Practicing in Public

This weekend I am playing with the Milwaukee Symphony, and the concerts should be amazing. We are playing the whole first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre, and that’s about all I can say from personal experience at this point. We rehearsed once yesterday- a wind sectional – but both of today’s scheduled rehearsals were canceled because of the enormous blizzard. So I won’t really have a sense of the whole piece until tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I am staying with friends in Milwaukee and I have a WHOLE DAY OFF to practice, catch up on reeding and writing and reading, and get ready for tomorrow’s intense rehearsals.

I did practice for an hour this morning, and was surprised at how self-conscious I was playing the oboe in my friends’ house. They are both musicians – terrific ones – and I was very aware of every little flaw in my reeds and in my warmup as I played.

Practicing is private time, and musicians know that what happens in the practice room stays there. It is a time to solve problems by making mistakes, diagnosing them, and fixing them. A time to try various solutions until you find one that works. To experiment with phrasing strategies and new techniques. In fact, good practicing doesn’t sound very good. The goal is to practice what you can’t play, not what you can, and thereby get better at it.

I know that, and my friends know that. Still, I hated to sound bad while playing in their house. I didn’t feel comfortable breaking in my new reeds, and I destroyed a couple trying to scrape perfection in when really I should have just played for a while and adjusted them tomorrow. Attending a conservatory of music trained me to focus on my own work even when other people are practicing around me, but when I was the only one in the house playing I felt very audible.

Obviously, this is in my own head only. No one is paying attention to my practice session, and certainly no one is criticizing. I’m about to return to the oboe, and I am ready to overcome my little alone-in-a-room-stage-fright problem. Back to work!

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