What was I doing before? I resolved this week to commit to every gesture and every note I play in the orchestra, even though it was "just" a pops concert. And having made that resolution my playing felt completely different. Had I really been that uncommitted? I always have the goal of taking the high road in performance, and going for the full fingering, the quiet entrance, the special color, the effortless slur.
The impulse for my resolution was, embarrassingly, America's Next Top Model, which I watch on my computer only when nothing else that I follow has new episodes and I cannot stand the thought of making reeds without distraction for one more minute. It is a very silly show, but I love that they speak of the craft of modeling as if it were important, and that the most successful candidates are the ones who understand how to use their bodies in performance - to make their gestures and facial expressions mean something - which translates to their photo shoots and subsequent advancements.
I also think about watching dancers and figure skaters, and the way that the truly good ones make me believe that the arm motions required by the choreography are the way that they really feel. They HAVE TO to stand on their tippy-toes at that point, or to spin meaningfully in beautiful turned out positions.
So I decided that I was not going to throw anything away. Every phrase was worth playing well. All the way to the last note. Even if it was buried in a big orchestra tutti. Even if it was the middle of a rock and roll tune. I was going to commit to each gesture and care all the way through.
If you had asked me last week, I would have said that I always try to play my best. That would have been true, but somehow the new mental images changed the game for me, and I played differently. I played better. I also took more artistic risks, and spectacularly botched one very gentle and beautiful chorale with an attempted entrance that was softer than I could manage. Not a perfect success, in other words, but I am excited and inspired to keep playing with this new performance approach. Thanks, Tyra!