future? Do you ever feel like The Outsider when you had once been The Insider? Or have you fulfilled all your dreams? And if so, what the heck does that feel like?


Grandma Rozla said...

Shattered dreams! I know about those! Boy Howdy! But this is what I'm thinking. If we had all our dreams fulfilled there would be no need to continue to dream because whatever we want we would get - that's not the plan. And if all our dreams were fulfilled how would we draw closer to Heavenly Father and understand His plan? And if those dreams were fulfilled how would we be able to mourn with those that mourn? If all our dreams were fulfilled we would have no need for cleansing tears (I have a lot of those). My biggest dream that wasn't realized - 8 children - I didn't even make it halfway there - maybe someday, if I prove to the Lord that I really deserve the other 5 - I will be able to finish that dream and maybe just maybe He will give me even more than 5 more! I could go on and on with unfilled dreams but today I think I will concentrate on all my dreams that are happening and some dreams that are happening that are wonderful that I didn't know were dreams at all! Thanks for the post - it made me think and ponder! Love ya

Julie P said...

I am, and forever will be, two classes from a masters degree. I doubt I'll finish it in the future - there's a time limit, and I'd probably have to retake too many classes to be worth my time/money/energy.

Janelle said...

I never liked my major and have worked in my field and so I haven't felt that so much. I wanted a teaching degree and will most likely start working on that next fall.

But, I have stopped many times while parenting and prayed that if I remember anything of my mortal life, please let I remember this moment and this child's face in its perfection.

I never prayed for things like that while working.

Julie said...

I love Mrs. Mann. Did you know she's on Facebook?

And I'm finding it a little wonky that I didn't know all of this about you. I mean, I know you are a fantastic pianist, but I didn't know the extent of all of this.

Any time I see a play ... ANY TIME ... I get the "what might have beens." And I had the realization just earlier this week that by the time it's convenient for me to audition for and commit to a play, I'll be too old for the leads. Sigh...what might have been. Or what might be...I'm thinking about the "audition and commit while it's not convenient" option right now...

One more thing...I feel like the Outsider nearly all the time, but I'm pretty much okay with that nowadays.

Here's hoping your "what might have beens" become "glad they weren'ts."
Love you.

Annette Lyon said...

Oh, yeah. I know what this feels like--especially the Outsider part when at one point you were an Insider. It aches.

But at least for me, in other ways, I see things that wouldn't have been so great--so in a sense, I get a follow-up bit of relief like a dodged a bullet.

That must have been a hard night for you.

Tamra said...

well I'm proud that you even tried. I didn't even try out for music stuff at BYU even though I got lots of praise for my piano playing in HS. I think I knew I wouldn't get in so I just didn't bother - fear of failure. That really was the hardest part of BYU - Big fish in little pond to very small fish in giant lake. I hated that feeling.

I know you said don't say it, but I still think you deserved to be there. A degree isn't everything. Being a professional isn't everything. Maybe I'm being defensive because I don't have ANY degree and Jared doesn't either, but we are both really good at what we do, and, you know what, we have worked for where we are. You have too! I'm sorry you felt out of place - maybe you should consider going back to school if its something you really want to do.

Nancy said...

Hey! I saw you there last night! I was excited to see you but couldn't find you afterwards. My eldest sang in one of the choirs.

Very interesting thoughts you have shared. I have to say that the BYU music program tends to shatter most dreams and talents. With all due respect to the program, they are elitest and not necessarily for reasons that they should be able to. They have huge interest in their program not because it is necessarily the best but because of numbers and competition. Don't give up on your dreams! Don't let BYU have that kind of control over you. You find out how to make it happen when the time is right for you and your family.

By the way, I thought that was an interesting choice of placement for the piano and choirs. I thought the whole night was fabulous though! You played beautifully and the kids were all divine!

bythelbs said...

I have no dreams.

I think most of my best friends are "outsiders". I wonder what that means.

Michelle said...

I read every word of this and related to so much of it. I certainly have no musical talent; academics is my venue. It doesn't make any sense that I ended up as a SAHM to six kids, but her I am(almost 40--you're so young, be glad!)and I'm trusting God that it was the right thing. You simply wouldn't have had that many kids if you had been working and I know that neither of us would trade one of our children for all the praise and accomplishments in the world.

Amanda D said...

I want to meet anyone that says that they have fulfilled all their dreams. ;)

I'm starting to think that part of being a mother is losing some of those dreams. And then living through your children.

I always wanted to be a great gymnast. So I put my kids in gymnastics and they wanted to quit after a year or so. I was disappointed. Heaven knows, my chances of being a great gymnast are long gone, but I have other dreams and maybe they'll come true. I'd love to do hair for a playhouse. I'd love to write a book. I'd love to have some picture I take win an award. Perhaps someday...

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

For sure.
Probably Not.
Every day.
Yeah right.
I'd like to know too.

Desi said...

I’ve had too many unfulfilled dreams to count them all and some of them I wonder why they weren’t and others it’s become pretty obvious. Some of them I still have hope for, others are definitely not going to happen…I dreamed of being a fighter pilot in the Navy…I even started college as an engineering major and had it all planned out, but after two years I realized that although I was good at math, I wasn’t great at math…and that was a problem so I switched my major. Whenever I go to military air shows I get little pangs of sadness and jealousy, but then I realize that being a fighter pilot isn’t really conducive to having and raising kids so it was all for the best.

I’m sorry you are feeling this way, it’s no fun to think about the what-ifs, until you realize how great the what-I’ve-gots make up for it in the long run.

Amber said...

I think we'll always have dreams; if not what is the point of living? That said, I was able to fulfill all my professional ones because did not get married until I was 30. Many would have been miserable to wait that long but it was definitely right for me. And I can honestly say I left no stone unturned, which makes motherhood that much sweeter for me.

Never A True Aggie said...

There are lots of things I think I would like to do, but know that right now I am supposed to be right where I am. I always figure, when I am dead, none of those dreams will matter, but what will matter will be what kind of mother I am, so I don't sweat it too much. However, I do have LOTS of plans once my youngest is at college.

Cheryl said...

Thank you so much! I had never really thought about what unfulfilled dreams can do for us --what it can do for us that is positive. And knowing that Heavenly Father has different dreams for us than we do? I take comfort in that thought...

Well, you never know! Maybe one day you'll get those two classes done, and if not? It's okay.

Ah, see! Your dream of teaching is still there --and it sounds like you want to still get it (that's good!). But I loved what you said about praying to remember your child's face --I pray for that, too.

I just added her today! Thank you! And you know, I'm thinking that what you said about auditioning and just doing a play anyway? Even with the inconvenience? That made me think about how I am so lucky to play for this choir! It's something I enjoy and it's not always convenient, but piano is who I am --and I want my kids to see that.
And don't worry --I have no regrets (as far as the big choices I made in my life). I just hate that the choices were taken from me and I didn't get to make them (being rejected twice).

Dodging a bullet --I like that! Maybe the choice being taken away from me was good afterall? Perhaps...but as you said, it does ache, doesn't it?

You are a BRILLIANT pianist. One of the best I've ever seen, hands down! But yes --if you had done music at BYU, it would have been Classical, and not what you love to do the most. So, it is good. And yeah, I've thought about going back to school --not for a while...but maybe later...

I wrote you an email! I didn't know you would be there, but it makes sense now that I think about it. :)
I've had the same thoughts about BYU, btw --I mean, every Mormon kid is taught music in some form, right? And then they are taught to excel (just for the sake of excelling), and so it would make sense that 10,000 college kids want to make music their career --but BYU only has room for 200...

And thank you for the compliment! I appreciate it.

Yes, you do. And sometimes you illustrate them with amazing accuracy! ;) And I think what it means is that you are a lover of all people --even us outsiders!

You are right. I wouldn't trade any of them for any of it. But I can still be sad a little, right? Not for having my children, but for being rejected? You know what I mean...

You know, you still might accomplish some of those dreams (well, maybe not the gymnast one, ha!) --I can ESPECIALLY see you winning an award for photography! You are so talented...

Glad to know we think alike. :)

I love that you wanted to be a fighter pilot! That is just too cool. Too cool! And yes --the I've-gots do make up for it (and more) in the long run...

Lucky! Seriously, you are one of the lucky ones (blessed, blessed, blessed), and I'm glad you realize it, too. :)

I like the idea of having plans once the youngest is away --in fact, this is why I always wanted to have my kids when I was really young (well, 20's) so that I could still be young-ish when they left home. :) It may not be that way exactly, but I'm still hopin'...

Michelle Walker said...

Oh, Cheryl. This is the hardest thing in my life, ever. I don't care if I sound like I'm bragging. When I lived in L.A. I was a singer. I had 3 opportunities to sign a record deal. I was named vocalist of the year, ranked in national competitions--you name it. I was a performer and I was damn good at it. Did I mention that at the time I was 115 pound and a blonde bombshell? I know, hard to imagine. The point is, everyday I think about the choice I made, to give up on singing--at 18 and move to Utah to have what I wanted more--a family. But like I've told you before, I sing R&B and that's not exactly welcomed in sacrament meetings.

My point is, that this has caused me an amazing amount of pain in my life. I think our situations are very comparable in the fact that you and I both decided to make sacrifices. I thought about the Saviour just the other day and wondered what it would be like if he complained about his sacrifice as much as I complain (in my mind) about mine?

I personally believe that amazing blessings have and WILL come into my life because I decided to become a mother--and that in order for me not to repeat history, I needed to dedicate myself 100%. I'm sorry, but sometimes that's really painful--point in being that it's a sacrifice. I think the hard part is learning to bear our burdens with grace and maturity.

You are an amazing pianist and I am an amazing singer. Sometimes it can be hard to know, but wonderful all at once, that our greatest audiences are the babes in our arms.

Just pray for some peace, woman! (And loan some to me) You're having baby #5!

Rachel Holtkamp said...

So, I, like every other person out there, grew up playing the piano and singing. And, like everyone else, people said I was good. However, I did not want to devote half my day to practicing, and I didn't think I was that good to try out. So I didn't and pursued a different career. My freshman year of college, I lived with a girl who was SOOO talented at the piano and singing. I will admit, I guess I was jealous, and did some things that she has since reminded me of and I'm not too proud of. Who was that roommate? You, Cheryl!
I honestly am glad you did not pursue a music degree. You have the opportunity to serve in different ways. Have you every noticed how anyone with a music degree in a ward gets pigeon-hold into every single music calling there is? You can expand your wings, and you were able to pursue other interests, and didn't have to give them up at the expense of a music degree from BYU.
Go back to school when you feel ready. Take a voice class now from a neighbor. Be a "professional" accompanist for a voice teacher. These are ways you can still have your talent. A "B.A." behind your name says nothing of your worth as a human being. If anyone tells you or treats you otherwise, then they are not worth your time.
Ok, on to your questions, heck yes I have dreams that are unfulfilled! Do I ever feel like an outsider? Uh, try being a 30-year-old single woman in Utah. I don't know if my dreams are fulfillable in the future. Sadly, that depends on another person's free agency. However, I am fulfilling other opportunities now: masters, traveling, working, church etc.
Sister Oaks said in a recent meeting I attended that wherever you are right now, that is where you are supposed to be. (not a direct quote). Sadly, we waste too much of our time wondering what "might have been", or what "could be", instead of what "is". Ok, I'm done rambling.
Also, Cheryl, I don't know if I already told you this, but I was reading my journal from when I was in Jerusalem, and I had written that I was so glad that I had you as a friend. You helped me a lot over the years. Thank you.

Cheryl said...

Ah! But see? There's the difference --you had a CHOICE. I didn't get one; it was made for me --twice! I think that's what gets me down --the fact I wasn't deemed good enough, you know? But I agree with you about finding peace with what's happened --and I really don't regret the path my life has taken. I just get a bit sad when I think of what I could have been musically, you know? Yes, you do know. :) And girl, who knows? Maybe NYC will want you!

And now I want to see you again. :) I loved your comment and everything you said. Thank you.

Two and Two = Family said...

I read this post yesterday and had to sit back and let a few tears roll..Not for me but for Gio. Like you he didn't have a choice either. Well, I guess we could have moved back to Italy, but then we would have taken the choice from the boys.
We don't regret being the outsider sometimes, but it hurts too.
Everytime we go to the doctor or the hospital those thoughts of "what if" come to the surface and we just push them down.

Now Robert is starting his life and we sometimes want our dreams to be fulfilled through him and that is a lot for a kid to handle.

We have told him to just make sure that he lives his life for himself and to do whatever will make him happy.

We made our "choice" and we are here and thankful and happy for it. And I also try to remember the scripture that says that whateve manner of intelegence we gain in this life will be with us in the hereafter (don't know the exact words).

The Glory of God is intellegence and if what have talents or knowledge that we can share with others than consider ourselves blessed and lucky.

You are an amazing person with so much to offer and give..Thanks for letting me learn from you!!!

Cheryl said...

I'm so glad you're reading! It's kind of fun to have more than one person in the ward who knows me for who I really am. :)
And I never thought about having to live in a different country as losing a dream --but that makes so much sense! But man, we are SO GLAD that you guys are here and not in Italy. And yeah...the kid thing, I'm so sorry. That is so very hard. So hard.
(You're the best, btw. Thanks for all your help!)

madhousewife said...

I totally relate to what you were feeling here, Cheryl.

I have unfulfilled dreams, but I still hope to fulfill them. I get a little less patient with myself every year, though.

I distinctly remember the feeling of being the Outsider the first time I visited the newspaper after having PZ and quitting my job. Everyone else had deadlines to meet and work to do and it just hit me that they were getting the paper out just fine without me. (Can you imagine, the nerve???) I didn't have any regrets about it, but it was a very strange feeling of melancholy, all the same.

tamrobot said...

i actually really love playing classical music. i've been thinking about this post over the past few days so today I sat down and played a few songs. it was really nice. i'm going to learn a few new songs and record them (maybe I'll give everyone a cd for Christmas). i'm really excited about it. thanks for inspiring me!