Category: Starters

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chicken broth poached egg recipeIt was the summer between my junior and senior year and I was away at a summer youth music school. My parents were getting a divorce, my home life was a mess, and I was happy to spend almost two months with other kids my age focusing on the one thing I really loved: music.

I spent the summer working hard on my vocal performance. I auditioned for groups and tried out for the privilege of private lessons. I didn’t make the special chorus but I did qualify for one-on-one sessions with a vocal coach. I was excited. I was going to grow as a performer.

By the end of the summer I had learned more than I had ever bargained for. I even fell in love. On the last day of camp, hundreds of students and teachers gathered in an auditorium at the University of New Hampshire for a final ceremony.

I wore a loose tee shirt and a jean skirt as I sat in my seat feeling butterflies. I desperately hoped I’d be given an award. I wanted something to prove to the world around me that all of my hard work that summer was good. Really good.

Despite the fact I had rather low self-esteem, I did feel with some certainty that I would get an award. I just knew I had achieved something great. I had matured as a young woman, a student, and as a performer. But as the awards ceremony stretched out, I started to doubt my intuition. Hadn’t I proven my commitment and my passion for music?

Near the end of the awards ceremony, when it seemed as if all the awards had been handed out, the chairwoman of the vocal department stepped up to the podium. She cleared her throat before reading some handwritten words from a small note card.

“And lastly,” she said, “we have an award for this one very special person who worked hard, was committed to learning, and grew in leaps and bounds…The award for most improved singer of this year’s Summer Youth Music School is Brooke Burton.”

“The Most Improved” Award? I sat in my seat completely dumbfounded. I was struck by the thought that maybe the faculty had created the prize in a last minute show of pity. The self-loathing teenager I was–the person who told herself that her body was too square to be attractive and that the deep tone of my contralto voice was too manly–became undeniably uncomfortable in this long hoped for moment. I began to sweat through my tee.  I was terrified.

Someone elbowed me to go up and take the award. I could barely feel my feet underneath me as I walked up to the stage. That’s it, I thought to myself. Now everyone knew the cold, honest truth. I was a terrible singer, only made better by a lot of hard work.

I felt humiliated by the award. Because when you’re seventeen years old and full of self-doubt, humility and pride is a hard thing to come by. Humiliation is what shows up, trucked in by the dumpster.  “I guess I really sucked,” I said when I got back to my seat. I said it because I half believed it and also so that that person sitting next to me wouldn’t say it to me first.

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