When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room. In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra. And it was OK. We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details. But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating. The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult. Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative. Don’t be too loud, don’t come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture… And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault – because I was sitting basically by myself, trying to intuit what the musicians behind me were going to do, and everything I played seemed to stick out.
After the rehearsal, the clarinetist had the brilliant idea to move us all into the same row – and the difference this made was enormous. Now we could react to each other, and play together, and really understand how the blend of our sounds worked. We could breathe together and use visual cues to be tight. The difference in comfort and also in quality was tremendous. For ALL of us.
But what I found myself telling myself was that they were all trying to help me cope, all trying to make it so I didn’t sound so bad – were trying to help out the newbie. Boy, were they ever gracious, to conceal that motive under a suggestion that we’d all play better if we were more connected in the pit. I felt terrible that I was requiring all of this special effort to enable me to just do my job.
Now, I am not a newbie. I am in fact a real professional oboist, I’ve been doing this for many years, these people are my colleagues and I’ve played with all of them before and they are wonderful musicians and I have infinite respect for them – but they are not in some wholly separate magical realm of awesomeness from me. I am not actually out of place in this group.
But my self-talk was REAL, and very noticeable to me this time around. What on earth is that about?
Partly, I had just come off an audition in which I played well but did not advance. This is always mysterious and disappointing. If I did my best, and it wasn’t good enough, does that mean I’ll never win anything? Never BE anything? Partly, I had just come off a recital series which I DID enjoy, and which WAS well attended – until the last performance which was sparsely attended and about which I felt embarrassed and like I had failed. And yes, marketing IS part of the job of a musician, and I COULD have done a better job of booking that date, putting it in a more high-end venue, and pushing to get it publicized. But life gets in the way, and I made my choices and did my best. I did play well, but I still felt bad.
All of this to say that I was feeling a bit vulnerable in my playing and career.
I’m so glad that Zoe is participating in Girls on the Run this semester. It’s an empowerment program for young girls, and she’s LOVING it. She and I had been talking about her unit on Negative Self Talk, and how to recognize it, and stop it, and turn it around to be positive and helpful. Which is how I was rapidly able to notice my personal paranoia. When we played the first rehearsal in our new arrangement, I found myself feeling guilty about everyone having moved their chairs just so I could be more comfortable and successful. And then I realized that EVERYONE was more comfortable, and that we were solving problems together in our new setup, problems that were not all my problems but everyone’s, and then I realized that I was in a mental mess of self-blame and self-doubt, and then I dragged myself back out of it.
We’re having a blast in this pit now. It’s fun to work with great musicians, and it’s nice to be so connected that we can really play chamber music in this chamber opera, and I love that I’ve gotten through my momentary dark place so I can enjoy the work and the experience.
I love my life. Thank you, Girls on the Run, for the reminder!