Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tests, Frets, and Try-outs

I failed my drivers test when I was 16. I probably would have passed if it weren't for that second when the instructor beat me to the brake. If you remember, they have their own brakes and the rule is if the instructor hits the brake, you automatically fail. So as soon as that happened, I knew it was over. I'm sure I cried for a good portion of the walk home.

Unfortunately, I let that day destroy a bit of my confidence. I'm sure a lot of kids would have gone back out there as soon as they could to pass the test and get their license, but I wasn't one of those kids. I was afraid to try again. I was afraid I'd fail again. It's not like I needed to drive right away. I had older friends that drove, and besides, I didn't even have a car. So I put it out of my mind and didn't make it a priority.

Months passed and school was over. I remember staying in bed one lazy morning when my dad opened my door. He said he was going down to his office in Provo and if I wanted, he could take me to the DMV in Orem to take the drivers test. I timidly declined his offer. I was still scared I would fail. My dad tried to persuade me by saying the road tests at the DMV are easier than the ones high schools give you. I said I wasn't ready. But as soon as he walked downstairs I realized I couldn't keep putting it off. Somehow I mustered the courage to do it. I hurriedly put some clothes on, ran downstairs and told him I changed my mind.

I passed with a 94%.

It's not like I was always afraid to take risks and try new things. When I was 17, I made the very uncharacteristic decision of trying out for the school play. I had never been in a play before; I never took drama. But I memorized a monologue and auditioned. The drama teacher had me say my lines over and over again. I had to say my lines as if I were ecstatic, as if I were in love with the person I was talking to, as if I were drunk. I even had to say my lines while dancing around the stage. I still can't believe I did that – given how shy I was in high school. I remember having to pretend like I wasn't myself, because I would never do anything scary like that. But I left elated – not because I thought I gave a good audition (I was pretty sure I didn't), but because I was so proud of myself for attempting something scary and unfamiliar.

A couple days later I walked over to the drama door to check out the “call back” list. To my surprise my name was on a short list of students asked to audition for the final cut. I stared at it for a good two minutes in disbelief. I remember other students crowding around asking “Who's Laura Durham?” I smiled and walked away.

The call backs were on the school stage. Something happened as I sat there surrounded by drama students. I thought, “What am I doing here? I don't want to be here. I just wanted to see if I could actually pull it off, I don't really want to be in the school play.” So I didn't try as hard as I should have, and I didn't get the part. But I didn't care. Now I knew. I could act. I just didn't want to.

Four years after my acting audition, I found myself at a singing audition. Only this time I was a junior at BYU. And this time I really wanted to make it. Singing was always something I knew I was good at and something I really enjoyed. It had been awhile since I sang in a choir. I missed performing and I wanted music to play a bigger role in my life.

I auditioned with several other students. We sang a hymn together and then we each sang a line by ourselves. The conductor wasn't even there, his assistants were doing the preliminary auditions.

A couple days later I walked over to the E Wing in the HFAC to check the list of those who were called back to sing for the conductor. They had three lists: Concert Choir, Men's Chorus and Women's Chorus. Concert Choir was more prestigious than Women's Chorus – I didn't want to sing in Women's Chorus. I looked the list up and down, but my name wasn't there. I checked again. I looked to see if they had my name out of alphabetical order. Nope. Still not there. “Maybe...they put me in Women's Chorus...?” I thought. So I checked that sheet. No Laura Durham. I didn't bother checking that one a second time. I stood back in disbelief. “But I'm a singer," I thought. Here is something I've been good at my entire life...something that is inherently a part of me...and I didn't even make the call back for Women's Chorus?

Later that day I walked into my Dad's office and told him I didn't get in. He looked slightly angry. “Did you tell them I'm your dad?” (My dad is a professor at BYU's School of Music). No, I didn't. “Go tell them who your daddy is.” I wasn't going to do that. “Do you want me to talk to Mac?” (Mac was the conductor). I told him I really, really didn't. My pride stepped in and I told him if I couldn't get in on my own I didn't want to get in.

Although I didn't cry like I did when I failed my drivers test, I did let it hurt my confidence -- and the scars remain. It's hard when music is something that has played such an important role in your life (and for generations before my life). And singing was something people always told me I was good at. I still played the piano and sang every now and then in church or whatever. My dad sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and my mom is the Executive Director of the Utah Chamber Artists so I attended concerts all the time. But after that failed audition I convinced myself I just wasn't a singer like I thought I was and I didn't need to be. In fact, at some point after college when people asked me if I sang, my answer changed from “yes” to “not really.”

After I graduated from college I had to say goodbye to a lot of my good college friends. My mom asked me a couple times if I wanted to sing with the Chamber Artists. It always came wrapped in “it will be something fun to do and you can meet new friends.” My mom had sung with the choir ever since I was 13 and I went to every concert and helped out with whatever they needed. Mom even paid me to be their librarian for a little while. When I was younger, I always saw myself singing with them someday. I was around the choir a lot and knew most of them by name -- it seemed like the natural thing to do. But flunking a preliminary singing audition stained my memory and now it didn't seem so natural. And this wasn't a little college choir, this was one of the best choirs around and I had a lot of respect for their talent. So when Mom asked me if I wanted to sing with them, I would politely turn her down. I wasn't necessarily afraid I wouldn't get in – I never underestimated the power of nepotism. I was more afraid of not being good enough but being allowed in because of who my mother was.

Last Tuesday I auditioned for the Utah Chamber Artists and a couple days later I got an email from Barlow (the artistic director) letting me know I was in. It took me a long time to be OK with the fact I might never know if it was because of my singing ability or because my mom would have killed Barlow. It was hard for me to suck it up after all these years. I think what finally pushed me was getting to know the choir members on a more friendly level when I went with them to Europe in June. I realized what an enriching experience it could be and how it's stupid to let this opportunity pass me by. I finally accepted that it doesn't necessarily matter how you get in the door, it's what you do once you're in that really matters.

But that didn't make it any less scary to sing for Barlow. It kind of felt like that night I auditioned for the school play. I had to act like I wasn't nervous; I almost had to pretend to be someone else. Only now I realize just because I do something scary and unfamiliar (and potentially confidence crushing) doesn't mean I'm acting out of character – I'm building character.

I'm thrilled to be part of the choir and perform with an ensemble again. Sometimes it takes a long time to come back to doing something you really love and realize how much you always wanted it. It's going to be a challenge and a lot of fun: two things I always need.

I appreciate everyone I talked to afterwards for saying the right words to help me feel like my talent played as big a role as the Durham name. Obviously, feeling legitimate is important to me.

First concert: October 13th. If you are reading this, consider yourself invited.

15 comments:

Lisa Marie Trent said...

Oh I'll be there. Just look for "the only kid of Becky's left that isn't in the choir."

Jessica Marie said...

Laura, speaking of talents I think you're such a talented writer. Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights! I loved this line -

just because I do something scary and unfamiliar (and potentially confidence crushing) doesn't mean I'm acting out of character – I'm building character.

how profound!! thanks!

Ang said...

That's awesome! Congrats! What an awesome opportunity. I really enjoyed your story - it sounds a lot like I feel most of the time about singing :)

Steph said...

Congrats! I can't wait to attend one of your concerts. I'm sure you will do a great job!

SRA said...

Congrats :D

Cameron's Corner said...

Don't they only invite the "best" to sing solo's?

So when they invite you to sing a solo then you'll know you ARE good enough to be there, right?

Ilene said...

YAY!!! I always liked sitting next to you at church because of your pretty voice. I would sing softly and pretend that I blended with yours.

I'm proud of you. You are so much more brave than I am. I wish I could come to your concert in October!

By the way, I haven't returned to the DMV to retake my license test and in high school I made my mom take me all the way out to the Rancho Cucamunga DMV to take my driving test because it was the "easy" place to test.

Kristi said...

Congratulations! I'm kind of jealous you're singing in a choir. I'll be there in October.

Tara said...

laura, you never cease to amaze me! You deserve this!

Mormon Soprano said...

I loved reading your post.

I am so glad that you overcame your fears and auditioned. I have MANY of my own horror stories I could tell you! What I have found interesting is that people who succeed are not the people who never failed. They are actually the people who failed repeatedly and then kept trying. You are one of them. Hooray! I absolutely loved my time with Chamber Artists. I also know your parents. Barlow is such a gifted man to work with. Keep singing, and keep the faith! :)

P.S. You may enjoy reading my most recent series about a group of return missionaries who are becoming famous singers in Cambodia - very inspiring!

Saule Cogneur said...

I recently had to go through all of my high school mementoes. I never wanted my parents to see me race because didn't want them to see me until I was good enough to win. I found lots and lots of ribbons that were good but not first. It sort of made me realize that for me, competing is even more important than winning. My only regret is not sharing those experiences with the people that cared about me.

I'm glad you are overcoming whatever shortcomings you may feel you have. With luck, I'll get to come see you sing in October!

Alex said...

Wow Laura! Congratulations! That is such a big accomplishment. I have always wanted to sing but never really have been able to. Darn. But I look forward to going to your concerts! Good luck!

Johnny Metropolis said...

I've heard you sing... you're pretty okay. I think you're an amazing writer though.

Morty said...

I failed my first driving test as well! I passed the second one with flying colors when my parents finally let me practice more often. Congrats on your accomplishment! Barlow Bradford is excellent. I used to help my friend Mollie put out the music for the the Tab Choir and Temple Square Orchestra and on occasion we would stay to watch and listen to him conduct. From what I could tell Barlow,doesn't seem to be the type that would yield to nepotism. Face it, you're in because you've got serious talent.

leandparkermakes3 said...

Congrats! That is so exciting! I can't wait to hear you sing! You are so talented. Is there anything you can't do?