Becoming the top rejected harpist in Las Vegas

Jenni Hodges-Bakane
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readJun 20, 2024

Having failed to find a single venue where I can volunteer relaxing harp music, I am claiming the title of Sin City’s most rejected amateur harpist of all time.

Road closed sign
Photo by Sonny Sixteen

Have you heard of rejection therapy? It’s the self-help exercise or “game” where you challenge yourself to make requests others are likely to say “no” to. Some people challenge themselves to get rejected once a day for a month. There’s even a card deck, created by Jason Comely and made famous by Jia Jiang. The idea is that you can practice handling rejection and even have some fun while overcoming social fears, taking more risks and lightening the sting of hearing “no.”

In the past year, I made a lot of requests I thought people would say “yes” to — maybe not all of them, but I thought my chances were excellent. If you’re familiar with the viral ask vs. guess culture concept, you’ll have already figured out I grew up a “guesser.”

While trying to recover my interest in a long-lost hobby, I’ve been asking local venues and organizations if I can play relaxing harp music at their facilities. I have yet to receive a single “yes.” Most of the time, I haven’t received an answer at all. A few “maybes” have evaporated once we got to the actual scheduling part. I’ve been ghosted by schools, libraries, coffee shops, hospice centers and more. And I’ve been feeling intensely frustrated after discovering again and again that my expectations were wildly off-track.

Can embracing rejection help me find a way through? I have not (yet) been successful at getting involved as an amateur musician, and I want to keep trying. Since none of my past strategies have been working, perhaps I’m better off changing the goal. In rejection therapy, you only succeed if you are rejected. If you count *crickets* …I can definitely do that. From now on, I am winning.

Although I’ve already reached out to dozens of people, I’m starting from scratch for the sake of the game. For the next 50 days, I’m getting rejected at least once. I’m daring myself to become the most rejected amateur harpist in Las Vegas, and I’m sharing my results below. I can’t lose. And there’s a second side to this challenge — if I do actually get a “yes,” I’ll win a long-awaited opportunity to panic-prepare for an actual commitment.

Day 1: I’d like to assure my most eager advisers that yes, I have reached out to assisted living facilities, memory care centers and communities for older adults in my area. I have been aware of and engaged in these kinds of volunteer opportunities for more than 20 years. For reasons unknown to me, it has become surprisingly difficult to get a response to my offers to provide music. I am, however, receiving marketing texts and emails from each of the facilities I’ve reached out to.

Day 5: The Clark County Special Events team says they will reach out to me if there are openings for performers at The Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival. This would be one of my favorite opportunities to hear back about — it sounds fun! Also, I’m still salty about being ignored by a local musician who posted a call for folk harpists to join her at The Highland Games, then did not respond to my messages.

Day 7: Yes, friends, I also have heard of libraries, and I think it would be great to play at my local branch too. I’ve been ghosted by The Library District for the moment, and I’m working on a pitch for a new kind of event.

Day 11: Inspired by a fellow harpist who plays at her local humane society, I’m now on a spree of reaching out to pet care and boarding businesses in my area. I ask a family member to read my pitch emails and confirm that I sound friendly, sane and competent. Is this a low point, or is this quirky, creative, and resilient? I don’t know. I am ignored by all of them.

Day 16: I’ve begun filtering out responses that provide a tentative “yes” while placing irrelevant obstacles in my path. The local mortuary says they’ll add me to their vendor list if I complete some tax forms. The Springs Preserve invites me to take a half-day training and says they require more hours each month than I’m free to offer. I believe these are copy-pasted from generic messages — it’s too much trouble to engage with me as a unique volunteer. I put these options on a list for later. While I’m willing to make the effort, I’ve previously found that my attempts were wasted when communication wasn’t strong in the first place.

Day 23: I lost, and I won! I failed to be rejected and scheduled my first music commitment in ages. I visited a preschool in my neighborhood as part of their month-long volunteer series and introduced harp music to about 80 kids.

Day 28: We’re regularly seeing temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so my outdoor options are beginning to close for the season. For the next few months, I won’t mind if Fresh52 Farmers Market continues to ignore my pitch.

Day 31: Landing my first volunteer gig in Vegas has helped motivate me to prepare more consistently — and to create short, kid-friendly lessons about how a harp works and what it sounds like. With a more regular practice routine and slightly stronger calluses, I feel ready to reach out to the more ambitious ideas on my pitch list: restaurants, yoga studios and meditation spaces where it would feel awkward to play for a short time, then leave. My fingers can handle it now, if I get the chance.

Day 39: I was invited to play for a holiday event at a desert nursery, one of my favorite locations! I was out of town and agreed to schedule a later date.

Day 44: A supposed volunteer manager sends eager messages insisting on coming to my home to meet me. I suspect a scam and drop out of that one myself.

Day 47: I finally connect with another human being in Vegas who admits to having a music hobby. We’re planning to arrange a duet. Thanks to our loud, enthusiastic and easily-overheard brainstorming session, I also learn I have a friend who wants to try the harp!

Day 50: I’m ready to slow my pace (especially with the sillier pitch ideas) but find I am feeling more motivated to keep reaching out. My mindset has shifted a bit from the pessimistic “I’ll never hear back” to a more neutral “It’s fine if I don’t hear back — I have lots of things in motion.”

Overall, making more frequent and outlandish requests has been a helpful strategy. I’ll confess: I’m not sure this kind of shotgun approach has brought me closer to a strategy for maintaining the long-term rewards I’m looking for. But it has given me a way to keep moving when I was feeling stuck — and a more playful way to cope with ongoing challenges. Rejection is unavoidable. Why not embrace it?