When I first began taking percussion lessons, I was blessed to be a part of the Percussion Scholarship Program. This group was unlike anything I had ever done or seen as a child, and I was excited to begin and to learn as much as I could. There was a price however, not with dollar signs, but with other things. I remember seeing, on the application, the question, "What are your favorite television shows?" And right after that read, "Which one are you willing to give up to practice?" I can't remember the shows that were on during that year, but I know that cartoons were a big deal for me. As I live out my life there is always a new concession, or choice, or even just a question of balance that pops up, and I know a lot of us have either gone through, or are going through that. Do I buy new jeans, or that pair of mallets I need for this excerpt? Do I use this check for my gold head joint, or do I use my credit card? Do I save this money, or go to this audition? Do I eat lunch, or practice (always a question for me)?
Unfortunately, some of the choices we face aren't so "trivial." I remember when I was, I think 12, I couldn't really hang out with my grandfather, who I had not seen in years, when he came to visit us, because I had to practice and go to my lessons. It was a choice that I made, but I also regarded my work as that important. Important enough to sacrifice something that I really wanted or cared about, in hopes of something better for my future. In hopes of something that would make all of the work worth it, like we all hope for. These days, the choices and concessions are way harder, because "adult life," but that doesn't make our goals, or the variables we choose from any less important or demeans them. We also need to accept those choices and not regret them, even if they did not have to outcomes we wanted. I know most of us have experienced the guilt of not practicing, but honestly, we have to stop practicing at some point, and do other things. It doesn't make us any less of a musician or an artist, dare I say a person, if we take the time to handle some business.
Combine that with the stress that can come from certain choices we have to make in life, and you have a bad situation. It's easier to say no to something, knowing that your work will be good and productive, than if you feel like you'll never get anywhere if you practice. I think it's a matter of continual self reassurance, reminding yourself of both the progress you have made, and the sacrifices you made to make that progress. For most of us, the cost of continuing is worth paying, but each of us have a different price to pay. We all have to find the balance for ourselves, whether it's money management, time management, or anything else that pertains to you as a person and you as a musician. And with that balance, we have to not look to the outcomes for payback, but the process itself.
Any artist has pretty much signed up for a life of rejections, disappointments, long hours practicing, self doubt, and any other of the "artistic woes." But coupled with every negative, and also exceeding their numbers, are the joys of creating, of reaching people, of teaching, of learning, of connecting with others, of the challenge of a new piece, of figuring out new techniques, of talking to people about what you love, of doing what you love. The amount of joy we produce every time we pick up the instrument is totally worth the sacrifices we make in the end, otherwise I know I wouldn't still be here.
In most cultures there is a set of social standards, a sort of "status quo," that is established for that community. Even more specific, and noticeable, is the idea of what defines a male and a female, aside from their biological make up. When I was first learning about what made me a "man," it had nothing to do with biology, but with characteristics given and shown to me through media, peers, authority figures, etc. Presently, this way of characterizing anything has become obsolete, because of the huge spectrum that has both been developed and realized, or expressed, within communities. An example of this is, it's more "acceptable" today, even encouraged, for men to cry, and for women to have strong personalities or to be in positions of power. Sadly though, the original labels that would define who we are as people, what we do or believe, etc, are still being perpetuated today, and seeing people diverge from these is still awkward for the majority, even threatening at some level. Nevertheless, if what defines me as person is different than the norm, in order to live a fulfilled and honest life, I must be and express myself as that, regardless.
As artists we are tasked with showing people what it means to be human, and in order to do this, we first must find out what it means to be ourselves, and then fully realize and express that. One person may be naturally authoritative, another may have a knack for giving of themselves to others. Whatever the incarnation, each individual has an expression that someone else can't do because of how their lives differ, what their personalities are like, etc. And yet, every person can, on some level, relate to everyone else. We all feel pain, so when we use our artistry to demonstrate pain, it must come from, "How do I feel when I am in pain?" When the audience sees us put ourselves through that, they hopefully will feel more comfortable with expressing it themselves; We show them that it is ok to feel these emotions. The barrier we have to break through in order to do this is that "status quo." What do I have to do, what do I have to be, in order to express to a man that, it's ok to cry, it's ok to feel vulnerable, it's ok to feel weak, and have them not judge themselves negatively for having those feelings? Of course we can't make people feel, but we have to do our best to express the art in hopes that it encourages people to follow suit.
Again, this realization that, "it's ok to feel, it's ok to be 'me'" has to start with us as human beings, not as artists. Unless we allow ourselves the freedom to just be who we are, despite the social norms or what we are labeled as, we will never reach our full potential as human beings, as ourselves, and then as artists. Stereotypes are everywhere, and we all are affected by them whether we know it or not. Being more conscious of how we think or act, and whether they are of our own volition or not, will help with weeding out these "trained or manufactured" thoughts. This way, WE will define ourselves, not someone or something else. Only then can we actually create honest and pure art. If I took what certain people say about African Americans as a definition of myself, I probably would be very apprehensive in playing music, but because I do not subscribe to that, I am still creating music the way I want to. Or, if Serena Williams accepted that people thought women were weak or frail, she may not have trained as hard as she did, and then not have won so many tennis championships. Accepting anything that doesn't constructively add to your being is bad.
Being a creator of any kind, we constantly put ourselves out there. Our product has our fingerprint on it, whether we like it or not, whether it's "good or bad." It's awkward and scary, why else do we get nervous? We wonder if people will like it, or "get it," and that fear of rejection imposes inhibitions on our expression. Letting go of whether or not people will accept us or our art, and just going for being yourself regardless of that, is the key to freedom from that fear and the gateway to uninhibited expression. It's by no means easy to do, though. We all have years of social constructs, labeling, and defined characters to sift through in order to even get to even the surface of who we are. Then we have to figure out a way to channel that into and through our art, while still exploring and learning about parts of ourselves in the process. After all of that, hopefully we can reach the audience and entice them to do the same, at least in those moments of performance, or observing a painting, or watching a dance production, or viewing a movie or play. We have to create the avenues, the audience will choose the ones they walk on, but we all end up at the same place, meeting ourselves.
Instant gratification is probably one of the biggest trends of this generation. With the advancement in technology, most of us are used to getting what we want as soon as possible. While this is very helpful in many cases, especially in emergencies of all sorts, relying on it for everything can be detrimental not only in our daily lives, but in the long run as well. How many times do we rely on fast food instead of taking the time to make it ourselves? I know I gained weight relying on McDonalds, but as soon as I stopped going there, I lost 5 pounds and 2 inches off of my waste (haven't eaten it in 4 years almost). So taking the time, being patient is not only important to our health, but our development as musicians and people.
Progress cannot be timed. It may take you one try or several, but you will learn how to do what you are practicing. I wasn't good at playing mallet instruments, and I got really frustrated at myself. I was great at snare drum, why wasn't I learning this faster? Who knows when you'll get over passed that wall, but when you do, you will both appreciate it more and have an experience that can help you figure out another problem. How did you go about solving it? What ideas worked or didn't work? What did your teacher tell you that helped or didn't? Failures, successes, mistakes, lucky breaks, they all are cumulative towards your development, and you cannot discount any experience that you have while getting better. The same goes for your daily life. We are exactly where we need to be right now, and we will continue to want to get better for the future, which influences what we do right now. It's not, "I'm not fast enough now, why aren't I fast?" It's, "I'm fast at this tempo, and that's good. Where do I want to be? What can I do to get there right now?"
Just as progress can't be timed out, our process to progress cannot be rushed. Just like going for fast food can be unhealthy for you, rushing through learning music and technique can be unhealthy for your playing. This is one of the big reasons that the majority of teachers tell students to practice slow. Slowing things down allows you to really take in all the information at one time. I'll use myself as an example. Let's say I see Shostakovich symphony #10 movement 3. I see that the music is generally loud, but with a type of waltzy feel, and phrasing that lends to a crescendo at the end of each phrase. For each note I have to consider, dynamic, length of sound, color, motion of the stroke, fullness and type of stroke used, articulation, placement in time and dynamics of the phrase, consistency and efficiency of motion between the hands, quality and consistency of sound, connection between the notes (making sure I don't stop just because I finished playing one note), etc. The goal tempo is dotted half note at 72, but I can't think about all of that for each note at that speed. So, I start at 72 to the quarter note. I play with a slow version of the stroke that I want, and generally I play as full as comfortably possible. To do this properly takes patience, and it rewards you in the long run.
By taking the time now to observe things slowly, I can make changes faster than when I just played things through until I learned the notes and rhythms. My technique is better too because I slow the music down and focus on its involvement. My ear is better because I focus on the colors, timbres and articulations at a slow tempo. It's like a painting. When we are young, we only know how to use certain colors, so to draw a sunny day, we color the sky blue, sun yellow and grass green, maybe a couple trees. If we study painting, we soon learn how to create different shades and lighting within the painting to further express the picture in our mind, but to do this, we have to see how each component relates to each other. How does the suns light hit the tree? There are videos online of speedy ways to draw this, but when you compare those pictures to one that was drawn piece by piece, the fast version almost seems artificial.
Yes, it's not the fastest way, and maybe it's something we aren't good at doing. I myself sometimes don't go as slow as I would if I was pressed for time, but I still go at a pace where I can focus on all of those things as much as possible. Maybe this doesn't work for you, but give it a fair shot and try it with an open mind. Also, realize that this mindful way of practicing is really useful in your everyday life. How many times have you left something at home because you rushed out the house? How many times did you forget someones name because introductions were either blown off or hurried? Really becoming aware of what we do in both the practice room and life will help us better understand our strengths and weaknesses so that we can make plans on becoming better and progressing towards the future, each of us at our own pace.
We've all probably heard this saying, "If you can't say it, you can't play it." Audiation is very useful for musicians, whether it be sung externally or externally. Still, there is something about the external act of singing a phrase, rhythm or anything else that gives us a clearer "view" of what we want to express through sound. True, some of us can't sing or have trouble when notes get too fast to verbalize, but generally singing the phrases still give a good picture of what is going on or what is intended. Simply put, if you don't audiate what you want, it may or even won't happen. Maybe you intend for a certain tempo, but by jumping into playing without confirming through your audiation, you may be too fast or too slow or have the wrong character of tempo, etc. This occurs not only in performances, but in our lives.
The belief in causality and the law of attraction has become more popular in the last 10 years, and hinges on the act of verbalizing the things you desire. Most, if not all, religious texts have advocated this as well, so the labels may differ, but the resulting act and description remains the same across the board. First you say it, as often and with as much conviction as possible, then it comes to pass. In both cases, whether it be in the practice room or in life, the timing of when you'll learn that particular technique, or when you'll find romance, is unknown. By just believing in the audiation of what you want, it influences your actions that eventually lead into the manifestation of the desired result. Let's say you're practicing and it's not quite right. Once you sing it, you will hear the tendencies, maybe lack of rhythm or a sour note somewhere, that informs your strategy for fixing it. Or you are single and you say you want to start dating. By verbalizing that desire, we step into being open to possibilities and gets us less "shy" to the idea of putting ourselves out there (not just tinder, but actually physically going out. Same as playing for people. Gotta put ourselves out there or else we never work out the nerves attached to it).
So, while you practice, hopefully you do a little of this already, and there's always room for more of it. But maybe you don't do this in your life. I started doing this when I was 16 and have gotten scholarships, television appearances, travel opportunities, etc., from saying what I wanted, even writing it down, over and over and over again. How many times do we say that we suck, or that we aren't good enough. We've said it so much to the point that we start believing it, and it takes more time to form a new narrative for ourselves because of the damage we've either self inflicted, or inflicted by the negativity of others. It's like when you memorize a piece wrong. The habit has already been engrained in your brain and it takes so much time to replace it with the correction.
The same is true with the things we tell ourselves. If we are used to thinking that "we suck," it might be unbelievable to us to think otherwise, even though we are saying it out loud. Fake it till you make it, keep saying it until your believe catches up to your verbalization. So be mindful of the things you say, specifically about yourself, but in general as well, because it does inform the steps you take towards whatever you are aiming for. If you say you're not good enough for a job, yeah, maybe you'll try to work harder, but it's within the mentality of lack or inadequacy, which leads to having low self esteem about your musicianship (which we often connect to ourselves as people, which isn't good).
All sound is significant because it produces a reaction. Maybe it's background noise, filling the space around us, or it's screeching tires, making us aware or on edge. Not only can your music effect people and yourself, but the words we speak have the same, if not more, power (since it's very direct and not up for much interpretation like music is). We have to be mindful about the way we talk to ourselves. Kindness towards self is important for our esteem, confidence and perception of who we are. If we don't value ourselves first, the music we make won't have much value. Let's try to be more compassionate to ourselves, and go for what we want with courage and abandon. Say it, believe it, and act on it, we can make it happen!
Our work can be very frustrating. Actually, life itself can be frustrating. With the amount of practicing we need, and balancing "real life" along with that, we often feel like we're not getting as much done as we want. Maybe we have hit a roadblock with our technique, not being able to execute a certain musical idea or phrase without there being some sort of problem. It could be that an outside force is hindering us from working or practicing, it could be an inward force as well. No matter what it is, the result, or response, is usually a negative one: getting angry at the perceived "force of hindrance", blaming lack of something in your capability or resources, doubting yourself because of a perceived inadequacy or stagnation in life, etc. In these tough times going back to the reasons why you began in the first place is key.
The price of experience is suffering. It sucks in the minutia, but in the grand scheme of things, everything works out for a reason. If you go through a certain circumstance, your experience can help someone else in the same or similar situations. Our lives really are not just for ourselves, but can be shared with others, if we allow it to. Still, even in that way of thinking, your life is for you first, so you have to be selfish in the beginning: taking care of yourself, chasing your dreams, and finding yourself. Only then can you hope to help anyone else. But the thing is, who's helping you? Well, while speaking to a friend or a therapist, or seeking some other type of help or support are highly recommended, they are not the thing that helps you in the end. In my short time in therapy, the end of the conversations were that, the therapist was attempting to lead my thinking to encourage and give therapy to myself. She did not encourage me, I encouraged myself. The catharsis of talking to a stranger about my fears and hidden thoughts, which is the first release, and then being ok with who I was, with all of the "brokenness" and "imperfections" and "mistakes", which was the second release.
In this current society, betterment of oneself is promoted in the form of going to the gym, or getting an education, etc., but the idea that you are already perfect the way you are right now is considered illogical or unbelievable. As musicians we are constantly working to become better, whether it be our technique or musicality, and we know when we are ready to perform and when we are not. But, even in the times where you know that you can't execute a certain thing, praising the opportunity to progress and learn that new technique will do more good in the long run rather than being down about not being able to do it. The fact that you are in a moment of entering a new stage of progress makes you perfect. Moment to moment, you are ok, just the way you are. I know it's frustrating because we feel like we should've learned something sooner or faster, or we feel like we don't have time, but we do have time. We have no control over when things happen, so we have to let go of that notion that we are "behind." We all grow at different paces. Respect the process, respect your growth and the time that it takes.
Now, in the face of the perceived or actually adversities in our lives, the most effective way of counteracting them is to find a positive in our lives. There's a lot of "things" to choose from, hopefully, but in a nutshell they can all be described as giving you one thing, joy. Why did you pick up the violin? Why are you drawn to the practice room? If you find that your reason has strayed away from the joy of doing what you love, really be honest with yourself about why. I remember when I was in college I got really burnt out because I felt like I had to practice enough to catch up to the grad students, and I became exhausted because of the long hours and the stress that it brought. Luckily my instructor, Eric Millstein, had the wherewithal to talk to me and guide me back to the real reasons why I wanted to get better at percussion. Yes, we have to get better, but we cannot lose sight of the joy that brought us to the activity in the first place.
When we get frustrated, it should be like a good video game, getting closer and closer to mastering the level, awaiting the next challenge, rather than being like the viral video "angry German child" on YouTube. It is frustrating to be in a place that you don't want to be in. In a job that you hate. In an apartment complex that you can't stand. In a school where you feel lost or ignorant. But, if we view our circumstances as temporary, they will be. Same goes for the other option, which I don't think any of us want. Small progress is still progress, and because we see every event, we often don't recognize it when we do make that progress. Maybe you get an unexpected raise at work because of your dedication. Maybe you land a better job and then can afford to move out. Maybe someone sees a random video you posted on the internet and asks you to do a documentary. Don't discount the small things, they easily can grow into something big.
Don't forget your why. It's the sure way to get your drive back and re-center yourself on the path to success in your endeavors. Respect the process. Things take time, and patience is key to getting through longer stretches of work an growth. Guard yourself against the negative situation or perception. No matter where we find ourselves, we have to stay realistically positive. Giving into despair or negativity will not help us grow, and blind positivity will misinform us about our current situation. But looking at things realistically will show us what we have to work on, and viewing it positively will give us encouragement that it is possible to achieve those results. The drive to do these things has to come from your why. The joy of doing what you do. Remember it, remind yourself as often as you need to, no matter how silly or painful the reason is. If it got you this far, it has no choice but to keep you going! Find you joy and keep moving forward. We all can do this!
Something that came to mind a few days ago was the amount of speech and conversation we take part in and hear on a daily basis. In most cases it's usually friendly conversation or even business related, and everything else is through media and television/YouTube even. Hopefully, the majority of them consist of positive, thought provoking or constructive talk, but realistically, it probably is more negative than anything else. While we are bombarded with bad news, we can't help but hear it in many cases, but we don't have to listen to it.
I struggled with the negativity of the media, especially in college, and it effected the way I saw myself and my roll in society. I often thought that people would look at me as a threat or a danger, and so I limited my interactions with people to avoid any possibility of that coming true. I listened to the negative and let it define myself. I'm sure many of us have had a similar experience, where a good friend may think poorly of themselves, but you believe them to be as good or even better than yourself or others you know. Perhaps even their own despair effected you in a negative way. It's inevitable, unfortunately, to hear something negative and for it to try to influence your personal life or thoughts, but resisting that temptation to give into it is important to maintaining your esteem.
Our self talk is usually influenced by a false truth that was introduced to us. If you miss a note, your instinct is to say, "Oh I always miss notes," even though it was just the one time. Or you see a friend mess something up and you say, "Oh I hope I don't mess that up," even though you haven't done that before. So, what we allow in our brains, or choose to believe, effects how we respond mentally and manifests itself physically. Stress creates anxiety, which creates tension in the body that causes problems in any activity we attempt, playing music or otherwise. So, while we may want to know what's going on in the world, look at it objectively. Yes, things can be emotional, but don't let it rewrite your personal life. Of course we want to be there for our friends to vent, but don't let their despair migrate into your mind. Filter out anything that doesn't help you grow and leaves you stagnant or regressing. Hear it but don't listen. Stay positive with realistic eyes and you will continue to progress in anything you set your mind to.
Yes, it's really scary. Yes, you get nervous. Yes, you worry about the worst case scenario. Even with all of that, you have to go for it. Let's forget music for a second and think about how we deal with this in life. Honestly, I'm usually a very shy and introverted person, but when I'm with someone I know I open up immediately. I'm not advocating just going out and befriending or trusting everyone, but at some level, if you are completely shut off from people, physically, socially, etc., nothing new can come of your interactions; sometimes they never take place! I think the main reason for these feelings of uncertainty and hesitation in our lives is the perception of stakes or risks.
When you have a long time friend, maybe after a while, you might start feeling those butterflies in your stomach. I know that's happened to me a couple of times, and I immediately got nervous because I don't want to jeopardize the friendship in any way; so I hesitated. Or when you were a child in elementary school and wanted to make friends, but you might've worried that they wouldn't accept or like you. Even as adults we experience that, but as nervous as we may get, if we give into that feeling we deny ourselves the opportunities that arise, then nothing gets done, nothing progresses, and you never know what could've been. Of course things are "on the line," but our view of it really is not as high stakes as we make it out to be.
I've accepted the fact that rejection is an option, and if it does happen, it's better than not knowing at all. The good thing about real friends is that they're honest and obviously care about you, so they won't be trying to hurt you. Honestly, when I did go for it, it felt like I was in an audition again and thought, "I hope I don't mess up, I hope they like me, I hope I get my points across," but If I never tried, they wouldn't have known and I wouldn't have known. You have to get out of that comfort zone and allow yourself to both be you and to let them see you! If they don't see what you can do and who you are as a person/musician, they won't have the motivation to advance/hire you, or to date you. So yeah, it's really scary to put yourself out there, but it's very necessary in our lives.
It's nice to start small with this and to take baby steps towards opening up and going for things, and it makes it easier in the practice room when you practice this in your life. Ask a person out, do something you've wanted to do for years, talk to a close friend about things you're passionate about or things you really can't stand, anything that you think has risks. Know that it's not the end of the world, even though it often feels like it, if you get rejected or if it doesn't pan out the way you wanted. It's better that it happen now than later, and it opens up new opportunities for the future either way. If it doesn't work out now, there's always next time. You'll have another chance at an audition, a date, a relationship, a job, an interview, achieving a goal, etc. We obviously want things to work out, but we have to be ok with the chance that it might not. So go for it now and don't let fear or uncertainty stop you from acting on your feelings, dreams or desires in life (or in the audition).
Auditions are not a big deal to me anymore, but they are a huge deal now more than ever. Huh? With all the perceived stress and judgments that are wrongly connected to the act and event of auditioning, it's no wonder why people tend to shy away from or fear it. I started taking performance auditions in elementary school, just for a ranking ranging from good to superior (already a labeling issue), and at first I wouldn't get nervous. But when I started connecting my success with pleasing my teachers or my family, nerves immediately set in. This would only get worse as I got older resulting in paranoia, depression and anxiety attacks. These imposed definitions and characteristics of the AUdition made me see it as an AWdition, regretting and even dreading taking them. Luckily, one of my private teachers, Eric Millstein, took time to talk to me and help me see not only auditions differently, but music performance in general.
The audition is not what you think it is, it's way simpler and way less stressful. The first thing to do is to accept this as truth. The majority of people may believe that it is this huge event, which it "is", and is extremely stressful, which it "is", and even the musical culture currently has these descriptions habitually attached to it. Living and working outside these labels is the first step to liberating yourself from the fears and anxieties of it. It's not easy to do, because it really feels like you're the only person, like you are the odd ball for feeling so calm and almost passive about the entire event. You may feel like, "Why aren't I nervous? Something must be wrong?" or "It can't be that easy." In actuality, there are more people who think that auditions are simple and even easy than you know, and they do win jobs more often than the ones who are gripped by fear.
Now, why is it simpler and less stressful? As human beings we tend to attach all types of ideas and excuses/reasons with what we do ("I have to cook because I'm hungry"), but the problem arises when we attach a worst case future scenario to our actions ("I have to cook or I'll starve to death"). Often our reasons behind what we do are completely valid, but the danger of assuming or speculating the future or results is what creates the anxiety. Stay in the moment and don't try to predict the future. Yes, we have to prepare heavily for the audition, but that's it! It is not, "I have to play perfectly or I will get cut." Many people play perfect rounds and still get cut, and often people with one or two mistakes get passed along to the second or final round. Even in the final round, some mistakes can be made and they still win! Simplicity wins here. We prepare for an audition so that we are prepared for it. We don't even prepare to win, or to play our best. We prepare so that we are prepared. Nothing more, nothing less. If you rest in the fact that you are prepared, it really takes some of the fear away because you know you came prepared, not, you came to win or you came to impress the judges. Yes, we all want to win, but if we prepare with that mentality we risk clouding and missing certain things.
The first professional audition I advanced in, I felt extremely prepared for and I went in so confident to the point that I stopped caring about whether or not I would hit a right or wrong note. I just played and even did things I hadn't practiced, but felt in the moment. Sadly, the one excerpt that I did not do this, in my first round, was the one where I felt the need to do a bunch of impressive things to get through the round. Because of this, some musical ideas that I imported sounded outside the character of the piece, even though I thought they sounded impressive. They asked the same excerpt in the second round and it was because of this that I was cut. Honestly, you cannot know what is impressive to anyone, so why even try to do it? It's when we aren't trying that it happens, it's when we play the music so truthfully that the panel hears the orchestra behind you that they are in awe.
Auditions are a major event, yes, and you cannot take it lightly or haphazardly. Auditions can be stressful, yes, because there's a lot of material to learn and often money, potential or otherwise, attached to it. The hard thing for us to do is to ignore all of the unnecessary chatter and noise that these potentials and reasons can create within and around us. Negativity (caused by realistic logic or unrealistic speculation) of any kind will cloud not only your actual audition, but the process leading up to it. There have been some smaller auditions where I had prepared and played extremely well, made it to the finals, and could literally feel the negative energy coming from behind the screen. There have also been some where the job had so much negative opinions or history that I feared winning it! Being aware of these things can help you navigate through them better and make the process and event a lot less stressful and way easier to deal with.
For me, now, I see auditions with a sense of awe. It's amazing being in that zone of playing for people the way I want to. A zone where I can literally sense the panel or the atmosphere of the hall and orchestra and play to that! I literally want to improvise and find new things in my pieces while I'm presenting what I've prepared. It's exhilarating and does make me nervous because of how vulnerable and almost, no literally how unsure I am of what will come out, even though I've planned so much! But, I've learned to accept that, because even though you plan and practice to the point of perfection, you really don't know what that moment will produce. So, I don't try to know, I let the moment guide my preparation, my interpretation, and my presentation. When I won the Detroit Fellowship, I literally did not think about my strategies or prepared crescendos and phrasings. I listened to the hall, sensed the panel, felt the energy that the orchestra left behind, and played with that. I lost and found myself in the music and at the end of the round I won the Fellowship. I even struggled with the fact that I won, because it felt like I hadn't done anything! The finals felt easy, effortless and I thought that because I didn't struggle that I didn't deserve to win. But, actually, that's the whole reason I did win.
That's been my standard ever since. Making the process and the event easy, effortless, playing my way, not trying to impress but trying to play truthfully and honestly in that moment, not only in auditions but in every performance. It may not be the "norm" for auditioning, but it works for me and that's exactly what you should find for yourself. A system where you will be so prepared that you can just play the music the way you want, not giving way to fear of mistakes, fear or judgment and fear of loss and winning. Caution: the system does not guarantee "victory". It can only prepare you for playing the notes, traditional and trendy phrasing, etc. The magic happens when you play so truthfully and honestly that the music comes to life, the orchestra can be heard in your playing, and "you" disappear. In the words of Eric, "Just think about the music. It's all about the music."
"All type of knowledge ultimately means self knowledge" - Bruce Lee At some point in our lives music gave us some sort of feeling inside that drew us to it. It's this feeling that we can always return to keeping us motivated or reminding us why we started in the first place. For me, when I was a child I watched the Lion King often and my least favorite scene was when Simba finds Mufasa after Scar kills him. The scene starts off dead silent with Simba crying out for his father. No music plays, only the sounds of Simba and another animal running away. As soon as he sees his father the music starts. I can still remember my ears widening, trying to hear anything that might give some hope of a happy outcome. As you know, that is not the case in this scene and the music definitely would not let you forget it. So, on one particular night after watching the movie again, I woke up in the middle of the night and the silence of the apartment brought me right back to that scene with Simba. Then, clear as day the entire score from that scene started to play in my head and ring in my ears. I started reciting Simba's lines and just started bawling in the middle of the living room. Once the scene was over i went back to bed and cried myself to sleep.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone's experience is just as, more or less dramatic, but whatever it was it hit us in a memorable way. To me, I've been trying to get to that emotional state ever since I consciously and unconsciously pursued music. I still listen to childhood favorites to keep me connected to my younger self; Christmas music is always a great source of that. I practice while in that state and practice going in and out of that state. It's hard sometimes because certain things I hear or see remind me of triggers for the state and I can unintentionally go in and react emotionally to it. It is also hard because if it's an effective reminder my mind will hold onto that sound or image even if I don't want it to. Just now, even, my girlfriend was watching a movie that had a child crying out his sister's name because she got hit by a car in the rain. She was ok, thank God. I don't think I could've handled any other outcome at the time I was writing this, but when I heard that scream I almost lost it. Playing musical notes and things, you don't necessarily need emotion to do that. Being a musician, you need to be in touch with every aspect of your emotional spectrum in order to connect with people.
Actors have to do this or else their characters seem fake, so they subject themselves to feeling all ranges of emotions to relate to the audience. We have to allow ourselves to do the same. I can't connect with someone who's lost someone close to them if I haven't experienced that feeling or allowed myself to connect to someone or an event that emulates that. I'm not saying make yourself cry all the time but do be open to feeling all emotions, even if they don't feel good. No, I don't only practice in a state of emotional sadness. Mostly it's a state of the hearing that I experienced as a child, hearing the vastness of the space around me, the depth and expansive quality of even the smallest room, feeling completely connected to the environment as if it were an extension of myself. It's there that all my practice becomes enhanced, stimulated, and meaningful.
So, when the emotional state is on, all I think about is the feeling itself. Yes, I might be listening to what I'm doing but really all I'm thinking about is portraying the feeling or the character itself. You know the feeling at Christmas where you get that warm fuzzy feeling, being with friends or family, anyone who's dear or close to you? Picture that plus the feeling of being under a warm blanket on a cold winter night. Picture both of those plus the feeling of hearing a nostalgic song you used to listen to all the time. Now add the way your mouth waters at your favorite food, and the feeling of a nice cold drink after you just finished eating. Did I mention the feeling of getting something you were really excited to buy or receive from a friend. Let's not forget that feeling of seeing someone you haven't seen for a very long time, a close friend, relative or significant other. Lastly, for now, picture yourself in an open field, standing, looking up at the warm night sky. It's filled with stars, only the quiet sound of crickets chirping in the background. You feel your eyes trying to capture the vastness of space, and feel yourself falling backwards, even though you're not moving at all. That's how I feel whenever I play music in that complete space of emotion.
People would ask me why I'm so excited about music. It's because all of those feelings, and many more, are mixed together, stored, let out and continually replenished moment by moment, whether I'm physically playing music or not. I can slip into this space at any time I want, with or without a stick in my hand. With all the technique I've managed to acquire, I don't even need it anymore to get to the place I want, but I'm trying everyday to get more of it to express the new things the space introduces to me. Basically, I'm still that five year old kid, crying in the middle of the living room, with music in his ears and uncontrollable emotions spewing out of his heart, making any sound necessary in order to express the unspeakable. I hope you can find your reasons and motivations for anything you do and really explore every aspect of it. Free yourself to be adventurous and learn about yourself more. The more you know you, the easier it will be to show yourself through your music. Happy searching!
I really loved Kung Fu Panda 2, not only for its great comedy and what not, but for the hidden messages and gems. The main theme was about Po finding "inner peace" in order to defeat not only his physical adversary, but his mental one as well. As musicians, I think we often perceive people as being critical or judgmental about our performance, or lack thereof, giving us more anxiety and stress. Finding a way to counter or remove that idea from our psyche will inevitably give us more freedom not only in our playing but in our daily lives. While this concept is very much tied to "the ego" and how we perceive ourselves, I talk about it here because of the physical response it creates.
When we act out of fear, we lose conscious control of our actions, making the outcome often undesirable. If we act out of trying to impress, the outcome becomes tainted with almost a "showboating" feeling. If however the action is from a place of rest, where your mind and body are at peace, then the process towards the outcome is clean and clear, able to be shaped to whatever is needed. It's not, "Oh, it's so soft so I have to be careful not to play too loud." It's, "Let me just play soft." Don't add unnecessary adjectives to your process. Soft is soft, not scary because it's soft and you have to lower your sticks and what not.
So, think a lot simpler about what you're doing and the intentions of those actions. Is it out of fear, necessity, obligation, self gratification, or for its own sake? If we can get clear about those, we probably can find the underlying problems with not only our performance on stage, but our performance in life.