If a person has too much pride, that is not a good thing. Such a person is often seen as arrogant and boastful. Also, too much pride can lead one to overestimate one’s ideas, abilities and accomplishments. There are plenty of cautionary stories about people whose pride was excessive. Icarus had too much pride, and things didn’t end well for him. “Pride goeth before destruction,” the Bible tells us.
I offer these observations because I’ve recently had cause to question my own sense of pride, and to consider how I could, and should, “get it right”: responding to a situation with neither too little nor too much pride.
Earlier this year, I applied to participate as a composer in a Choral Art workshop at the Banff Centre. The program was presented as an opportunity to work with one of Canada’s top choirs for several weeks, in the winter if 2019.
These days, I’m very keen on composing for choir, and the program seemed quite attractive to me – even if February in the Canadian Rockies sounded like a pretty chilly proposition. So I applied, and waited (im)patiently for a response.
Yesterday I received a letter (or, rather, an email) of rejection. Here are some highlights from this document:
“We appreciate the time and effort it takes to prepare and submit an application.”
“Adjudications are complete and selections have been made. We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you a position in this year’s program.”
“Due to the sensitive nature of the adjudication process, we are unable to provide feedback to applicants of our programs. Please note that all adjudication decisions are final and not subject to change.”
As they say in England, “There it is.” And I must now consider how best to assimilate this disappointing message. What kind of reaction would manifest too little pride? What kind of reaction would be an indulgence in too much? How do I get it just right?
After sleeping on this question, I have decided the best thing to do – for my own artistic welfare – is to respond publicly (as I am now doing) with criticism, objection and, ultimately, a rejection of the Banff Centre’s letter of rejection. To not do so would demonstrate too little pride.
I shall begin by declaring that I do not like this letter. Its self-assured, proper and faux-empathetic tone is an excellent example of bureaucratic, boiler-plate insincerity. (And it proves yet again that public administration is Canada's foremost art-form.)
I find it hard to believe that its author cares a hoot about the time it took me to prepare my application. And I find it hard to believe that the author felt even a smidgeon of regret as she clicked on “send.” Moreover, it’s simply not correct to say that that the Banff Centre is “unable” to offer me a position; rather, it has deliberately chosen not to.
Thanks to everything this letter does and doesn’t say, I am left wondering if I am under-qualified, over-qualified, mis-qualified, dis-qualified, or if someone on the jury just doesn't like me. (There are such people, I must admit, and I take full responsibility for it.) I have no way of knowing – and this is hurtful, mind-messing and potentially debilitating.
I am well aware that in publishing this “rejection of the rejection,” I am deviating substantially from professional protocol. In Canada, ranting is considered poor form. It’s a long-standing tradition that an artist faced with rejection is supposed to “suck it up,” and stoically move on. Have I fully considered the wisdom of telling the world I was rejected by the Banff Centre, and that I’m unhappy about it? How will that help my career? Do I want to look like some kind of whiner – or, worse, “entitled”?
And I’m also violating the Canadian ethos of even-handedness. Have I thought about the problem from Banff’s perspective? If I were in charge of a prominent artistic program (a highly unlikely proposition!) that received more applications than it could accept, what sort of rejection letters would I send out? Would it really be a good idea tell rejectees why they were rejected? What kind of can of worms would that open up?
But I have no great love for professionalism (see here), and I am certainly not thinking about the problem from Banff’s perspective. I’m writing this little essay to affirm my respect for my own self-esteem. It’s my belief that a healthy sense of pride – not too much, not too little! – is something an artist needs to have, cherish and defend, if he or she is to flourish artistically. And pride is like a muscle: if you don’t exercise it from time to time, it will atrophy.
Therefore, I will say this: I do not know, and will probably never know, why I was rejected. But if it was because the decision-makers arrived at the conclusion that I was in any way artistically unworthy of the Banff Centre’s Choral Art program, they are wrong. And if you doubt my word, gentle reader, click here, here or here.
Ironically, Banff’s rejection letter comes at a good time (if there is such a thing as a good time for a rejection letter). In two days, I’ll be travelling to the United States, where an excellent and well-established choir called the Pittsburgh Camerata will premiere my Darest Thou Now, O Soul, for a-cappella SATB choir. And next month I’ll be back in the USA, this time in Providence, Rhode Island, to hear the recently formed but highly esteemed Collegium Ancora sing my Five Poems From the Great War (again, for a-cappella SATB choir).
I am glad to say that the “gaslighting” effect of Banff’s rejection falters in the face of my music’s acceptance by these two professional American choirs. I am looking forward to both performances – perhaps even more than I ordinarily would, thanks to the Banff Centre.
© Colin Eatock 2018