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  • Writer's pictureClint Williams

My Most Irrational Fear



No, it's not the Trombone...ironically, my trombone playing could give you nightmares, but that's for another time. I have been asked this question many times, and have never given an honest answer until now. This one is a bit of a headscratcher, but I'll explain it immediately.


[big breath]... Success. I have a relatively healthy, yet utterly irrational fear of success.


"You mean failure, right? How are you afraid of something you're actively pursuing? How do you fear success?!?" Well, my answer is... success changes not only the person chasing it, but it changes itself once you have it to the point where it doesn't even feel like success anymore. I look at professional athletes every year after the finals are over and they are crowned champions. they will celebrate for maybe 24 hours before deciding when to start training for their title defense. In my field, we chase the Golden Run, which is a flawless performance. In composition, it's more than a Golden Run, it's also a perfect score, clean rehearsals, and repeat performances of the same standard or better with different groups. Success demands a relentless pursuit to keep it, especially if it was easy to secure in the first place. The more you gain, the more someone else wants to take away, and that kind of pressure can burst a dam. Further, I have also noticed that successful people become more insatiable the longer they pursue success; so they tend to render their efforts as failures despite still being elite...it's borderline lunacy, but I get it because the pursuit of a beast turns you into one that you may not be able to control.


...So what's with the Trombone?


This past Friday, University of Oklahoma professor Dr. Irvin Wagner passed away. This man was mythical. He was dubbed the "Father of the Trombone" in China, One of his claims to fame was that he could play "Bye Bye Birdie" on the Trombone with his feet while simultaneously playing the spoons (read. that. again.) He has performed for legendary talk show hosts, United States Presidents, and common folk alike. Internationally, he was the most listened-to Trombonist in the world; he had a televised audience of 600 million people in China and a radio recital audience of 500 million in India. Irv was also a founding member of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and built a dynasty of excellence at the University of Oklahoma through his performance and education of students who went on to teach for themselves.


I had worked with him on numerous projects and got a wealth of wisdom from his insights, but when an opportunity came to work with him on one of my projects, I never pushed send. I have reservations about showing people an unfinished product first. I would much rather someone hear my strongest work first so they know my potential as opposed to seeing a weak spot and accepting it as my standard. Even if I knew it would make me a better composer, I just couldn't bring myself to do it and the opportunity is long gone. The worst part is that I only do this when I'm talking to people who can bring the most out of me, making it even more irrational.


My resolve? F.A.C.E


I tell my students constantly, “Fail. Fall on your face. Crash that car, but make sure you can walk away to drive again.” Once they do, I tell them that FACE is an acronym for “Fail and Create Excellence.” We don’t always know what works, but we surely have a better idea of what doesn’t. No one can control how other people feel about them, and no one is responsible for that. If someone wants to find something bad, all they have to do is look; they can find good too, but they choose what pleases them, so do what you want in life.


I accept this hard lesson as I bid farewell to a good friend. Will I put it into motion?

Stay tuned my friends.

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