Day 2 Slice of Life Story Challenge: Whiplash

I am sitting on the couch watching the movie Whiplash.

I almost applied to music school for college.


I spent the largest part of my adolescence doing music. Competing. Practicing. Rehearsing. Auditioning. Performing.

When people asked me, “What do you play?” I always confused them when I answered, “winds.”


“Clarinet, saxophones.”

“What kind of saxophone?”

“All of them – tenor, alto, baritone, soprano.”

I started in about second grade. It filled the long summers and the lonely weekends growing up in a rural town (think farms, cows, forests, and that’s all). I stuck with it, and in 7th and 8th grade I was accepted to a number of special orchestras and wind ensembles. As I got older I started doing ‘grown-up’ jazz ensembles and bands too. I spent summers away at a competitive music institute in New York state. When the time came to apply for college, my mom drove me far and wide to visit music schools and music departments.

I didn’t have a teacher quite like JK Simmons’s character, Terrence Fletcher, in Whiplash. But I totally related to the story on many levels, and loved every minute of the movie. Terrence Fletcher, to me, embodies the voice inside a serious musician’s head. Just like Obama’s “anger translator,” Luther, in the Key & Peele comedy sketches, Terrence Fletcher is the human form of my own inner voice as a musician.

It takes a certain amount of passion, commitment, and sometimes self-loathing to sequester oneself for hours on end to practice, practice, practice. Yes, there is love of music and creative expression. There’s talent. But at a certain level there’s just a lot of hard labor and a whole lot of perfectionism required. After all, what else are you doing while you practice but identifying and correcting flaws, down to the last iota.

“You’re RUSHING!”

How often have I screamed that at myself inside my own head?

That voice in my head is probably why, after the college visits were over, and it was time to write essays, fill out applications, and make audition tapes, I opted not to apply to music school after all.




9 thoughts on “Day 2 Slice of Life Story Challenge: Whiplash

  1. I haven’t seen Whiplash, but heard a clip on NPR last week. It was painful to listen to. No wonder you chose a different course. (Although, that last paragraph could just as easily be describing what writers do!)


  2. I connected with your post immediately, as I’ve been reading “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and he writes quite a bit about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice in a field to succeed. It sounds like you had that much under your belt, and then some. Do you regret not studying music in college after all those hours of practicing and playing? Do you still play?


  3. One clip of Whiplash cured me of the desire to see it (too scared) but I listened to the NPR podcast, too, and found it interesting how music students (especially drummers) “got” the instructor and valued the crazy intensity. All my kids play instruments and speak of this inner voice, too. So fascinating, Beth.


  4. What an interesting story. Both of my children played multiple instruments through many different school groups and even beyond, but neither is seeking a degree in music either. They both love music, but don’t want to commit to it for a career. I hope they somehow find a way to keep it in their lives somewhere. Great slice.


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