This month marks the third time I've gotten thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which the muscles in the neck cave in on the nerves, causing fatigue and loss of feeling in the fingers. With auditions a month away, you'd think I'd be freaking out, which I am, but not as much as even I thought. Rest isn't required in most cases, but particular stretches and exercises are to be done daily and often. In my case, fatigue is the biggest side effect, making lifting cymbals or playing timpani very difficult after a certain period of time. Even soft playing, as the majority of my technique stems from my back and shoulder, is very frustrating because of the lack of weight support and loss of feeling. I actually had two lessons this weekend, and as I played, none of my phrasings or dynamic extremes came across. So, I had to "work harder." It was very frustrating.
Tuesday, I'll be doing a mock audition, in preparation for the Chicago Civic Orchestra audition, and rather than physically practicing, I am working on my stretches, eating fruits and veggies, and mentally going over the music through reading the page and meditation. It's funny that this should happen now, as I was planning on doing a new meditation regimen anyway, so it gives me a reason to start a little earlier. Still, I do miss being at 100% and I do get frustrate that I can't play stick control for hours, but while the body may be out of commission, the mind is still active and can be put to good use. I highly recommend mental practice. The last time I had this condition was my senior year of college, and I had to play a recital with it. So, I mentally practiced everything, ran through what I could, including Casey Cangelosi's "White Knuckle Stroll" and Pius Cheung's "Etude in D Major." Fortunately, by taking breaks and doing stretches in between pieces, I was able to play the concert.
This injury isn't painful, and is remedied fairly quickly, but if I had to stop everything and just stretch, I would. Depending on what may come our way, as far as physical injury, the most important thing is a correct diagnosis and a healthy recovery. I haven't practiced at all this weekend, other than my lessons, and I don't plan on practicing today. However, I do plan on walking into my mock audition and playing very well, because I trust my preparation and my strategies of metal practicing. If you've done the work, all you have to do is trust and let it happen. Adjustments can be made throughout the rounds and even during the pieces themselves, if need be, so keep your ears open, and your body and mind flexible enough to react. Know your body, listen to it. If you have to stop, stop! Don't ignore signs of anything that is unusual and get it checked out as soon as you can. When you have to recover, don't rush it! Rather take the time now than have something permanently be a problem.
Something that I became obsessed with in college was instinct and reflexes within playing. While we work to develop our technique, become more "in control" of our bodies to produce sounds and music, we must also work to develop our instinctual technique. When you hear a sudden drop in sound, what is the instinct? Similar questions can be "answered," or discovered through constantly experimenting, and listening to different versions of pieces, or just any type of music in general. Of course, you have to prepare your music, you have to know the notes, the tempo changes, etc., but the mistake comes in when you are with the group or on the stage and you go on autopilot. Maybe the conductor decides to completely ignore the ritardando, and you are the only one doing it. Maybe you play a solo in an audition at a certain tempo but the hall is too wet, so the tempo you chose makes it sound muddy. If you aren't reacting, through your preparation, then things are more likely to go wrong.
It's probably the scariest, most difficult thing to accept about our development, but it is, in my opinion, one of the most important things about performing that we can grasp. It does leave us vulnerable. It is almost counter intuitive to, basically, be willing to ignore your prepared style and method and simply react to what you hear. Maybe your plan works, maybe it doesn't, but you won't know if your closed off from the moment. Be willing to change, or else it might not sound appropriate or clear, etc. Again, prepare as much as you can. You should have control over everything that you can control, but there are always variables that will come up in the moment. The more comfortable you are with reacting within, or without, your prepared method, the better you will feel when change does come. Don't prepare to play, playing should be a reaction, a combination of your prior knowledge, your preparation and the information available to you at that moment. Don't just go on auto pilot, react and respond; that will make the magic happen.