The Element of Surprise

I’m working with an adult oboist who can play beautifully but tends to melt down as soon as anything at all doesn’t go her way. And because it’s the OBOE, it’s not uncommon for things to not go her way, and so she’s gotten herself into this absolute ball of anxiety around the instrument and yet she WANTS it to work. She wants it SO BAD.

And last fall she told me this fantastic story about how her orchestra was reading through Beethoven 5. And she had not actually studied the piece, not to really know it, though she had practiced her part. So she saw this innocuous looking bunch of dotted half notes in the fourth movement, and assumed they were just busywork tutti stuff, and suddenly she found herself playing an ALONE solo, and she surprised herself so much by how good she sounded that she just kept playing.

If she’d known it was an important moment, she almost certainly would have clenched up, and second-guessed it, and spiraled into self-loathing like the thing that happens in every other solo for her.

But it was a surprise, and she found herself being great, and STAYED great, and told me proudly about it.

Moral: don’t prepare for your concerts? Surely not. You can’t just rely on being surprised by an oboe solo in possibly the most recorded, most famous symphony ever. And you won’t still be surprised in the second rehearsal, anyway.

Here’s a better moral: If your playing when you don’t think anyone can hear you is SO GOOD it surprises you?

Guess what. It is that good!

Why should you keep all that goodness reserved for yourself?

What is it about those notes that looked so safe to you that you could blow freely and beautifully through them? Could you practice seeing them that way, EVEN THOUGH you now know what you know? What if you whited out the word “solo” above anything that scared you and pretended that that was safe, too?

Could you practice playing with fullness and support and security when you ARE alone, when no one CAN hear you, and then experiment with bringing that beauty forward in public?

Could you lean in to the beauty of your own sound and allow yourself to enjoy it? And then dare to share that enjoyment, like you would a delicious cake you had baked for the orchestra?

What mind game could you play that would make the oboe feel safe and easy?

What if the oboe was easy?

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