When I am performing and things are going really well, time seems to slow down. I am completely in control of my playing and of the music coming up, and I own the air around me. This is not some mythical "runner's high" that only hits once in a blue moon, but a fairly normal occurrence. Over the past few months, though, I have realized that it's not okay to just wait for that zone and hope it comes. My out-of-the-zone performances are not bad - I can always play the oboe - but they are not good ENOUGH.
Cases in point - recent auditions in Milwaukee, Utah, Indianapolis, Cleveland. I go in, and in my first round I am unsinkable. I know what I'm doing, how to do it, and I perceive exactly what the situation requires. If I make little mistakes they don't matter. The silence between the excerpts is mine, just as the sound is when I begin to play. In each case I am pleased but unsurprised when I advance.
But each time, I return for the semi-final round as a different player. Everything seems to happen too fast, from the moment the proctor collects me from my room. It is hard to catch my breath between excerpts, tiny errors seem disproportionately crucial in my mind, I make more of them. Although I remain competent, I can't quite find my way to the magic. And the results always live up to that expectation. I don't make the finals. I don't win the job.
And this is not because I am not good enough, talented enough, or prepared enough to have these gigs. It isn't. The me who plays in total control and owns the room is the same me. I can access that me in performance regularly. That me IS what I do.
I am a slow learner - it took 4 identical experiences in a fairly short time to drive the point home. I always assume that THIS rough audition is an outlier and that the next one, with no new effort on my part, will be better. But I get it now. The point is to access that slowing-down-time place at will. I need to find a focussing technique that works for me, and practice getting intentionally into that zone. I rarely feel nervous on stage or in the audition room. Calming myself has not been my goal, so practicing mental centering has always felt somewhat pointless. Now I see why I would want it.
Now that the goal is clear, I can work on it. I can devise a plan. I can conquer the challenge.
I'd love to hear what techniques have worked for other people in solving this issue. And rest assured that when I have established my approach I'll be letting everyone know about it.