#17: Failing the Metropolitan Opera Audition, Twice

I auditioned for The Met Opera and failed, twice in a row. Going for the big one and failing was embarrassing. But by reaching for something far out of my grasp, I learned some lessons, had a great experience, and also had some small wins.

Episode Transcript

(This transcript is auto-generated. There may be errors.)

For all my life, I’ve been a pretty musical guy. My mom told me how when I was very young, about 18 months old and still learning to talk, I was so good at singing out loud for everybody to hear at the grocery store that people would come from aisles over their eyes as big as dinner plates, looking at me saying, is he the one I just heard singing that song?

He’s so young. Yes, I was so young. Apparently I’ve loved music since the very earliest stages of my life, especially singing. I’ve always loved singing, although over the years I have played many instruments, including the guitar, the trumpet, the euphonium, the tuba, and the piano. Singing has always been by far my favorite way of making music.

Growing up in church, I often performed in our Christmas pageants and other children’s stage productions that we put on, and I was always singing in the chorus and occasionally auditioned for a solo. When I got a little bit older, I joined the Lodi Children’s Chorus for maybe two or three seasons and sang all kinds of choral works and holiday specials by many different composers, and I had a great time being part of a choir that actually sounded really good.

Although I always enjoyed performing in Christmas specials and other kids’ productions, usually singing in a chorus or occasionally having a solo. The most terrifying part for me was always the dreaded audition. Auditions are the worst idea ever invented. Actually. Classical singers like to say, auditions are the worst idea ever invented, but we haven’t found anything better, so we keep using it.

There’s a lot of truth to that. Auditions are awful. Every time I audition, I get extremely nervous and sweaty and nauseous, and I’m afraid, and I think I’m gonna do something stupid or forget my lines or sing the wrong song, or make a fool of myself in front of a whole bunch of other people, only to be told you failed.

You’re not good enough. Fortunately, almost everything I’ve ever auditioned for in my life, I’ve gotten, especially when it comes to singing. At least that’s the way it was when I was younger and the stakes were much lower. But after I got married and had a few kids, I decided to take singing to another level.

Throughout most of my childhood and teenage years, I played musical instruments. I often took private lessons from professional musicians who taught me how to play them the right way. Although I sang a lot in choirs and children’s chorus and other things like that, I never took private voice lessons to study how to be a soloist or a better vocalist.

That all changed in my twenties after I was married and had kids, right before my wife and I got married. One of the last things we did in our teenage years as relatively carefree single people.

Was performed in a musical 42nd street together. My wife was a dancer and I played the role of Bert, one of the main characters who acts and sings and dances during this particular production of 42nd Street. One of the performers that I met was a man named John Carpenter, Dr. John Carpenter, who has a d m a Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School.

Was a professional opera singer and a featured vocalist with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for a couple years back in the seventies. Dr. John, as we called him, probably in his sixties or early seventies by this point, had spent his entire life as a professional musician, either teaching, singing, performing, or giving lessons.

This very, very overqualified man, this professional singer who I sang Lullaby of Broadway with during a local community theater production of 42nd Street with a bunch of other teenagers. I was impressed with how professional he was and could tell that he was a really good singer and probably a really good teacher, but I never really followed up on that.

I got his business card at one point and set a mental note to follow up with him someday to get voice lessons so I could get better at singing. Unfortunately, I got married and had a whole bunch of kids, so I had to shelve that idea for about 11 years by the time I finally followed up, but

I eventually did. I started taking voice lessons once a week, every Thursday at 4:30 PM with Dr. John. Now the whole experience of just taking voice lessons in the first place is worthy of an episode all by itself. When you hire a professional singer to teach you how to become a better singer, one thing to keep in mind is that particular teacher is probably going to try to help you become a singer just like they are.

So, in my case, I knew John had been an opera singer, but I didn’t have any interest in opera at all, or that’s what I thought in the beginning. When we first started out, we started working on show tunes, singing songs from Oklahoma, carousel, kiss Me, Kate, and many other productions by American composers in the past 50 or 75 years.

That was fun. I had blast those kinds of songs fit my voice well. The repertoire for a tenor like me is huge, so there’s a massive selection of music to choose from, and I had already heard most of these songs. That is until a couple weeks in when seemingly out of the blue, John asked me, have you ever sung in Italian?

How about we try that for a while? I thought, well, that’s kind of weird. I don’t know Italian, and I’ve never sung in a foreign language before, but okay, why not? He started playing the introductory notes to a song that sounded very beautiful and vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on where I had ever heard it before.

Let’s just try a few Italian arias, shall we? John said Arias. What are arias? I had no idea. He said, sing after me. Just do what I do. He began singing this beautiful song, or Aria rather in Italian, and I followed along. It felt weird and uncomfortable, and I couldn’t exactly figure out what the point of it was, but we worked through it in just one afternoon.

I was converted. I had walked into his studio asking him to help me sing more like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and in the span of one afternoon I walked out of his studio thinking, wow, there’s a whole world of music that I have never even heard that’s so beautiful that I must learn and I can’t wait to sing.

Okay, so there’s a long boring interlude here. Between that very first day when I awkwardly fumbled my way through to about two years later, when after having spent a significant amount of time learning Italian songs, arias, and even signing up for Italian language classes, one afternoon Dr. John asked me, Hey, why don’t we sign you up for the Met audition?

Huh? What’s the Met audition? I’d never heard of this before. Of course, I knew about the Metropolitan Opera in New York City where he had sung professionally years previously, but what did that have to do with me? I lived in Colorado Springs, New York City is very, very far from here, and I’ve only been singing this kind of music for the past two years.

What on earth is he talking about the Met for? Here’s a quick side note for those who may not know. The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, frequently called the Met is America’s oldest, largest and most well-funded opera company. Many people, both classical singers and Concertgoers, would agree that the Met is not only the top opera house and opera company in America, but also the entire world.

Many people who self-admittedly don’t know anything about opera at all are actually fairly familiar with it because most productions that they would’ve seen on TV or maybe heard on the radio were likely performed at the Met. Even people who don’t like opera, at least know about Luciano Otti, who was one of the featured tenors who spent many years there on staff who really gained international fame, not in his home country of Italy.

But when singing for the Metropolitan Opera in America. All right. End of historical note. So again, what does the Met Opera have to do with me? A lifelong musician? Sure. But always an amateur and a total newbie when it comes to singing classical music. Well, he explained it would give you something to work toward, and even if you’re not qualified for it, it would be a really good experience for you to audition at the M O N C, the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.

This was a totally crazy idea. I was absolutely, utterly unqualified to audition for any opera company at all. Much less the top opera company in America or the world. What was the point of this? I saw his reasoning though, and I thought, Hmm, I certainly didn’t sign up for these lessons to do anything absolutely crazy like audition for the Met, but why not?

Here I am learning from somebody who himself auditioned for the Met and succeeded and spent years in New York City singing at the Met. So who better to coach me through the process? I said yes.

I won’t bore you with all the details about how long it took and what the complicated process was, and applying on the internet and filling out the application and creating an artist bio and sending in my headshot. Or any of that stuff. Suffice it to say, there is a very standardized operating procedure when it comes to auditioning for an opera company.

No matter who you are, what language you speak, where you live, or what opera company you’re auditioning for. One nice thing about classical music, including classical singing, is the fact that it’s such an old art form that just about everything about it was codified and standardized. 200, 300 or even 400 years ago.

What does that mean? What that means in practice for someone like me who’d never done this before, is all I had to do was ask what do I need to do? And the answers were always forthcoming because it’s very, very clear what you need to do in order to audition for an opera company. The first rule is you have to pick five selections.

A lot of times classical singers will just refer to this as their five. What’s your five? This is my five. Can you look over my five? Classical singers spend a lot of time thinking and obsessing and asking and getting opinions and feedback about their five. What do my five say about me? Did I pick the right five?

You pick five musical selections in the case of opera. Almost always operatic arias or excerpts from arias, ideally from different composers and different operatic styles that showcase the depth and breadth of your voice. You pick five selections and you show up to the audition, and typically you’ll only sing two of those selections and you start out by performing the first one, and then the judges or the adjudicators at your audition will decide if they want to hear a second one, and if so, they will request it.

So you spend weeks and months studying to get your five selections down perfectly. You should be able to sing them forward backward. You should know them. With your eyes closed, you should be able to perform them for nobody or yourself or your friends or your family or an auditorium filled with 5,000 people.

No matter the circumstance, you should know you five like the gospel. Now you might think, okay, learn five songs. How hard can that be? Let me tell you, it’s pretty darn hard for a couple reasons. First of all, as I mentioned, you are usually, but not always singing in a foreign language that’s not your first tongue.

In my case, I’m an American. I speak English, but when I picked my five selections, none of them were in English. Three of them were in Italian and two were in German. So that’s one challenge. The second reason why this is so hard is you have to be able to start and stop either at the beginning or the middle or the end, or anywhere in between.

For example, if you get up on a stage and you’re auditioning for an opera company, you might sing an entire aria or a selection, and then the judges will say, would you please sing the second verse over again? And you have to remember how to start and end on the second verse without accidentally starting at the beginning.

This is much, much harder than it sounds. The third thing that makes it so difficult is that you have to have cuts. If there’s anything opera is known for, it’s very, very long. The songs are very long, the arias are very long. The acts are long. The movements are long. It takes a long time to get to an intermission.

Most operas are, in fact, two hours, three hours, or even four hours long. It’s a lengthy art form. So what’s the problem? Well, when you’re auditioning for an opera company and you only have five selections, you cannot choose five selections that are eight minutes each. You have to select cuts. Usually your cuts have a particular length, and usually the opera company will tell you what they want to hear from.

You choose five selections that are between 30 seconds and 90 seconds or something like that. But the point is you typically don’t perform an entire work from start to finish. That means you have to cut down lengthy productions into shorter pieces. So let’s say you pick an eight minute aria from Don Lucia.

You gotta choose the best 30 to 90 seconds from that, and you have to specifically memorize that part and only that part. You can’t get confused about where you are. This is very difficult and very confusing. So, as I said, I won’t bore you with how hard it is to actually work through the five selections.

Let’s just say I put a lot of work and sweat and tears into months of preparing for the Metropolitan Opera audition that I was absolutely, completely unqualified for and was certain that I would not get selected. Now, as I said, I’ve auditioned for things in the past. Small solos during Christmas pageants, duets for the children’s chorus, but nothing like this.

And I had absolutely no idea what to expect because, a, I was not an opera singer. B, I had never even attended an opera. C I had never been to an opera audition, and d I had never sung in a foreign language before. So here’s what happened when I auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera National Council in Denver, Colorado.

The day of the audition, we packed up all our kids, which meant we loaded up our van with five kids in five car seats, and drove from Colorado Springs to Denver early on a Saturday morning. My wife dropped me off right in front of the opera house and I said goodbye to all the kids, and the kids wished me luck, and I walked in the door completely unsure of my fate.

It was totally bizarre being in an opera house that I had never been to before, and now I was gonna be on the stage. There were some people in the audience, but not a ton. Opera auditions are typically open to the public, and I think they usually charge some nominal fee, 10 or $20 to attend. But the people who are in attendance know that they’re watching an audition.

It’s not a polished performance, and that’s okay. So typically that means it’s either retired opera singers or friends or family members of the people auditioning or just insane opera geeks who can’t get enough, who not only like to see performances, but watch the sausage as it’s being made. I checked in at the registration table and got my paperwork.

I saw my name and a picture of my face on a board in the lobby. That was a total trip, and I headed backstage to go warm up. As I opened the door to go backstage, I couldn’t believe my ears at the sounds spilling out all around me. It sounded like I had walked into a bird cage.

There were people all over the place singing, warming up with vocalizes, rehearsing, performing lip trills, and other ex. Exercises and it was just a crazy cacophony of sound that was strangely weird and geeky, and I laughed a little bit at how awkward it was, but also terrifying. I could tell, wow, some of these singers are really good.

They’re obviously much better than me, and they’ve done this for a very long time. I found a dressing room to warm up in and met another singer who was a little bit younger than me, who was from Ottawa, Canada. That was weird. I wasn’t expecting that. I asked him, if you’re from Canada, what are you doing here?

Why don’t you just audition in Canada Note, in case I forgot to mention this before, the way the Met Audition works is that there are local auditions and then regional auditions and then national auditions. It’s like other artistic endeavors and sports, right? You have a local audition. If you do well there, you may be asked back to come to the regional audition.

If you do well at the regional auditions or what they call regionals, you’ll be asked to go to the national audition or what they call nationals in New York City. I lived in Colorado, so I was part of the Rocky Mountain region, so I wasn’t expecting to see someone from Canada. Why did you come all the way to Colorado when you could have done it closer to home?

I asked. He told me that he had gotten bronchitis and was unable to perform in his local audition, but there was enough time by the time he got better to fly on a plane to Denver and compete here. When it was time to audition, we went our separate ways and we wished each other luck the way that opera singers do.

By saying

Inpo is a kind of strange Italian phrase that opera singers say for good luck, which is actually kind of the opposite of good luck. It essentially means, I hope you end up in the wolf’s mouth. Similar to the way that Broadway performers will say, break a leg. If you’re singing an Italian opera, you’ll often hear this phrase used to wish each other good luck or bad luck, or however else you wanna say that.

If you’re performing in a German opera, typically you’ll say toy, toy, toy, which involves casting a hex on the other person to give them bad luck. It’s all part of the very strange performer culture that’s developed over the past couple centuries. By the way, the response to Invoca Lupo is, or just, which means I hope the wolf dies.

Don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t invent this. This is just the way it goes. After my wife had dropped me off at the opera house, she connected with a friend who lived in Denver who was willing to babysit our kids so she could drive back to the opera house and watch me audition. That was really nice of her friend and I appreciated that.

But it was also nerve-wracking because it meant not only did I have to sing to a room full of people, my wife was gonna be in the audience too. And for some reason that made me even more nervous. So the time came, my name was called, I walked onto the stage and said, My name is Ron Stauffer, and this morning I’ll be singing la.

Now, this tune is very, very well known, even for many people who have never attended an opera and hate opera because it’s fun to sing and it’s hilarious. This is a little ditty from Rigoletto. An opera by Giuseppe

Woman is fickle, is attuned, sung by the Duke of Mantu. It’s short, it’s sweet. It’s to the point and it’s funny.

Literally translated, it goes something like, woman is flighty, like a feather in the wind. She changes in voice and in thought. Always a lovely pretty face in tears or in laughter. Always miserable is he who trusts her. He who confides in her, his unwary heart, yet one never feels fully happy. Who from that bosom does not drink love?

Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind. She changes her words and her thoughts. It’s a silly song sung by a bad guy, by the way, and it’s one of the most famous arias ever sung by tenors. It has a beautiful, long, high note that’s very exciting to sing, and it’s exciting to listen to.

The pianist began poking out those initial notes

and then it was my turn and I started singing. Oh, it was great. It was beautiful. I was doing a great job. This is my first time on an opera stage. I’m auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. This is crazy. I can’t believe I’m here. What am I doing here? My mind starts playing with me. I’m looking out into an audience and the lights are so bright I can’t even see anything.

All I can see is these unbelievably bright lights, and I know that somewhere out in the distance there are people. I don’t know how many people. Sitting in chairs somewhere watching me and listening to me. This was a terrifying experience. Now, the Opera House where this was happening, this opera house is called the Ellie Calkins Opera House, or as the musicians call it, the el.

Right before we auditioned, an email went out to everybody warning us that the Ellie is a very dry stage. That means that you’re going to be up there singing and you will not be able to hear yourself. So do not focus on the sound of your voice coming back like when the shower or in a smaller venue where you can hear your own voice echoing throughout the building, and it gives you some sort of musical, tactile feedback to let you know how you sound.

Classical singers are not supposed to listen to themselves and rely on the way that they perceive themselves to sound anyway. You’re supposed to sing with muscle memory and just knowing that you sound right because you’ve performed it so many times and you’ve practiced it so many times, but I’m telling you, it’s terrifying.

Standing on a stage, opening your mouth and singing, but wondering, is anything coming out of my mouth because I can’t hear anything? Am I actually singing? Can people hear me? Here I am. My Italian is good, my dictions good. I’m remembering my lines. Everything’s fine. I’m on key. I start strong. Woman is flighty like a feather in the wind.

She changes in voice and in thought, always a lovely pretty face. In two tears or in laughter, woman is flighty like a feather in the wind. She changes in voice. And in thought, this is great. I’m doing well. This is my first ever opera audition in an opera house in front of professional singers and judges, and I might be able to do this.

And then comes the second verse, and I totally flub my lines. I start singing the words to the first verse accidentally in the second verse, and I know at that very moment, It’s over. I’ve ruined it. I’m not getting a call back. They’re not interested in me. I made the biggest rookie mistake in the book, but I don’t feel so bad because I’m a rookie.

I am as rookie as rookie can be. This is my first time doing this. This is my first time singing publicly in Italian. This is my first time on an opera stage. But still, just knowing that I’d made the most basic, stupid, silly error possible. I felt so dumb. I.

Like Lucy on the Charlie Brown Christmas special that I saw many, many years ago where she works for weeks and months to memorize her lines as Gabriel the angel in a nativity scene for the Christmas pageant. She has one line. Hark. On and on. She goes, asking people, friends and family, would you help me learn my lines?

And she hands them a piece of paper and then says, hark, did I get it right? Yes, you got it right. But the punchline of the episode is that by the time she actually gets on stage dressed as an angel in full costume, and the musicians are there and there are people in the audience, she stands up. And instead of saying, hark says hockey stick.

That was me. I felt like I had gotten up on stage after weeks and weeks of practicing. Hark, hark, hark. Instead, I got up on stage and when push came to shove and when the rubber meets the road, I stood up and said, hockey stick. That was really embarrassing. I felt so stupid. The good news is I wasn’t booed off the stage and I wasn’t asked not to sing a second selection.

That is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a classical singer who’s auditioning for an opera company. If you show up with your five selections and you start with one and the adjudicator say, thank you, we’ve heard enough. And they don’t ask you to sing a second one. That’s about as embarrassing as it can be.

That’s when the judges are essentially telling you, we’ve heard all we need to hear. We don’t think that hearing any more from you is gonna change our opinion of you because you’re so bad. Fortunately for me, they asked me to sing another one. The aria, they requested the very first aria I had ever sung just two years before the very first Italian words that had ever crossed my lips.

This one I could do the piano slowly vamped in smoothly. I sang a cut from an opera bike called literally the Elixir of Love. I was thrilled that they asked for a second selection, but also embarrassed because here I am. They already know that I screwed it up. I already know that I screwed it up. I appreciate that they’re giving me a second chance, but I just couldn’t get over that initial failure.

It was so embarrassing. Fine. I sang in Italian again this time about a mysterious magical elixir that causes innocent bystanders to fall head over heels in love with each other. The beating. The beating of her heart, I could feel to merge my size with hers. Oh, heavens yes. I could die. I could ask for nothing more.

Nothing more. Oh heavens, yes I could. I could die. I could ask for nothing more. Yes, I could die. I could die of love. I could die of shame and embarrassment. This whole thing was so silly. I was appreciative that I had the chance to sing two separate arias on stage at the La Hawkins Opera House, but I just couldn’t stop laughing on the inside.

I said, thank you, and I walked off the stage chuckling to myself in embarrassment. Hockey stick, hockey stick. I was not surprised when later that night I received an email saying, here’s the list of the people we’d like to hear from again tomorrow, and your name is not on it. Of course, that was fine with me.

I didn’t expect that at all. The whole thing was so disorienting. I was so new to this, but even so, just being on an opera stage where I couldn’t hear myself and it was so bright I couldn’t see the audience. I was just standing there singing foreign songs with words that I could barely remember into a dark, empty void in a giant building in Denver.

Were there people there? I couldn’t tell. I was just trying to do my best. The following Thursday at my voice lesson. Dr. John and I had a chat. So how do you think that went? He asked, how do you think that went? I asked him back. We chuckled about it and reviewed notes. I had taken notes about what I knew that I did wrong, and he had been sitting there watching and listening.

So he shared some of his notes from his perspective sitting in the audience, and we reviewed them together. He said, so that I could do a better job next year, next year. Oh no, I hadn’t even thought of that. You mean we were gonna do it again? That was actually a really good idea because this was a really good experience trying something I was totally unqualified for and relatively unprepared for.

I had prepared some as much as I could, having never done that before. But now having done it and gotten my nose bloodied, I could actually say, okay, now I know what to expect. Now I know where I’m gonna stand, what it’s gonna sound like, what it’s gonna feel like, what those lights are gonna do to me when I walk out on the stage.

And I’m completely blinded by those crazy lights. So for the next year, we worked on a lot of different kind of music, but we also picked five selections for the next year. And the second year when I signed up, I was about to be too old. I was now 29 years old, and the cutoff was age 30. This would be my very last chance to audition.

This was the last opportunity I had and I took that seriously. The second time around, I went a little more diverse in my selection of five. This time, my five selections consisted of two arias in Italian, one in French, one in German, and one in Russian. I was so excited to reclaim what I had lost the first time.

I felt like I needed to right a wrong by going up on stage and at least not embarrassing myself the second time around. So I was pretty miffed when I found out that this time the auditions were moving all the way across town, we would be performing at a completely different venue, the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at DU or the University of Denver.

That was so annoying. That meant that my whole strategy of having a home field advantage was completely gone. I would yet again, be standing on a completely different stage with different lighting, with a different pianist in a different location, and all the things that I thought would be so familiar the second time around would be taken away from me.

The rug was pulled out from under me. Well say lovey. That’s exactly what the life of a classical singer is. Every time you get up on stage, you have no idea what to expect. It’s a different audience. It’s a different day. There’s a different level of humidity in the air. You have different musicians. You may have different opinions about interpretation With a different conductor, it’s always going to be different.

The only thing you can count on as a classical singer is that every single time you get up and open your mouth, it’s gonna be different, and you have to just roll with the changes. So I got up and I sang in Italian. The first time, I still couldn’t really hear myself. It was still pretty bright, but not as bad as before.

And this time I could actually see the audience, which was a mixed blessing because it made me both more comforted and also more nervous. At the end of my first aria, I was asked to sing another one in French This time. Great. I did it. And by the time I hit that last note, I knew at least I could go home proud this time because I didn’t forget my lines.

No, they didn’t call me back. No. I didn’t advance to the bigger regional finals and then the final finals in New York City or anything like that, but that’s okay. I felt like I won something. I had accomplished something, something I could be proud of. This time I got up and I knew what I was doing. I came there to do a job and I did it and it was worth doing.

Which was really important because as I said, this was my very last chance because in a few months I would turn 30, and this opportunity that I had only learned about two years previously, I had now aged out of forever. So it was a bittersweet moment, finding something I was excited about and interested in just when I became disqualified for it, but it was worth doing.

In one sense, I can look at this and say, I auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera twice and failed twice. And that’s true. That’s exactly what happened. But in another sense, I can also say I got to audition for the Metropolitan Opera. Twice, and I had an instructor and a coach who was my advocate and who was there to help me the whole way.

It was his idea in the beginning that I even try for something big, and I did it and it was worth doing. I got to prove to myself a couple things, try and failing twice at the audition for the biggest, most prestigious, most well-funded opera company in America, and likely the entire world. Number one, sometimes it’s good to scare yourself.

The first time that I heard about this audition opportunity, I thought, that’s ridiculous. Why would I do that? I’ve only been singing this kind of music for a few months. Why would I try out for something? Knowing that most everyone else who was also trying out had been doing this since they were 15 years old.

I was completely. Utterly out of my league. And that was very scary, but that was also very exciting. I’m glad I did it. And many times in my life since then, I’ve sought out things that are scary but worth doing.

Number two, ask for things you know you’re not qualified for. I used to work at a coding bootcamp in Boulder. We focused on providing education for people who wanted to become web developers, who were coming from other industries, people who were career switchers, people who were a little bit older, who had already had a career in a particular in industry of some sort, and said, you know what?

I wanna join this new world of web development. I wanna try my hand at this. And so they would sign up for a 16 week bootcamp and see how much they could learn in that amount of time and see if they could get a job. One of the smartest things I ever heard was I heard the teacher tell the students, by the time you’re done with this bootcamp, you will not be qualified for anything.

You’re a junior developer brand. New to this, and most of you have only been doing this as long as you’ve been doing this bootcamp. Having only spent four months learning the basic concepts of web development is by no means a solid path for you to get your dream job at your favorite company. It isn’t.

Try anyway. Apply for jobs you’re not qualified for, even if you know you won’t get them. I thought that was a great life lesson. His point was, first of all, you never know unless you try. Second of all, You might get lucky. Third of all, you could get a job that’s on the path to get what you want. But fourth of all, and most importantly, if anybody reads your resume or your application and they call you in for an interview, you’re gonna get experience interviewing.

You’ll get good at the interview process, and the only way you’ll ever get a job that you really, really want is by doing well in an interview. How do you do well in an interview? You start out doing poorly in an interview, you get to the point where people ask you questions that you have absolutely no idea how to answer, and you get your nose bloodied and you look stupid and you say things like, I don’t know.

And they say things like, well, if you don’t even know the answer to that question, you’re definitely not qualified for this job. But that’s a good experience because then that teaches you, you can go out and learn the answer to that. I look at auditioning the same way, Ron Stoffer. Almost 30 years old, a husband and a father of five children who works at a construction company as a manager, had absolutely no business auditioning for the most prestigious opera company in America.

None. That was completely preposterous, but it was absolutely worth doing. I learned a lot about music. I learned a lot about how to prepare for an audition. And I learned what the audition process was like and I went through it. Preparing for something is one thing. Watching other people do it is another.

Doing it yourself is something altogether different and something much, much more important and far more formative. The third lesson I learned was I took away that set of skills and used it in a different way rather than looking at this experience and saying it was just a lark. Let’s just see how far I can go while trying out for the biggest company in America.

I said, let’s see if I can use those skills to audition for something else. And I did. After a year or two more of voice lessons and training, I actually ended up moving to Northern Colorado, which was much closer to Denver. And I auditioned for Opera Colorado, which is the opera company that performs at the Denver Performing Arts Center in the LA Opera House.

And guess what? They called me back and said, yes. They gave me a contract and hired me as a coer, and I sang on the stage that same exact stage where I had walked out a few years earlier and flubbed my lines and went home, completely embarrassed. And the funny thing is, if I had never auditioned for the Met Opera, I don’t even think I would’ve felt myself worthy to audition for Opera Colorado in Denver.

So by reaching way past a reasonable goal to a completely unreasonable goal and failing that gave me the confidence and probably the skills to a certain extent, needed to pull back a little bit and try out for something a little more reasonable. And I got it later. I auditioned for the Boulder Opera Company in Boulder, and I got that too.

So I tried out for the med opera twice and failed twice, but then I tried out for two different opera companies and they each said yes. So then followed a few years of performing on stage in some beautiful productions, and I met some delightful people and performed some incredible music and learned a lot on stage.

But the failure didn’t stop. I failed a couple more times, including when I thought, you know what? I like singing so much. I might wanna go back to school. And I auditioned at CU Boulder for their opera program and was rejected for that. Later I competed in the Denver Lyric Opera Guild singing competition, and I failed that too.

Life as a classical singer is full of failure. I like to say that opera singers wake up in the morning and they eat failure for breakfast. Every time I fail, at least I can say I tried, I failed, but here I am now, almost 38 years old. Looking back on that experience saying that was such a crazy thing to even try out for.

I had no business being there, but I would totally do it again. It was a great experience and I recommend that other people do the same. Try out for things that are way beyond your abilities. Fail a few times and then try again. Then fail some more and then try again each time. If you can get a little bit better, you can keep failing upward.

Think about it like stumbling as you’re climbing a hill. If you keep tripping over rocks and falling over, that can be really depressing and make you feel like you aren’t progressing. But if every step you put forward is a step up, eventually you’ll get somewhere and you’ll reach some point where you can stop, stand up and look down and see just how far you’ve come.

So my conclusion, go for the big one. Even if you’re gonna fail, it’s worth it. It’s gonna be a good experience. This is something I tell myself all the time, and still to this day, I’m applying for things where people send me letters saying you were not selected. Or sometimes they say your application was rejected.

I’m not okay with that. It bothers me every single time, but I still find a way to get over it and keep going. My life is richer for it. I’m more resilient, and though failure still hurts, it was worth doing and I would do it again. Thanks for listening.

By the way, if you’re interested in seeing what this whole process looked like visually, there’s a movie called The Audition, produced by the Metropolitan Opera that showcases this entire process from start to finish. It’s very well done. It’s a little bit triggering for someone like me who’s tried and failed to watch that whole process all over again.

I still get the jitters and I feel nervous and sick to my stomach when the music starts and the singer starts singing, and you can look out and see the judges writing notes on their paper and. I start to feel for the singer, and I know what that feeling is like thinking, what did he write? But it’s a very well done documentary that takes you behind the scenes during a national council audition where thousands of hopefuls compete for a cash prize, the chance to sing on the met stage, and the opportunity to launch a major operatic career.

If you have any interest in auditions or opera or just learning about how this whole process works, I highly recommend it. It’s thrilling, exciting. A little bit sad, and most of all very real. I appreciate just how well it’s done. I watch it every two or three years, and as I see the performers in the green room getting ready to walk out on the stage miserable with fear, I can still feel that sense of dread in my own stomach.

But I love it. I highly recommend it, and if you ever see it, let me know what you think of it. Thanks for listening.

You’ve been listening to Mike Ron, a one man podcast about living, learning, and the people I’ve met who make this world an interesting place. I am the host, the writer, the editor, the producer, the man with the mic, Ron Stauffer. Micron is recorded right here in my office, located in the scorching heat of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.

If you liked this episode of Micron, share it with a friend. Even better, leave a rating or review on your favorite podcast platform. To view photographs, read episode transcripts, or find resources mentioned in the show. Visit micron podcast.com. While you’re there, use the contact form to send me a message.

I am always open to feedback, including questions, comments, and episode suggestions. I am listening to you. Thanks for listening to me.