The Only Time I Ever Walked Out of an Audition

I used to go to auditions all the time. Sometimes I wasn’t feeling great. Sometimes I was running late and ran into the audition room breathless and stressed out. I always sang anyway, even when maybe I shouldn’t have. “Hey,” said youthful arrogance, “even me at less than 100% is still better than everyone else, right?” Obviously wrong, and I did not get any of those jobs.

One day I had a pretty big audition lined up, and it was with people that I sort of knew. These were people who had seen me do chorus work before, but had never heard my solo singing. Somehow it was even more nerve-wracking to sing for people I recognized,than to just walk into a room full of total strangers. I practiced and worried endlessly, because this was a prestigious and hard-to-get-into program that was local! I could do this, become an opera singer, and not uproot the rest of my life! I had rarely wanted an audition to go so well.

The night before the audition I had a performance of another opera. Some of those people who were going to hear me the next morning were in the audience, and I thought that it was almost like a pre-audition. I sang my heart out, and I was pretty good. And then next morning I woke up exhausted. I could barely think straight, much less sing well, and the audition was early. Not good.

I tried to warm up in the car on the way over, going over my pieces for the bajillionth time, but I was worried. Nevertheless, this was my one chance to do this thing. The next year I would be too old for the program, and there were no other days to sing for them. I arrived, walked to the desk, and signed in. When my name was called, I stepped into what would probably have been the worst audition of my life. If I had finished it, that is.

I handed my music to the provided accompanist and nodded that I was ready to begin, even though I really wasn’t. The opening bars of the piece began to sound from the piano and, turning to the long table of familiar faces, I forgot everything. I forgot where to breathe, I forgot where to come in, I forgot the words, and I forgot everything I had ever learned about singing. I stopped, and asked the pianist to start again, which he did. I hadn’t gotten more than just a few bars in when I realized that I had never sung so badly in my life. So I stopped again, thanked them for their time, apologized sincerely, and walked out of the audition. There was no point in continuing.

The people who knew me, who had seen me the night before, explained in my defense that I had been up singing a show last night, and that I was fantastic. They told everyone how wonderful of a singer I was, and that I was clearly just having a bad day. That was nice of them. But I didn’t get a callback, nor did I deserve one.

Sometimes we just don’t know our limits, do we? I should never have scheduled an audition the morning after I sang an opera, but it was the only time. I should never have gone to that audition, waking up in the state that I did, but what else could I do? And I never should have finished that audition, pretending like it was my best work. And so I didn’t. I realized, of course too late, but earlier than normal, that I couldn’t do it. I like to think that they respected that. I know I respected myself for it. Sometimes “I can’t” is as valuable a lesson as “I can.”

Posted in Auditions, Music, Opera, Singing, Throwback Thursday.

2 Comments

  1. It was a good call for sure. Sometimes we get carried along on the tide of “shoulds” and lose sight of the fact that we have both a responsibility and a choice. The same is true about performances. Last summer I was triple cast for a role in a pay to sing program. I was going to get one shot to do it; I was ready and I knew I was the best of the three. But I got really, really sick; I attended rehearsals but could not sing until “my” dress. The artistic leadership refused to replace me; they left it to me. The day of ny performance, I knew that I could “get through it,” but I had too much respect for the work and cast and myself.. and felt too much responsibility to the audience. Simply “getting through” is not enough. It broke my heart and embarrassed me with friends who bought tickets but it was the right call though perhaps made much later than it should have been.

    • Great story! Yes, I wish I had recognized, or perhaps accepted, a little sooner what I already sort of knew deep down. Not just this time, but many others!

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