Last night I was watching the mens gymnastics team final, and things were not going well for our heroes. And I recognized all of the emotions flitting across the faces of these amazing, talented, and well-prepared athletes. They were ready every time they stepped up, and they knew exactly what they were planning to do and how well it was supposed to go, and they were shocked and surprised and disappointed each time when a serious error happened. As the evening wore on, I saw the confidence fade, and the men began to step up defensively, just trying not to screw up, and of course that just made things all the more likely to fall apart.
That feeling rings so true this month.
In my head I am solid.
I have come a long way since college, and since my early years as a young, green professional. I do know how to play in an orchestra, and how to blend and match what my colleagues are doing, and also how to formulate a musical idea and get it across. I know how to make a reed that works and how to sneak a note into a chord and how to keep my instruments adjusted so that they work reliably. These are basic skills.
But for some reason this festival and its altitude are kicking me six ways to Sunday. I have been struggling with reeds and instruments in a way that is no longer familiar to me. In my head I know what I am doing, and I have a plan for every entrance and solo. In actuality, these past two weeks, something happens to make me sound like a rookie in every entrance and solo. Water in the keys, an unexpectedly hard or soft reed, a screw that has slipped loose.
And this is extremely frustrating. I’m better than this, I really am, but very few people in this orchestra know that, and in rehearsal I don’t SOUND like I am better than this. The concerts have gone fine – so the audience doesn’t know – but my colleagues do and it is a grim feeling.
So I feel the pain of our Olympians. I know what it’s like to be caught by surprise by a poor performance. I have three more weeks here to prove myself, and another week of Olympics from which to seize inspiration. Tomorrow is Brahms and Rossini and I GUARANTEE I CAN DO THIS.