Limited Options

“Failure isn’t an option.”  I have to laugh every time I hear the statement.  It most certainly is!  Not a good option, mind you, but a very real option.  The fact that you choose to believe (or choose to claim to believe) the statement doesn’t change reality.  We always, always, have the option of failure looming right ahead of us.  It’s the fear of every successful person, the motivation behind every driven man, and the nightmare of every student who ever stood up in front of a class to give a presentation.  I can also tell you, and I know this by experience, a dose or two of failure is not always a bad thing.

Many years ago, the local university was doing a production of the musical “Brigadoon”.  I was asked to play the horn part in the pit orchestra, I thought , because I must be the best horn player around.  I now actually suspect it was because everyone else with more intelligence declined.  I was excited to be involved.  Who wouldn’t be?  Great music, sung by some very good vocal majors, as well as some great acting….Well, there was great music anyway!

We had rehearsed until even the musicians knew the spoken lines by rote, the singers were prepared, the instrumentalists practiced up, and then came opening night.  My first experience in a genuine pit, initially viewed as an adventure, became an ordeal not very high up on my list of favorites.  The acoustics might be favorable for the auditorium, but not so for the players themselves, to say nothing of the comparison noted with any number of fish products marketed in tin cans.  So you can’t hear what you need to hear, nor do you have any room for movement, and there’s always the potential for losing an extremity if the trombonist moves her slide from seventh position back to first too carelessly.  Even with these issues, I was doing fine until the beginning of one of the male lead’s solos.

What was supposed to occur was that the horn (that’s me!) would sound the C an octave above Middle C as a clear starting note, and the star would begin to sing “Almost Like Being In Love”.  What actually occurred was that the horn (that’s me!) sounded an E an octave and a third above Middle C, leaving the unhappy singer to start a few notes high and then make an abrupt correction when it became clear that he had been led down the primrose path.  In my defense, you should know that the harmonic qualities of the Kruspe wrap F/Bb Horn do not make it conducive to playing this particular C note right out of the blue, especially using the trigger/open combination for fingering.  The horn wants to play a different pitch…Well…okay.   It was nobody’s fault but my own.  You may well understand that there was one horn player who was wishing the pit had been dug just a bit deeper.  I would have loved to find a hole beneath a hole and hide in it.  At least the audience couldn’t see me, but I guarantee, the conductor could.  And he was looking!  Well, not exactly looking…Glaring might be a better description.

I didn’t hang around for any socializing afterward.  I really didn’t want to hear or participate in any of the conversation, either with other musicians or with the cast.  But, as I walked out of the practice room after putting away my horn, I couldn’t avoid hearing the male lead saying, “…horn player…mumble, mumble, mumble…needs to get a clue!”  Did he think I didn’t know it?  I was well aware of my shortcomings that night!

I would have gladly never entered that pit again, but this production was running for two more nights!  I thought maybe I could pretend to be sick and let them get someone else to finish up, but that’s just not my style.  So I went back and faced the music (pun intended).  I didn’t go back empty-handed though.  I “got a clue” in the form of a portable device which could have an earphone inserted and would allow me to hear the correct pitch before I attacked the beginning note on successive evenings.  Victory!  Being confident of my starting note, both nights went off without a hitch and by the end of the last performance, the lead male, whom I had feared would never speak to me again, was shaking my hand and talking about a fine performance.  Opening night was a vague memory, and we had overcome with two very good final presentations.

Failure is an option and sometimes a powerful motivator.  Confidence is important, but it is imperative that we know the possibilities and be prepared to face up to consequences.  If you fail (and you will), keep going.  You increase the likelihood of folks remembering your failures if you don’t go back and get it right (the way you knew you could) the next time.


“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
(Mary Pickford)


One thought on “Limited Options

  1. You are so right. I have found that the lessons I best learn are the lessons learned from failures. There is something about fear of repeating the failure that hardwires it into our brains. This is especially true when the failure was a public one.

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