My Bio: The Fabulous Failures Edition


The other day I wondered aloud on Facebook about what a bio with only my failures would look like. So often when we look at our bios, we look amazing. And that’s really the point. However, what we don’t see is the blood, sweat, tears, and failures.

Occasionally I have shared some of my own failures or misadventures in my career. So now I have taken the extra step and rewritten my bio with only my failures. Not all of them, but a good amount of failures I thought were the lowest points of my life at each of those moments.

It’s a great exercise in empathy and self-worth. It’s also a great reminder that in order to succeed, there must be some very big failures and roadblocks. This was a fun exercise, and it is something I recommend every professional do. Share your failure bios in the comments!

Standing out of her elementary school orchestra at the not so early age of 10, Holly Mulcahy was identified as the only 4th grader to defy the universal bow direction of the other children. As every child moved their violin bows down, Holly’s moved up. Her parents and orchestra teacher made note of this feat.

After many disappointments during high school, and complaining about those disappointments to her mom, these wise words were shared, “Maybe the other kids are practicing harder.”

Auditioning for the prestigious music school, The Peabody Conservatory, and subsequently being rejected, Holly spent a year at the University of Northern Colorado where she was found in the practice rooms by the university orchestra conductor who said, “It’s apparent you are only practicing concertos. Let’s get some orchestra music learned, shall we?”

The following year Holly was accepted into Peabody only to find out that at her orchestra placement exam, it was strongly advised she switch to viola. Standing by her desire to continue violin, Holly gratefully accepted last chair in the second violin section of the lesser of two orchestras Peabody had to offer.

After switching to a music education degree and working summers on a water taxi instead of traveling to a summer music festival to continue studying with her Peabody violin professor, Holly’s violin professor suggested she find a different professor and kicked her out of the studio.

The new professor shared much wisdom with statements like, “It’s a good thing you are a music education major because you’ll never make it in an orchestra.”

After graduation, Mulcahy auditioned for 10 different orchestras. For the first few auditions, the adventure was rough. In the San Antonio Symphony audition, Holly kept playing a D# where there was none in Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. No reason. Just kept doing it. This didn’t happen at home during practice.

In the Seattle Symphony auditions, Holly tried to combat nerves by unwittingly taking an entire Inderal pill to keep the shakes down. (Inderal is a beta blocker, used frequently by musicians to keep the heart steady and to control shakes and nerves. A typical dosage used by musicians is a quarter pill or less). While utterly relaxed, Holly was instructed by the audition monitor, that, “If you feel you need to play anything again, the audition committee welcomes that.” So Holly proceeded to make a mistake in a hard lick from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Feeling welcome to play the excerpt again, she calmly made that mistake over, and over, and over, replaying that hard lick four times. Badly.

In Detroit Symphony auditions, she nearly had a perfect run through of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Overture. During last line of that excerpt, Holly thought to herself, “Wow, this is going great, I can’t believe how perfect this is!” And then subsequently miscounted the last two measures. Walking out of the auditorium, the monitor of that audition said, “You know you miscounted that last bit, right?”

During Holly’s very first concertmaster post, she attempted to please everyone by saying, “Let’s just free bow this.” (Normally the concertmaster puts in the bow directions. Sometimes people don’t agree with those directions. Free bowing refers to the individuals getting personal choice on bowing direction; it’s rarely a good idea.)

In addition to her life as a violinist, Holly has never been able to properly poach an egg, nor maintain a respectable fitness routine. She also lives with a misfit cat who hates violin and or music.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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10 thoughts on “My Bio: The Fabulous Failures Edition”

  1. Wow, great read! I appreciate and respect your craft. Your critical thinking is the 🎻 violinist excellence! What a road to travel much respect! ❤️ Chattanooga, Tn

  2. Poached egg failures here, too! I would also include in mine: “Jillian routinely breaks egg yolks when making fried eggs, making them inedible in her mind, and each time, she thinks, “ruined another egg!” and then feels 1st world problem guilt in the worst way.”

    Also: Didn’t know you were at UNC for a year! When? I was there for my masters from 2000-2002.

  3. Holly,

    That is fantastic! Hilarious! It is really amazing that any teacher would tell their student they will never make it in an orchestra. Your “bio” was both funny and made me look back at all of my many failures. The video below is one of my favorite comedians addressing her alma mater. She discusses failure in great detail. It’s a long speech but is funny and inspiring. Hope you guys are doing great and I really hope to see you soon!

    Dave Perkel

  4. Brilliantly conceived and written, Holly! No doubt, these experiences (and those not listed) were not viewed at the time through such a light-hearted rear view mirror but you’ve captured the moments and reframed them in such a way that we can all immediately relate by conjuring up our own parallels of angst-ridden mishaps and failures. It’s so interesting, as well, that, in knowing of your subsequent successes, each of these low-points actually show great proof of the character, fortitude and confidence that clearly kept you going until you were able to achieve your goals. What a fascinating perspective this is–thank you for this very unique and inside-out exercise.

  5. This is great! Here’s one of my favorites… at the Chautauqua music festival in 1975, I was playing timpani on Symphonic metamorphosis by Hindemith in the college orchestra. I mean, I had been there the year before and I was such a hot shot! Never made a mistake, always dependable, until we played the Turandot movement that year.

    I was playing on some very basic kettle drums without accurate tuning gauges. And there is a major tuning change in the middle of the movement. There is a percussion section cue written in the timpani part and I knew I could depend on the cue to find my place after I put my head down to tune all 4 drums. Now comes the fun part, I had forgotten that the percussion cue occurs the SECOND time that music is played in the percussion section. AND… when I pulled the lowest kettle drum a little bit closer to me just before my entrance, a defect in the pedal mechanism detuned the drum down to the lowest possible pitch.

    You can probably guess what happens next. But it’s far worse than that. I come crashing in fortissimo 16 measures too early on my big solo. in addition, when I strike the lowest kettledrum, the head is so flabby there is a note of indefinite pitch that comes out of it. So I start tuning that drum with the pedal, which sounds like I’m playing a glissando during the middle of my solo, and of course now I know that if I don’t keep playing, when I get to the actual place where the solo should be there will be nothing. so I just keep playing it, over and over until I’m fairly certain I’ve covered the spot.

    The conductor is looking at me the entire time as if I have lost my mind completely. It was at this point I thought about leaving the music profession. Somehow I managed to get through it. But I was mortified.

    Over a 42 year career as principal percussionist of the Oregon Symphony, I can probably name a few more fabulous moments. funny how they’re burned into my memory!

    Niel DePonte
    Inexplicably 2003 Grammy nominee for best concerto performance with orchestra.

  6. Ok here’s mine. 😉 If it’s too long just skip to the last part.
    Janelle Bogart had always felt like a misfit growing up in a small private school in Wichita, Kansas. She was the tallest person in her class which brought great ridicule from other kids. Consequently, growing up she was very shy and self conscious. The only place she felt truly alive was on stage. After playing minor roles in numerous plays, she tried out for the role of Miss Hannigan in her high school play Annie. However, typical in small school politics, she was passed over and the theatre director gave the role to his daughter. She spread her wings when she went to college and enjoyed her first year as a theatre major finding others who enjoyed her quirky personality. However she changed majors after her theatre teacher gave her a B in one of her classes, saying, “80% of working actors are without a job on any given day. I just don’t think you have what it takes to make it.” Janelle proceeded to earn a degree in English literature. She thought the academic life of a professor would be a good fit since she loved reading and writing. She was about to apply for an internship when one of the girls in her class discouraged her by saying, “those internships are highly sought after. I don’t think you’ll get it.” She decided to get a 2nd degree in Marketing & Communications after winning a full ride scholarship for an essay she wrote. After graduating the recession hit and jobs were scarce. Janelle worked two jobs to make ends meet. In the daytime she was a seller at a local news station and at night as a server. As stressful as it was being broke with two college degrees, she met the love of her life during this time period. She then took a job in Pratt, Kansas at a community college and really enjoyed helping students navigate the school. However, she knew she had to move on after a female VP berated her for talking with her hands too much, walking too fast and not wearing enough color in her wardrobe. Janelle came back to Wichita and worked for her local chamber of commerce making many friends with small business owners. Once again she moved on when her boss gave her a poor performance review citing “dresses for work inappropriately.” When Janelle asked her to expand on that comment she said it was because Janelle wore tights instead of pant hose. Feeling frustrated at every female boss that focused more on her wardrobe than on her job performance, she went to work in the male dominated industry of manufacturing at Grainger. She worked hard and was promoted quickly into the role of a sales trainer. She finally found a job where talking with her hands was a positive! She then married her crush from the tv station and has never looked back since. She finally had a job where she could combine her love for the stage and her desire to educate others. Janelle thanks her lucky stars that she went through all those trying situations because it brought her where she is today. She has learned from the best and someday when she coaches other female professionals she will know the right things to focus on. ❤️

  7. This is absolute gold! I too was told that maybe viola would be a better choice at a scholarship audition during high school. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wonder if maybe I should have switched.


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