Last Sunday was the New Jersey Music Teachers Association (NJMTA) Commissioned Composer Competition. Just to recap, I was selected to be this year’s commissioned composer. I wrote 4 student works: Peaceful Pause (beginner piano solo), Avian Adventures (intermediate piano solo), Modern Dance (advanced piano solo) and Shades of Blue (intermediate/advanced violin and piano duo). On Sunday, November 11th, I was a judge for this competition where I heard student performances of my new works. After hearing these performances, I selected 1st, 2nd, 3rd and honorable mentions for each of the four categories. The winners in each category will be premiering the works this Saturday at the NJMTA State Conference.
It was quite the experience to serve as a judge. I was the only judge so I guess you could say that I felt like the weight of the world rested on my shoulders. Every student I heard played very well and were all winners in my book. It is not an easy task to pick what you consider to be the best performance of your work. As a composer, I have a vision of what my work sounds like. I have the whole piece in my head before ever hearing it performed live. Everyone fulfilled my expectations, but there was that one person who took the performance beyond what I envisioned it to be and that is how I based my decisions.
After the competition, I went through a period of reflection on what competitions meant to me. I felt like my whole life has been one never ending competition. Perhaps everyone’s life can be viewed as an ongoing competition. My competition began at the age of six years old when I realized that I was unlike my other classmates. After my first day of Kindergarten, I came home asking my mother why people were making fun of my eyes. That’s when I learned about my visual impairment and that I was different from all the kids in my grade.
Two years later, I began private lessons in classical piano and was told that I had a very strong musical ear and learned that I have perfect pitch. However, school was a different story. My teachers had commented to my parents that it appeared that I was not paying attention in class. Then, a recent school hearing test showed that my hearing was not normal. I was finally diagnosed with having hearing loss. This made sense since I didn’t learn how to speak until I was three and a half years old. Why did the diagnosis take so long? I have no idea, but according to my parents, I was a late bloomer at everything, so learning to talk late wasn’t so out of the ordinary. For example, I didn’t begin to walk independently until I was two years old. My learning to speak late caused a delay in my social skills. Because of this, I began Kindergarten at the age of six as opposed to the typical age of five years old.
Making friends was a competition, and I always felt like the least likable person in my class. I spent years trying to win approval and acceptance of my classmates, trying to show them that I could still be there friend despite our apparent differences. When you are born with any type of medical condition, life, as you know it, is normal. As far as I knew, I could see and hear like everyone else. I knew what colors and sounds were and delighted in the same things as anyone else. If I weren’t trying to win friends over, I was trying to win the approval and praise of my teachers and professors, which was actually easier then making friends.
When I entered the work force, I began competing for jobs. This is probably the most difficult competition since prospective employers always go by first impressions. I realize that everyone goes through this, but for me, I felt that I had to prove twice as much as my competitors. I not only had to prove that I had the abilities and capabilities to perform the job tasks, but I had to prove that my abilities matched or even went beyond those of a fully sighted and hearing person. I had to prove that my physical challenges did not interfere with my level of inelegance as a human being.
Like many aspiring musicians, I had competed in music competitions. In college, I competed in a couple competitions and after I graduated, I competed for a performance appearances in concerts and festivals. I have never won any of these competitions and at the time it was heartbreaking. There were a couple ones that if selected, I would have the opportunity to perform in Washing D.C. It would be a chance to perform with other musicians from all over the world, who had disabilities as well.
Looking back, I remember what was once said to me and my fellow competitors by one of the judges at a college music competition: “There are no losers.” When I first heard this statement, I immediately thought: “Yeah right, he is just saying that.” But after standing on the other side and being a judge at Sunday’s competition, I suddenly realized that he was right. Not winning at a competition does not signify losing. To truly lose would be to quit. In my life, I have had many supporters who helped me along the way, but it was the adversity I faced which pushed me to work harder. As a result I have gone much further than I could ever imagine. As a child, I felt that I my life was a constant competition in which I showed no signs of ever winning, but my childhood years proved to be the very opposite. They allowed me to grow into a much stronger and more compassionate human being.
Remember that a loss is only a loss if one allows it to remain so and from a loss can come great gain. Like a phoenix that rises from the ashes, we all rise again, too.