Sunday, April 13, 2014

Put in my Place

I have never suffered from a deficiency in ego. Ever. As far back as I can remember, if I tried my hand at something, I was the best at it. In fact, this blog is the best blog anyone has ever written (at least, in my mind). I have been called pretentious before, and it’s probably not that far off the mark, but my response is simple: someone has to think we are good at what we do - why not think that about ourselves? Anyway, today’s post isn’t about how good I am. It is about how good someone else is. 

As a bassoonist in middle and high school, I always believed I was the best. People beat me in competitions from time to time, but I had a rule: they could only beat me once. If someone beat me, I would beat them every time afterwards. Only a few people managed to break this rule, and I always carried a grudging respect for their talents (one who didn’t break the rule is now the Principal bassoonist in the Houston Symphony, so I think we know which of us ultimately won the war, even if I did win a few battles).

I carried the same intensity into college and worked to place myself at the top of the bassoon hierarchy on campus. I felt comfortable being the best. Unfortunately, I lacked the vision to see the bigger picture. My short-sightedness refused to recognize talent beyond my own borders and it held me back. I lost some local orchestra auditions and didn’t understand how the audition committees failed to recognize my skills. At the end of my undergrad, I auditioned for grad school and wasn’t offered the fellowship I wanted - again, I blamed it on the lack of vision in other people. I refused to see the problem was me.

Fast forward to now. I am playing a Palm Sunday gig on contrabassoon this weekend with two other bassoonists. In the past, I have always compared myself to the others with whom I’m playing. Of course, I always feel my skills match or better those around me, whether true or not. Until this week. 

Amanda Swain - the first bassoonist - plays amazing. This is the first time I can remember not even trying to compare myself - because I can’t. Her total mastery of the instrument is remarkable. She sings through the horn, and though the contrabassoon part is 95% rests, I sit and listen happily in the best seat the house offers.

I haven’t felt put in my place in a long time and I am glad it happened. It needs to happen more.

So far, I have gleaned two lessons from my experience this week.  The first I wish I had learned at an earlier age (though it is never too late to learn a lesson like this). Surround yourself with people better than you and learn from them. They provide a fire to your passion, they offer vast learning experiences, and, as long as you keep the right frame of reference (not the one I had in college), they will lift you higher than you can lift yourself.

Trying to always feel like the best is exhausting. The second lesson: recognize your skills and be honest about them. Feel good about what you do well, but don’t let yourself become blind to areas needing improvement. Only play the comparison game as a means to better yourself. Don’t manufacture a fake throne on which to place your misguided behind.

I feel relieved at my discovery. I’m now allowed to put down the burden I unknowingly carried all these years and enjoy myself. I have freed myself to improve if I choose to do so. Finding the path has become so much clearer.


  1. Very, very nice... Interesting, informative and actually profound...

  2. I have never heard you play, but I can tell you are a fantastic editor.

  3. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. nagapoker