Friday, March 15, 2019

Self-Talk

When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault - because I was sitting basically by myself, trying to intuit what the musicians behind me were going to do, and everything I played seemed to stick out.

After the rehearsal, the clarinetist had the brilliant idea to move us all into the same row - and the difference this made was enormous.  Now we could react to each other, and play together, and really understand how the blend of our sounds worked.  We could breathe together and use visual cues to be tight.  The difference in comfort and also in quality was tremendous.  For ALL of us.

But what I found myself telling myself was that they were all trying to help me cope, all trying to make it so I didn’t sound so bad - were trying to help out the  newbie. Boy, were they ever gracious, to conceal that motive under a suggestion that we'd all play better if we were more connected in the pit. I felt terrible that I was requiring all of this special effort to enable me to just do my job.

Now, I am not a newbie. I am in fact a real professional oboist, I've been doing this for many years, these people are my colleagues and I've played with all of them before and they are wonderful musicians and I have infinite respect for them - but they are not in some wholly separate magical realm of awesomeness from me.  I am not actually out of place in this group.

But my self-talk was REAL, and very noticeable to me this time around.  What on earth is that about?

Partly, I had just come off an audition in which I played well but did not advance.  This is always mysterious and disappointing.  If I did my best, and it wasn't good enough, does that mean I'll never win anything? Never BE anything?  Partly, I had just come off a recital series which I DID enjoy, and which WAS well attended - until the last performance which was sparsely attended and about which I felt embarrassed and like I had failed.  And yes, marketing IS part of the job of a musician, and I COULD have done a better job of booking that date, putting it in a more high-end venue, and pushing to get it publicized. But life gets in the way, and I made my choices and did my best. I did play well, but I still felt bad.

All of this to say that I was feeling a bit vulnerable in my playing and career.

I'm so glad that Zoe is participating in Girls on the Run this semester.  It's an empowerment program for young girls, and she's LOVING it.  She and I had been talking about her unit on Negative Self Talk, and how to recognize it, and stop it, and turn it around to be positive and helpful.  Which is how I was rapidly able to notice my personal paranoia.  When we played the first rehearsal in our new arrangement, I found myself feeling guilty about everyone having moved their chairs just so I could be more comfortable and successful.  And then I realized that EVERYONE was more comfortable, and that we were solving problems together in our new setup, problems that were not all my problems but everyone's, and then I realized that I was in a mental mess of self-blame and self-doubt, and then I dragged myself back out of it.

We're having a blast in this pit now.  It's fun to work with great musicians, and it's nice to be so connected that we can really play chamber music in this chamber opera, and I love that I've gotten through my momentary dark place so I can enjoy the work and the experience.

I love my life. Thank you, Girls on the Run, for the reminder!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing it for people, sharing it with them, and showing them what I've learned about the way in.

In all honesty, I'm not so good, myself, at the CONSUMPTION of new music.  I'm already a fidgety listener to classical music, because I'd always rather be DOING it than hearing it.  And I have to admit that when I AM in a concert I love hearing what I know.  I can relax into it, I can compare what I'm hearing to my previous experiences of the piece - really, I just don't have to WORK as hard, and it's enjoyable in that way.

In other words, I prefer to play new music because I get bored with the familiar stuff, but I prefer to listen to pieces I already know. So I sympathize with those listeners who resist the new.

This is my Year of Love and Generosity, so I am filtering everything I do through that lens. How does my new understanding translate to Generosity in performance?

Certainly, by learning and performing new works, or at least new-to-me works, I am presenting living composers to new audiences.  I am giving life to pieces that might otherwise be rarely played.  I am offering audiences the chance to discover works they did not know, and hopefully will love.  There's an element of Generosity there.

At the same time, though, am I being selfish in expecting people to sit through 6 pieces - over an hour of music - with only one or two familiar tunes?  Am I asking too much?

I only prepare one or two full recitals each year.  Why should I waste any time playing music off the Group One IMEA list?  Or music I have already explored in depth, or taught?  Why should I do a work that doesn't spark joy in me?  As a professional musician, I play a LOT of concerts that I did not program or have any say in.  These recitals are mine, to do what I love and to share it with those I hope will love it too.  I hope that there's a Generosity in that - in curating something I find wonderful and offering it outward. 

And that's where I am leaving this musing today.  It's been so long since I published on this blog. I've been working hard in other ways, but I've felt blocked in my writing for a while, and inadequate.  I don't think this post is better than the pieces I've thrown out, I just think I need to put something out so the next one doesn't feel even more monumental. 

Thank you for reading.  I love you all.

Want to check out my performances?
"Something Borrowed, Something Blue" is an eclectic program of my current favorites - some old and some new, some that SHOULD have been written for the oboe and some that were, beautifully.  Works by Thea Musgrave, Claude Debussy, Benjamin Britten, Jeffrey Agrell, Karl Pilss, and J.S. Bach.  Free and open to the public! Donations gratefully accepted.

February 17, 3:00 CST, First Presbyterian Church, Michigan City IN
February 26, 7:00 EST, Church of the Savior CRC, 1855 N Hickory, South Bend IN

Monday, January 7, 2019

Happy New Year!

Let no one suggest that I am not grateful for my nearly three weeks of vacation.  I was so lucky to be able to take that much time to sleep, read, travel, fill my house with people and love, and catch up on all most some of the busywork from the year.  It was a lovely break.

But TODAY school started back up for my daughter.  I'm heading out to teach again this afternoon.  I'm playing Beethoven next weekend.  I'm getting serious about the recitals I have scheduled for next month, I'm thinking ahead to some auditions the month after.  I've been making reeds at a break-neck speed.

I am SO EXCITED to be back in the saddle and back in a routine and SO READY to do this year even better than last year.

I called 2018 my Year of Temperance, and I used it to back off, very intentionally, from many of the things that were keeping me busy and frantic.  I did not accept new students.  I withdrew from SEVERAL orchestra committees.  I was far more intentional about my self-care. I worked hard to come to acceptance of what I could do and what I could not do at home while simultaneously running a business and working as a performer and educator.  I now consider myself fully forgiven for not being able to put hot, multi-item dinners on the table every night. Sometimes my husband cooks, sometimes we get takeout, sometimes we just warm up soup. I can't care about everything, and I finally got comfortable with that last year.

By the end of the year, though, I was ready to re-expand a bit.  I did more soul-searching and realized that my word for 2019 is Generosity.  Generosity of spirit. Generosity in performance. Generosity to myself and to others.  This doesn't take away from my hard-won self-care practices - but it does mean that I have a framework to put my choices in.  Am I teaching this lesson to make $37, or to SHARE my knowledge and HELP this person to improve?  Does this phrase GIVE something to the audience?  Does this piece GIVE what I need it to?  Am I posting this particular thing on Social Media because I need to say it, or because I think someone else needs to hear it? 

Right now, this minute, I'm working on some grant proposals.  I can't wait for them to be submitted, so I can focus on my more interesting projects.  I'm working on a book.  That's not for me, it's for YOU.  I will soon get back to my Five Minute Reedmaker series, and to do some live videos for everyone to enjoy.  Did I mention I have a recital series next month? Watch this space for updates! (or my website, or my Facebook Page, or...)

So.  I know it's the 7th already, but this feels like the first day of my New Year, the Year of Generosity.  Join me!