How I lost a Full Ride Scholarship to The Best Opera School in the Country And My Biggest Regrets About School Auditions
by Shelly Wade
Why I Didn’t Get Into The University of Cincinnati
I was a go-getter back then. Within one audition season, I drove myself to 12 of the top conservatories along the east coast / midwest United States. From Georgia to Michigan, I often drove all night and only missed one audition. After being stranded in a snow storm at a gas station somewhere in Ohio for half a day, I showed up backstage at the University of Cincinnati and handed my perfect and professionally-marked audition scores to the accompanist. I was greeted with harsh disappointment and could feel the judgment of ‘being late’ burning a hole through my binder. There was absolutely nothing I could’ve done about it, as I can’t control the weather, nor can I predict it months in advance. I merely chose an unlucky date. With no salt trucks in sight, I drove up 75 past as many cars in the ditch as I possibly could before I had to either pull over or total my car. That said, they really could’ve cared less about my excuse.
Their bad energy messed with my mind and although my audition wasn’t a catastrophe, it wasn’t my best performance of all time either.
The ‘Habanera’ and ‘Voi Che Sapete’ were my jams and I knew them like the back of my hand. I had sung them a million times. I sang them in my sleep. But the second verse of Voi Che Sapete was lost in the back side of the firmament and I wasn’t well versed enough in Italian to improvise. So…why not sing the first verse over again? Much better than the other option, which was…. a train wreck. I think I handled it pretty well but it didn’t leave a great impression.
I felt ‘let down’, but I wasn’t impressed with the city of Cincinnati anyhow, so I moved on rather quickly.
Although I’ve never considered myself to be ‘overly-confident’ by any means, I knew I’d likely blown my chance at a scholarship, but I was certain I would still ‘get in’.
Practice Mock Disasters
Sometimes knowing your songs like the back of your hand isn’t enough. Could you do more? You could PRACTICE mock disasters? Can you sing through your songs in times of intense stress? Can you sing them while rushing to catch a train? Can you sing them while frantically looking for your keys? Can you sing them while baking a complicated dessert recipe? If so, you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding a train wreck if and when your shirt falls off or something crazier) during an audition.
Be Earlier Than Early and Go Back to Eden When You Can’t.
There’s only so much you can do. Don’t let anyone shame you for things out of your control. Authority can appear unforgiving because they’re stuck in the illusion of right and wrong / old and young / experienced and inexperienced. When we can truly let go and understand that truth has no opposite, our best is always more than enough. When something cannot exist without its opposite, it cannot possibly be part of our true self.
Worry is Worship of Problems
I could’ve freaked out while I was at that gas station. I don’t remember being too worried but I’ll tell ya who WAS… my mom. My mom worries about everything and if there is nothing, she’ll make something up.
The act of worrying gets smashed like a mango on a line-less Indian highway when you learn how to truly ‘let go’. It’s easy to let go of things once we realize they are false. What is false? Anything that cannot exist without an opposite. Brave versus fear becomes true courage. Rich versus poor becomes abundance. And so on… Frequency has no opposite. Truth has no opposite. Not to be confused with ‘an absence of’… darkness is an absence of light; not an opposite.
Emotions are also a great way to find false beliefs to let go of. Behind every emotion is a long lost rotten root of a false beLIEf. Think about it. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t worry much anymore. Not that I’m careless… but it’s helped me to take necessary actions and forget the rest.
How I lost a FULL RIDE to one of the best opera schools in the country
A couple weekends later, I found myself in a much more intimidating situation. My #2 dream school. I pulled over by the side of a corn field to finish my makeup and arrived at the University of Indiana earlier than early. My dad had always forced me to be so dang early for everything and it was traumatizing to say the least. I remember being violently nauseous while eating a McDonalds biscuit as we arrived 3 hours early for my SAT test. As a 20 year old, I was still pretty set on resisting him. If you were wondering why I’m often late, I never outgrew that. He always said I’d be late for my own d*** funeral.
Prior to all these auditions, I had put in hours and hours of research on every voice teacher / ex-opera singer in existence. I was determined to try them ALL before making a decision and I wasn’t planning on skipping anyone.
Next to Shirley Verrett (my hero and dream teacher), Connie Cuccaro was a prime candidate to become the sculptor of my future and voice. I had emailed her a couple months prior, alongside at least 20 other teachers and she agreed to give me a sample lesson during my audition weekend. *More about how you should do that too in Chapter One of my e-book, Top of the Pile: Innovative Music Projects to Get Your Résumé Future to the Top of the Pile. We hit it off and I truly felt like she was the one for me.
The halls of that school intimidated me in a way none of the others did. Not even the conservatories in Manhattan. It’s the best opera school in the country. How would I manage?
I didn’t. And here’s why.
The Audition That Got Me NowHere
My audition went extremely well. So well that Ms. Cuccaro herself called me on my bright blue Nokia cell phone to congratulate me even before I could get back to my car! I thought, “Wow, she must really like me.” She seemed to be very excited for me and told me they would likely be offering me a generous scholarship. I couldn’t believe it.
When my acceptance letter came in the mail, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Not only was there no generous scholarship. There wasn’t a scholarship at all. I thought, there must be some mistake. I called Ms. Cuccaro and she was just as perplexed as I was. She assured me they had indeed decided to give me a full ride scholarship… yet they must have made a mistake. A heartbreaking one.
It ended up that I could’ve actually gotten the scholarship, but I would’ve had to wait a year since they’d already given it to someone else for Fall 2006.
What a weird fluke. Seemed like everything had worked out so perfectly until then. What could I have done? I guess I could’ve followed up with her more. No one likes to be stalked or badgered and I air on the shy side anyway. It was a miracle I had arranged all these voice lessons anyway. I thought I was being very assertive, especially considering my shy nature.
I didn’t want to go to school in the middle of a corn field anyway. And I wasn’t just saying that. I grew up in the middle of ‘nowHere’. I was ready for some city life.
I then convinced myself I just wanted to go to Manhattan School of Music. I really just wanted to be in New York City (even though I’d always hated the city). I still wonder how I managed to deceive myself with such conviction.
Somehow I believed it was a terrible thing to take a year off. As if it could’ve ruined my career or something. How ridiculous. I don’t ‘believe’ any of my own thoughts these days. But if I DID, I would make sure they were based on my own experience and truth versus society’s expectations. I’m also not sure that I truly wanted to go to NYC. Did I make that up? I did always hate New York, but suddenly it became the “only place I wanted to go’. Just because it was…. the ‘best’… and they accepted me. A great honor nonetheless, but deserving of my destiny, I’m not sure.
Is Your Top-Choice School Your TRUE Top Choice?
Make sure your desires and dreams are ‘true’ to your heart and not based on ‘the best of the best’ or ‘most expensive’ or ‘most impressive’ according to society. Much more about this in Top of the Pile as well.
Why My Professor Told Me I Couldn’t and Shouldn’t Go To My Dream School
The head of the piano department at my undergraduate college literally told me I couldn’t go to Manhattan School of Music because it was way too expensive and there was… “no way I could afford that”… I still remember the exact tiles we were standing on in the hallway of that music department when her lips and tongue went absolutely haywire for my future. I remember the crepuscular light of the evening sun coming in through the windows…the smell outside the back row of old dusty practice rooms… I remember all of it.
Now I still owe $130 grand and the balance isn’t going down much. Maybe she was right.
Avoid the ‘Dr. You Can Do It’ Personalities
Your coaches… teachers… family… friends.. No matter what their level of knowledge or experience; teacher, professor or doctor, they will influence your mind and impact your life. Some in small ways, some in very big ways.
If we choose people who project limits onto us, they will merely guide us in limiting our very own true potential, which would otherwise be dictated only by the laws of nature. ‘As within, so without’; it’s nice to realize the power we have within as opposed to putting it into other things. Don’t let anyone convince you to abandon your power. It’s impossible anyway, as the power is you. (The true you, not the fake one).
People never have evil intentions to lessen your potential… but it is human nature for people to… ‘not want you to surpass them’, maybe… or to ‘project their poverty consciousness mindset’ onto your reality. You have to be discerning and aware, as this will happen many times, I promise you. There is a ‘Dr. Don’t Do It’ or a ‘Dr. You CAN Do It’ in every music school, every record label, and every music studio. The ‘Dr. You CAN Do It’ personalities are actually more offensive to me than the ones who think you can’t. Like, WHO ARE THEY to decide your potential? Who are THEY to say you can or can’t do something? Give me a break. When someone tells me they ‘believe’ in me, I want to run away. The potential of any part of nature, humans included, is defined by nature itself; not thoughts, beliefs, or opinions.
Beliefs and thoughts do however, have a great ability to limit and stop us from action or success. But only if we let them. No tree has ever reached the sky (or maybe all trees reach the sky?) but a maple tree MOST DEFINITELY does not look to a neighboring poplar tree to dictate how tall its able to grow in its lifetime. So why would it tell itself how tall it can grow? Who is the poplar tree to say the maple tree’s potential? And who is the maple tree to say its own potential? Who was my teacher to decide my future finances? Who am I to decide? Who are they to ‘believe’ in you? Who are you to believe in yourself? If you believe in yourself, it opens the possibility of an opposite.
Can’t nature just decide?
True potential doesn’t need belief or opinions or affirmations or vision boards, etc. True potential is ENOUGH on its own. True potential requires only action. I suppose intention is required for action, but that’s another topic.
Your community is your biggest asset.
Choose a tribe of people who will be your biggest supporters even when things go haywire… We all need certain people who will be great for honest feedback (not everyone is this type of friend and that’s okay)… as long as we have a few people to depend on.
If you’re starting a band with your friends…. You have to make sure your bandmates are fun as opposed to pains in the rear end… and responsible.
Are you able to be your true self around your friends?
Are you surrounding yourself with people who are better and smarter than you… who will push you to be better and also not be jealous at the same time? I’ve always made a point to surround myself with amazing musicians. Many of whom would sit down with me on my couch in both college and grad school and literally teach me all the things singers never learn in school… The fundamentals of proper practice. Super slow. With a metronome. How to avoid injuring my wrist. This is why they say you ARE who you hang around… because if it weren’t for those friends teaching me little 5 minute tricks here and there… I really don’t think I would be where I am… no chance. Not that I’m Lindsey Buckingham, but I can accompany myself solo on guitar and do professional gigs and events without hiring a guitarist. More about this in my Practice Like a Pro Playbook coming soon!
Are you able to find good opportunities through your connections? Mentors or musicians who can let you get on stage and sit in on their gigs?
Do your coaches encourage you and allow for your full potential? Or do they limit it (even if unintentionally)?
Are they right for you in every other way as well. Does their teaching style align with the way you learn best?