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!
The minority of instructors and mentors in my life have talked to me about this, and each have their own way of describing "playing yourself." Note, minority. So, at some level, it's not a requirement to believe in this. At the end of the day, we all are going to do our best to bring out the music, from the page to the ears, and even if it is a belief worth taking stock in, it does not guarantee a win. My personality might not be a fit for a certain orchestra, but the only way the panel will know that is if I put my personality on the table. My friends know when I'm practicing xylophone because they hear ME. That includes my sound concept, my character, my phrase tendencies, etc. All of that should be brought out in our excerpts. What's our concept of a Shostakovich loud and a Stravinsky loud? They are both pretty loud, but the characters are different. How do we make that distinction?
As auditioning musicians, there's a lot that we all have in common going into any audition. We get the same music, listen to the same pieces, hear the traditional and trending phrasings, play the same rounds, etc. But what sets us all apart? Maybe it's the tempos we choose, or the phrasings that we make. Maybe it's the instrument's color or overall sound, warmer or brighter than others in the round. But what wins over a judge who doesn't like a warmer sound, but still wants that person anyway? Maybe it's their impeccable time or intonation, or the fact that they missed less notes than everyone else. I would like to believe that it's something else.
We have to perform as well as we can, playing the page in tune, and in time, and this will do well for us in the first round. Semis, though, just doing that might not be enough, and certainly the finals will demand that special "something." The first instinct is to play the music. Well, if we're playing the page, and the phrasings (what's not on the page), isn't that the music? Well, yea, but. I've spoken to my mentors and colleagues about this a lot, and it's frustrating to know that you can play everything perfect and be cut. It's even more frustrating to know that you can, basically play the music, and still get cut as well. So what is that "it" factor?
Welp, two things. One, of course, musicality and playing the music is definitely the key to advancing and even winning in any audition, but (two) the musicianship of the candidate is what entices the panel (Their Personality). As we all are aware, every orchestra has a different feel, atmosphere, etc., and the panel is looking for not only someone who will fit into that sound, but someone who will enhance it and even give it a different feel. Musicality and phrasing is a good determinant of that, which is why it's so important to play as musically as possible while staying true to the character and the page as possible. But, if two people play the exact same phrasing with the exact same tempos and on the exact same instruments, it's the personality that separates the two. In a nut shell, allowing yourself to come out within the piece will let the panel hear you, not just the piece.
My thoughts on auditioning are, as you know, more philosophical and "transcendental," but it all comes from a desire to play the music and allow the listener to hear the orchestra. That's the goal, and if you achieve that, then you've succeeded, win or lose. I wanted to go a step further. I love feeling the music while I play. It enhances my awareness and focuses my energies as I perform. I feel different when I play a Scheherazade pianissimo than a Kije one. It's not just the tempos that are different or the rhythmic integrity, but the feel itself. I can make Kije sound like Scheherazade and vice versa. So, my feeling of music is different than yours, even though we are basically going for the same "sound concept" or character. I play Scheherazade differently than my teachers, even though we are all playing the same things. This is the difference in my opinion. The personalities and musicianship of the candidates. Now, fair warning. If you believe in this, like me, there's a big issue that we need to address.
Displaying our personality is scary. As many of us already feel vulnerable playing just the page, we might feel it even more so if we playing ourselves for people. The fear of being seen. Why is the solo asked in the final round? The panel wants to hear your interpretation of a piece that, while it has many traditional aspects (like the excerpts), allows for many subjective musical moments. A person can automatically tell when a candidate is just playing the YouTube version, or the Spotify version, but when a musician hears another musician, that makes them want to hear more. Even if you are playing a certain interpretation from a recording you like, if you try to play it exactly the same, you may end up sounding like your trying to play it exactly the same. So make it yours, play the way you want to play it and it will sound better, even if it's not exactly what a judge or teacher would do. If the character is right, and the traditions respected, it's good to go.
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.
About these Posts
Just some thoughts about how We, ourselves, are our best source of information and how we can become more aware of our thoughts.