My ear hurts. This is one of the rare maladies that can stop me dead in my tracks, at least in terms of oboe playing. When my ear hurts I worry about playing. I don't want to exacerbate the problem and wind up with some horrid ear infection that could permanently injure my hearing. So I've been skulking about this weekend minimizing actual playing time and maximizing mental practice. You know what? It's good for me. Mental practice is incredibly helpful and I really should do more of it. Oodles more of it. Mental practice requires an immense amount of concentration. If done correctly, you can actually convince your brain that it's playing for real because the brain doesn't delineate between the mental image and the actual act of playing. I've had some incredible luck using it in the past. One particular incidence really stands out in my memory.I was auditioning for the Seattle Symphony. I had a long flight from the East Coast so I decided to spend some time picturing my audition, but I took it one step further. I actually wrote down the "story" of my audition in the past tense, as if it had already happened. I included a high level of detail including passages such as; "...as I walk closer to the stage I felt myself getting calmer and more focused." I arrived at my audition and everything happened exactly as I had imagined it. All the feelings of calm and control that I had rehearsed in my mind were in place and I played really well. In fact, I made the finals. I didn't win the job, but that day no one did.
The panel couldn't reach a decision. That's OK, I can't control that, but I was able to control my own playing. The visualization was key in that.I do pull out the mental practice in big situations, I just forget that you can use it every day.
I want to make it part of my regular routine.
I find it fascinating that mental practice tunes you in to a lot of things that are hard to focus on when your body is preoccupied with sound production. I become more aware of large scale dynamic patterns in the piece. I ferret out passages that are creating nerves and tension and I'm able to readjust that instinctive reaction. Visualization is standard practice for elite level athletes.
I know that, and I know it helps, I just need to use it. It takes illness for me to remember. I think it's time I make visualization one of the regularly used tools in my toolbox. P.S.- if you're interested in a really great book about this topic, check out "The Mental Edge"
by Kenneth Baum. It's a very practical manual for improving your visualization skills.
Very rarely, you get thrown into a concert without the benefit of a rehearsal. This morning I'll be performing a Kid's Concert that focuses on Beethoven. The regular player had to take today off, so I'm filling in for the service. This is one of those times when I'm REALLY glad I'm at this point in my career. I've had the benefit of performing nearly everything on the program.
Still, I'll have to be hyper alert, particularly in the Fifth Symphony excerpt. Each conductor has their own way of dealing with the segmentation and tempo fluctuation of the first movement. Some take oodles of time and go quite slowly, others push through as if they were on fire. My job upon arrival this morning will be to quiz the other musicians and get as much background information as I can. What are this conductor's tendencies? Does the orchestra play right with him, or sit a little on the back side of his beat? Are there any particularly tricky cuts in the music I should watch for? It helps to know which questions are worth asking.
There's one piece on the program that's an homage to Beethoven. It uses little quotes here and there, but there's a lot of new material as well. For that piece I'm going to be flying blind. Though I can listen to it ahead of time, I won't have the benefit of having played it with another group. At times like that you just need to throw yourself into it. We'll see how it goes.
I'm just glad this isn't the first time I've been thrown into the deep end like this. I've done it before and come out well, so I know I'll be able to handle today. Wish me luck!
I had an interesting moment in rehearsal yesterday. We were about to rehearse Polevetsian Dances
. There's a little solo in the English horn part. It's a pretty melody and it falls well on the instrument. As I was about to play I was suddenly overcome with nerves. I had been fine while practicing it, but in rehearsal everything changed.Nerves have been a big problem for me over the course of my career, but I've worked hard to overcome them. It's rare nowadays that they get in the way of my playing. I've managed to learn to control their severity and impact.So I was very surprised when my heart-rate suddenly doubled, my mouth went dry and my body weak. What was going on? Then it hit me. These were really old nerves....24 year old nerves in fact.When I was about 15, I went to a
summer music program at the Hartt School.
There was both an orchestra and a band at the program and I had my heart set on playing in the orchestra, but my nerves got the best of me and I had a rotten audition.I was crestfallen that I I was placed in the band, but I continued to work very hard and maintain a good attitude. Once the oboe teacher spent more time with me, she decided that I should be moved up to the orchestra for the final week. Borodin was on the docket and they needed someone who was willing to play the English horn.At that point, I wasn't really sure what an English horn was, but if it got me into the orchestra, I was more than happy to play.I didn't get the instrument or any reeds until right before the rehearsal. Not good. Moshe Paranov, the founder of the school, was conducting.
He was quite elderly at this point and had difficulty hearing speech. He could hear music very well, just not speech. When we reached my first solo, I prepared to play. Deep breath in, watch the conductor and....nothing came out. Not a peep. Uncle Moshe (as he preferred to be called) stopped the orchestra. "Where is my English horn? Why isn't there an English horn???" He seemed to be turning a rather unhealthy shade of red. I was too terrified to mutter more than a "I'm here Maestro" that he couldn't hear. Eventually we got up and running again and I managed to get through the rehearsal Once Uncle Moshe realized I was a novice he was very patient with me and assured me it would all be fine by the concert.Of course it would, I would make it so. Even if it destroyed me, which it nearly did. I realize that sounds dramatic, but my solution to the solo was to lock myself in a practice room during every spare second of time. I played the solo over and over, endlessly, with no neck strap or support. This was the genesis of tendinitis that nearly stopped my career before it even started.
I still struggle with pain, but I've learned how to manage it.By the time of the concert, I was a bit of a mess. I had prepared and I should have felt confident, but I didn't trust myself or my preparation. My nerves were fierce and terrible thoughts were going through my head. "I'm going to mess this up, what if my reed doesn't speak? Everyone is going to think I'm an idiot. I can't do this. I'm going to sound awful..." I was brutal to myself. Somehow, I got through the solos pretty well despite the nerves and the pain, but somehow, my body never forgot the experience.
Fast forward 25 years. I'm a professional now. I've performed all over the world with fabulous musicians; often in repertoire that was so difficult that the Borodin pales in comparison. Yet the minute I heard the first bars my entire system began to shut down.Thankfully, with age comes wisdom and experience. In a split second I
recognized what was happening and started damage control. Positive self-talk is one of the greatest tools to combat nerves and mine kicked into high gear. "Karen, this is old nerves, that was a long time ago and you know how to play the English horn now. You can play this part. Do your job."Which I did, and then the nerves just dissipated and I was back to my normal rehearsal self.This all happened in a split second. It proved to me how far I've really come. Overcoming nerves is an ongoing battle, but I've made tremendous progress over the years. I'm so glad I've been able to retrain my mind to be my ally instead of my enemy.
Ah Florida, land of sunshine, how I've missed you. Don't get me wrong, I'm having an incredible year in New York, but I'm like some kind of lizard...I need light and warmth to feel really peaceful. I'm here in Tampa subbing with the Florida Orchestra. I love playing here, it's a great group of people and they play so well. This week we're doing a concert of opera favorites. It's all gorgeous, lush melodies and grand emotional gestures.
It's really wonderful to come into a group and see so many friendly faces. I feel very at ease and that makes it much easier to play well. Plus the sun is shining, and has been shining since the moment I got here. I have to admit, I'm not yet adapted to winter. I know I'll get there, but in the meantime perhaps I should buy one of those "sun" lamps. It just seems like it should be spring by now, yet the temps are still hovering around freezing and it's been very gray most of the time. This is a nice pick me up that should hold me until spring.
That's all for now, I need to go soak up as much light as possible before heading back north!