Swimming in Satisfaction

While many college students go for the Spring Break debauchery, a more wholesome activity drew me to the Sunshine State: a bassoon audition for the Florida Orchestra.

My school friends, future husband, and Bob,
who came to every school orchestra concert.
Having purchased a professional instrument a few years earlier, I struggled mightily. The Heckel bassoon's $18,500 price tag and its attendant monthly payments stretched me to the limit, even though a music scholarship covered all but room and board. As I scrounged for empty soda cans on my college campus, I often thought to be thankful I lived in Michigan, the only state with a ten-cent bottle deposit.

Being broke honed my resourcefulness. I invited my mom and grandma to Florida to share the cost of hotel and car rental, making the audition trip just barely within my limited means, while still allowing for minimal sightseeing.

Traveling side roads along Florida's coast, we passed sign after sign beckoning, Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish! "When we get to Key West," my mom and grandma resolved, "we'll order fresh fish!" They could not pass an eatery without reiterating their dream of consuming seafood straight from the Atlantic, creating a soundtrack for the veritable slideshow of restaurant signage.
Courtesy: Pleasant Bay Trading Company
Venice: "Fresh Fish!"

The Everglades: "Fresh Fish!"

Key Largo: "Fresh Fish!"

Marathon: "Fresh Fish! Fresh Fish!"

And finally, Key West.

Reluctant to leave my prized bassoon unattended in the car, I hauled it along as we wandered, Goldilocks-style, from restaurant to restaurant. One was too smoky; one, too loud; another, too expensive. Hungry, my mom and grandma settled upon a restaurant that was just right: an oceanside Burger King. In a striking display of irony, each ordered a BK Big Fish sandwich. I was appalled. They were satisfied.

I crashed and burned at the audition. I had dreamed of being a professional musician since 7th grade. I loved music, and practiced hard. Enjoying a fair amount of success, I scored, as an undergrad, positions in four part-time orchestras, besting graduate students from more prestigious music schools. But I coveted a full-time job that, in my mind, bespoke success.

At my first concert as a full-fledged professional musician,
an outdoor concert with the Omaha Symphony.
Taken by my mom, who drove from Michigan
to participate in the momentous occasion.
Having failed repeatedly, I rejoiced upon winning a spot with the Omaha Symphony. The "one year, may become permanent" status never felt tenuous; all my colleagues expressed confidence that my predecessor would remain in his cushy new post, as principal bassoonist with Sydney Symphony.

Months later, rumors swirled that he missed America. Yet, I had not properly steeled myself when the personnel manager approached me backstage with what he considered non-news: "I'm sure you've already heard that Roger is returning from Australia." I nodded, then hurried to a dressing room and sobbed.

Faced anew with the soul-crushing audition process, my husband and I crisscrossed the country. Bassoonists seem rare until you're on the audition circuit. I came close sometimes and felt I'd get another shot at my dreams.

My mom, niece, and son,
at home in Grand Rapids.
When we learned we were expecting a baby, my mom urged, "Come back home!" And we did. Flipping through the employment section of the International Musician that hit the mail slot of our new home each month, we opted to sit out audition after audition.

Phoenix? Too far.

Richmond? Too far.

Buffalo? Too far.

My hometown? Just right.

And I realized, babe in arms, delighting in the presence of family, what my elders realized at Key West's oceanfront Burger King:

Sometimes we bail on our dreams. And we're satisfied.


  1. What a wonderful story. Sometimes when I regret not fulfilling, or even pursuing, all my dreams, I remind myself that I have a very good life just as it is. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Enjoyed this post very much...from a fellow satisfied bailer

  3. Me too, Laura! My dream was to play cello professionally, abroad, until one day, that wasn't my dream any longer. I just changed dreams. I'm living mine, here, too! Thanks for writing! Hugs, Pam

  4. I'm Laura's sister, and after attending Michigan State University, I bailed on my dreams, too. After practicing as a small animal veterinarian for over seven years, I started to work with the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project to find families for older Russian orphans, and found my real mission in life. I wrote about this in my blog, http://www.russianorphanlighthouseproject.blogspot.com/2009/08/dr-adoption.html.


I'd love to have your comments and reflections!