So you didn’t get that gig you really wanted. You worked really hard to prepare and now there won’t be another chance to sing for them again until next year and AARGH. There are limited opportunities, there are so many gatekeepers, it’s practically impossible to get the experience you need, and the constant rejections are sooo demoralizing. I know. I’m really sorry.
Rejection is the worst part of what we do, and no matter how much we experience it, it never loses the ability to knock the wind out of our sails. But over the years I’ve learned some really interesting things about rejection, and I’d like to share them here in the hope that they’ll help you, too.
The first thing I’ve learned is that rejection is the work. It’s simply part of the process, like collaborating with pianists or pronouncing Italian vowels. You have to develop skills to manage it, and as with anything we do, the better your skills are, the better you will handle that part of the business. Seriously, conservatories should have Rejection 101 as a degree requirement. And moreover, there’s no level of success you can achieve that will allow you to leave this part of the process behind. Even if you reach the stage where you’re not auditioning anymore, you’ll still be turned down for things or get panned in reviews or lose the Grammy or whatever. You might find yourself clutching your Best Musical Performance Oscar in one hand and a highball in the other while weeping “why didn’t Scorsese hire me for the sequel?!?” Rejection is the work.
The second thing I’ve learned is that companies don’t want to reject you. Ever. One music director I know (and seriously, she is awesome and kind and terrific to work with) told me that the hardest, worst thing she ever had to do was let people know after auditions that they weren’t cast. She said it was so hard on her friendships. I thought, wow, that’s the perspective from the other side of the table: companies don’t want to reject you any more than you want them to reject you. They hate doing it. I mean, of course there are some jerks out there who relish your pain and lerrrvvee telling you how awwwful you are in detail, but aren’t those usually the people you wouldn’t want to work with anyway? And when you look at it from that perspective, it suddenly becomes clear that a rejection letter from a company is simply a courtesy notification that you’re free to pursue other commitments during the time period you might have been holding for them. Not getting that notification can create ugly scheduling conflicts- I mean, who hasn’t delayed accepting an offer from Company B while waiting to hear from Company A? Or suddenly gotten a call out of the blue from Company A with that offer you really, really, really wanted to get two months ago before you assumed silence = “no” and filled up your calendar with Company B? But even though they’re helpful for scheduling, singers (of course) hate getting those letters and because of that companies hate sending them. Disappointing fellow artists is awful. So calling those letters “PFOs” transforms a courtesy notification into a nasty little dig at yourself that you don’t deserve, and I recommend cutting that the heck out. But I digress. Companies don’t want to reject you.
The third thing I want to share about rejection is that when you get turned down for a gig and you don’t understand why (“but I was PERFECT for that”) then there’s a piece of information you don’t have yet. Maybe you are indeed the perfect Violetta, but the Alfredo they could hire is half your height and they had to go with their second choice girl. Maybe your vocal quality is too unique to blend with the rest of their chorus, but you couldn’t possibly know that unless you were hearing you and everyone else audition. So don’t make up the reason. “They didn’t hire me because I’m too [fill in the blank here]!” Not constructive. Another side of this is that maybe there’s something about this opportunity that would have been a really, really bad fit, and ultimately you’ll find yourself saying, “wow, I’m SO glad I didn’t get that gig.” Keep the phrase “rejection is God’s protection” in mind, and wait for the situation to become clear.
HOW TO HANDLE REJECTION
So what do you do when you get the letter, call, email, or, worst of all, dreaded ringing silence? The most important thing is to make sure you’re hearing the right message and being constructive about it. When a company says no, it’s saying one of these two things:
A. Not right for us ever.
B. Not right for us today.
It’s up to you as the singer to be attuned to which of these messages is contained in a rejection, and I’m here to tell you that it’s almost always B. I mean, it really is. Even if the reason you didn’t get a gig is because of some truly hideous thing you did during your 5 minutes on the floor, then that rejection still means “not today, based on today.” If you think of it like that, doesn’t that always give you the option to – at some point – turn that “no” into a “yes”?
After every audition, look to yourself and say, how am I doing? Am I doing well? Do I like my work? Do other people like my work? Am I seeing any consistent feedback, like I never get asked for a second piece? When I get cast, do I get cast in the kinds of roles I audition for- meaning, is the type I think I am the same as the type others think I am? Do they talk to me at auditions? Do they actively read my resume while I’m singing or do they start checking their phones? Do I get invited to audition again? Is this the right repertoire, venue, level, and/or character for my look, my voice, and/or my technical abilities? Be as objective as possible. If you see room for improvement, then go work on your rep or your presentation or your technique. Focus on seeing Not Today as an opportunity to become a better singer.
If you suspect that the reason for a rejection is Not Ever, then it’s down to one of these two things:
1. You as a person. Are you a poor colleague or have you damaged your relationship with that company? If the answers are yes and/or yes, respectively, then stop pursuing that particular company, work on yourself, find a therapist, find other people to work with you by volunteering or creating opportunities for other singers, concentrate on kindness, and rebuild in a better image. It’s fixable.
2. Your fundamental product. Are you a Wagnerian singer auditioning for a light opera company? Are you 50 and trying to break into the young artist category? These things will earn you a “not right for us ever” response, and the solution is to let it go and be more strategic in the future. It can be hard to see ourselves objectively, so consider asking someone in the business to give you honest feedback. If no one will give it to you, see #1.
So, even as final as it sounds, do you see that “not right for us ever” still just means “not right for this company at this time and in the context of how we know you”? Instead of getting depressed or destructive, you can choose to be constructive and strategic in siphoning out any information that could help you improve. Rejection is an opportunity to learn something about yourself and fine-tune.
One last thing I’ve learned about rejection, after looking back and seeing it having happened over and over again in the most miraculous way, is that when you get rejected, it releases you to be available for something else. Maybe that something else will be an even better opportunity, maybe it’ll be the freedom to train so you can get where you’re meant to be, or maybe it will be a development in another part of your life. Stay open to the process and see what comes.
Being rejected is hard, but it’s a necessary skill to accept it and even embrace it. Remember to just think “Not Today!”, and keep on swimming!
Angela Jajko, mezzo-soprano, is the Editor of the BSR Blog. She has been praised in such publications as the Boston Globe and the Herald for her “peaches and cream” voice and dramatic delivery. Recent performances have included The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, selections from Carmen in The Greater Worcester Opera Gala in Mechanics Hall, Tessa in The Gondoliers with The Sudbury Savoyards, Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with New England Light Opera, Carmen with Greater Worcester Opera, Offenbach’s Island of Tulipatan with New England Light Opera, the roles of Buttercup, Phoebe, Katisha, and The Fairy Queen in concert with the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society, and as a featured soloist in concerts with Opera on Tap, Masstheatrica, FIRSTMusic, Ocean Park Festival Chorus, Parish Center for the Arts and New Hampshire Opera Theatre. Her performances have included the roles of Carmen, Theodorine, Augusta, Marcellina, Hermia, Savitri, Pirate Jenny, and La Zia Principessa. She has also performed with PORTopera, Granite State Opera, Longwood Opera, BASOTI, Harvard University, and the International Lyric Academy in Viterbo, Italy. She holds degrees in Vocal Performance from The New England Conservatory of Music and the University of California at Los Angeles and is currently the Associate Executive Director of NELO, an artist coordinator for Opera on Tap Boston, a Board Member of the New England Gilbert & Sullivan Society and a Board Member of L’Académie, a critically acclaimed orchestra specializing in performances of French Baroque music in health institutions. She has served as Costumer for a number of productions with companies including Guerilla Opera, Company One, NELO, BASOTI and Longwood Opera. She has also served as a Director for NELO’s Rising Stars program and in other productions as Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and Props Master. She has extensive experience in administration, office management, and event management in a variety of industries. Visit her at http://angelajajko.com/.