Sometimes it's tough to be professionally trained. I was coming off a Metro North train the other day when I heard distant strains of a Bach violin partita. It triggered an instant sense of calm in me, until I got closer to the performer, at which point, all I could notice was that his pitch was too high, intervals not in tune, phrasing too rushed and tone quality pinched. Needless to say, it spoiled it for me. My ears are too well attuned to the details. Classical music never just washes over me because I've trained myself to hear (and work to eradicate) minute imperfections that the average listener simply doesn't hear. On the bright side, there are also some absolutely fabulous street musicians in the city as well; like the flute player who was casually leaned against a wall by the 6 train stop at 77th. He had fabulous technique, a big rich sound and a lovely scale. Sadly, he was on the other side of the platform. I definitely would have given him some money otherwise.
I just had to turn down a gig. I despise having to turn down gigs. It makes me feel itchy and uncomfortable like some kind of spiritual rash. I just couldn't accept it in good conscious. The dates are over the next week and a half, precisely when I'm due to give birth. Of course in my brain I'm thinking, she could be late, maybe I could work it out with the contractor. Then I realized that was completely illogical and silly. I'm giving birth, it's a good reason not to accept work. If I were to go into labor next weekend, I would be forcing the contractor to find a last minute replacement for me, and that's not fair to the contractor or the person who would have to come in to play on incredibly short notice. Not to mention the fact that I'm huge and playing has become incredibly taxing on me.
This mom thing is going to take a lot for me to get the hang of. I'm old enough that I'm kind of set in my ways and I'm used to taking on whatever work comes my way. I like playing and performing, it keeps me happy (and sane). Now, I'm going to have this amazing little girl that needs my love and attention far more than my oboe does. The oboe is going to have to be patient for a bit. I think it'll wait for me. It's always been there for me in the past, even when I've had to take breaks because I was getting surgery or getting married. Thankfully, I do have some work set up for later in the fall. That should keep the fear (the oh-my-gosh-I'm-never-going-to-get-asked-to-play-another-gig-again-and-all-these-years-of-practicing-are-for-naught fear) at bay. In the meantime, I'm sure a lot of this will just dissolve the minute she's born and I have this amazing little thing in my hands. Somehow, I think my priorities will shift. I'm looking forward to that because right now not accepting work still feels a bit like saying "no thanks, I don't really need any oxygen today." It's just unnatural.
I've been thinking a lot about motivation lately. Mostly because mine has gone out the window. That's OK for the moment, I have good reason to be distracted. For those of you who don't know, I'm due to give birth in just a few weeks. Over the last eight months my body has been in a constant state of flux as this amazing creature has grown and taken shape. It's a bizarre life experience, but one I'm incredibly thankful to be having. In a few weeks, she'll be born and my life will change drastically, but for now, I'm still able to focus on playing and perfecting my skills as an oboist. That is, when I can get up the gumption to practice. It's difficult because I don't have any concerts scheduled in the immediate future, and it's feeling progressively more difficult to play. She's big enough now that every time I play, it feels like someone is pulling a giant elastic band as tightly as they can around my waist and rib cage.
Since she's gotten larger, I've also stopped running. I miss feeling so free physically and lately I've been really looking forward to starting again in a few months. To fill the void, I've actually been reading magazines and books about the sport. It gives me hope that I'll get back in shape again after the baby is born. Luckily, getting yourself out for a run and getting yourself to practice share some mental attributes. For both, the mechanics of motivation are the same. In my reading, I've found several excellent bits of advice. Here's some of the information that's been helping me the most.
This month's "Runner's World" magazine ran a nice little one page blurb on the subject called "Think Ahead." The four principals it presented were;
1) Practice no Excuses
2) Eliminate Negativity
3) Log your state of mind
4) Get creative
These are quick mental strategies to help you align your thinking and emotions towards your goal. I particularly like the emphasis on building up the mental resources to tackle difficult practice days.
Another runner I found helpful was Jeff Galloway. In his book "The Half Marathon; You Can Do It" he has some excellent information about maintaining motivation. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the left brain/right brain connection. He mentioned that stress activates the left side of our brain which then tries to steer us away from any emotional of physical discomfort we may be experiencing. I've certainly found this to be true. Sometimes it's hardest to get myself to work just before a big audition or concert. His suggestions for side-stepping the left brain are as follows:
1) State your desired outcome
2) Detail challenges
3) Break these challenges into a series of actions
4) Use power words
Here's what that meant for me yesterday while I was gearing up to practice:
1) Desired outcome- Practice extremes, pp low register, attacks in top of upper register
2) Challenges-I'm really tired today. My air feels restricted (6 lbs. of baby has that effect). I don't feel like playing.
3) Actions: Just play 5 minutes to start (often getting started is half the battle). Remember that playing will relieve the asthmaish feeling. Don't worry about "working", just focus on one step at a time.
4) Power words- begin, relax, enjoy
Taking the time to think through these steps before I got the oboe out really helped. Of course, there are entire books written on this subject, but sometimes all you need is a few tools to jump-start the process. That's been my situation lately. I don't need to slog through an entire book, I just need a little nudge to get me moving in the right direction. I hope these little tips are helpful and I would definitely recommend reading the complete articles. Happy practicing!