Learning From "Bad" Performances

"Competitions are for horses, not artists" - Bela Bartok

What happens when you don’t do well in a performance or competition? We’ve all been there. You prepare, dream, get excited and feel ready — but BAM! You don’t get a 1 or make it to the next round of competition. What does that mean? Are you a terrible performer? Did you look at them funny? Did they hate your sound? Should you quit performing? Are you an embarrassment to society?

Take a deep breath.

This recently happened to one of my children and honestly, I think it was harder for me than her. I knew going into it what she needed to do better, I told her what those things and so did her teacher, but she didn’t do want to do it “our way”. We even had an argument over it. I’m sure arguing really helped with her nerves before heading into the adjudication room. She didn’t advance and we didn’t talk about it until the next day. I stressed over what to say, feeling like a little “I told you so” might be in order. It’s a good thing I took some time to think first. I realized that we all need to learn humility and how to be teachable. If she had advanced she wouldn’t learn to listen to more experienced performers. We all go through similar phases. Bruised pride was my main problem. I wanted her to win for the sake of winning, not as a reward for hard work and proper technique. At her age I could barely play the clarinet, let alone compete anywhere. I just waited for her to bring up the subject. Here is how the conversation went:

Daughter: “So, I’m guessing I didn’t make it to the next round or we’d be at the competition right now?”
Me: “Yep.”
Daughter: “Mom, I want you to know that I’m listening to you, even if it doesn’t seem like it or I don’t sound like I want to hear what you have to say, so keep telling me stuff, ok?”
Me: (shocked) “Uh, ok.”

Learning how to handle critique and loss is an important part of a performer’s training. My private students are going through the roller coaster ride of solo/ensemble results. Remember that competitions, performances and auditions are all opportunities for growth. We learn more in the preparation than the actual event. Also remember, we all have good days and bad days. You should be competing against yourself. Did you do your best? If so, enjoy the feeling of a job well-done, then go home and practice. — Amy

Feel free to share your learning experiences. We love getting input from other musicians — and anyone who has grown from poor performances.