Ben handed in his application to the BFA program at his college last week. It was a demanding process, involving writing, arranging, performing and recording three original compositions and performing and recording a classical piece, as well as a written essay and a resume of pertinent experience.
I have seldom seen him take a project so seriously. He tends to be perfectionistic about his music generally, but this application preoccupied him from the end of the summer, when he first received the list of requirements, through the night before it was due, when he stayed up cleaning up and re-recording parts of his compositions and editing his essay for the zillionth time.
So I was surprised at his response when I observed that they would be nuts to reject him. (This is not just a proud mother talking; his pieces would do a professional musician proud. Here, listen! )
"I don't know," he said. "There's some serious competition. I'm not the best. But it's fine; I have a fallback plan."
His plan, should he be rejected, is to meet with the program advisors and find out how he can strengthen his application, then take core requirements and reapply, as often as it takes until he gets in. "They have to take me eventually," he said, without a hint of ego or desperation.
Also last week, a young improviser whom I admire and who serves as a sort of mentor and coach to my classmates and me told me that he had suddenly been cut from a house improv team he had been performing with. "No warning, no reason given," he said.
I was disturbed. "How could they do that to you?" I demanded.
"They didn't do it to me," he said. "They did it for what they thought was the ultimate success of the team. It's okay; I can audition again in the spring."
It took me years of learning to deal with rejection slips and failed auditions to realize what these two amazing young people seem to grasp naturally: that in art, it is the engagement with the material that is the true payoff; acceptance and external success are icing.