I was asked in a TV interview in Tokyo yesterday whether I had been to Japan before. I took a billi-second to think and then very carefully chose my words to still tell the truth and yet hide the fact that I HAD been in Japan before. I said, “With the JUILLIARD QUARTET, this is my first time.” And left it at that. However, the interview was in fact taking place in the very same hall I had stood in 11 years before while performing a less-than-ideal first round of the Tokyo International Viola Competition – after which I was not passed to the next round and thus unceremoniously sent home.
I left the interview conflicted and increasingly disturbed by my half-truth and have been thinking and praying about it since. My thought in the moment was to protect the name of the Juilliard String Quartet and not share information that would make people think that the group had let a loser into the ensemble. BUT the more I think about this, the more strongly I feel that I need to share that they DID in fact let a loser into their midst!
Deciding to become a violist was the easiest choice I’ve ever made. STAYING a violist has been one of the most repeatedly difficult decisions I’ve had to make. And it’s only due to having people around me who kept reminding me again and again to remember the WHY, listen to my core, and hold dearly to what I love to guide me around the obstacles that I’ve managed to survive this long. And yes, I have been blessed beyond measure to find myself NOW standing in the position I am – performing around the world with an ensemble I have revered my whole life while also mentoring many of the most talented musicians in the world as a faculty member at the Juilliard School. But surviving the roller coaster of ups and downs that led me to this point – the ups and downs that always come with such a competitive career path – has been incredibly challenging.
Last week, I received a request from a student from Scripps Ranch High School in California, asking me if I would take part in a school project in which students were reaching out to “professionals from around the world” to ask them to share signed headshots that included inspirational messages. Also over the past few weeks, I have found myself spending many hours of lesson time at Juilliard consoling and encouraging a number of devastated students who put all of their hearts and souls for MONTHS into preparing for concerts, auditions, and competitions and yet still ended up with results they didn’t like. Because of this, I feel I owe it to those younger than me who have opted for this same career path to let them know that when I was a student, I would look at my mentors and those around me and wonder how success had been so kind to them and why oh why it wouldn’t visit me – no matter how hard I worked to chase it. When I was a student I failed A LOT (and STILL DO). But when I was a student I also had mentors who would remind me that in each failure is an opportunity for more creative thinking and problem solving.
I want to be that person for my students, the students in Scripps High School, and any others who are struggling with “failure” now.
And so, for these students, I would like to revise my interview answer for all to read: “Yes, I have been to Tokyo before. The last time I was here, I performed very badly in this very hall and then was kicked out of the first round of the Tokyo International Viola Competition. Thus it’s a miraculous honor to now be returning to this same hall living a life beyond my wildest dreams 11 years later – Performing the music I love with people I love around the world. It took a long time to get here, but ‘whew!’ thank goodness I stuck it out long enough to make it back here!!”
I’d also like to say that -like it or not- from my view things often seem to happen when they are meant to happen. If I had won that competition back in 2012, I don’t know that I would have been ready for what came after. I see now that psychologically I was not in a place where I could have handled that type of recognition and/or accolade. I needed that failure to reset, learn, and grow.
Closing this very loquacious post with the following: Hang in there, losers!!! Take a breather, remind yourself what you’re really doing it all for, and then get back at it! 🙂
With love and encouragement,
Molly Carr

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