As I practice for this month’s audition, I am trying to get away from working solely on the music. Of course the music is important, but I know these concertos and excerpts. I’ve worked them out a million times, played them in auditions, and even performed most of them in the orchestra, and my basic plans are in place. I am trying now to get myself into a good, focused, clear mindset before each one. I want to use my breathing to launch myself into a place of focus. If I can get to where I need to be with a few mindful breaths, perhaps I can control the time and my mastery of the stage while I’m in that crucial ten minutes.
So, I play an excerpt. I make sure I know how I want it. Then I stop, breathe, and try to find my way to the timeless place, the place where I totally know what I’m doing and I can turn the scorekeeper off and just enjoy playing beautifully. This is so hard to do. My plan, once I work through all of the individual pieces like this, is to start stringing them together, as I would play them in the audition itself. Practice taking the breaths quickly between excerpts to clear my head, reset, and be the me I want to be.
I know this technique is fairly obvious, but it’s genuinely something new for me. Of course I have practiced stringing excerpts together before, and practiced finding my mental cues and my tempo, and practiced getting from one mood to another. What I have not worked on in that process is my own brain. I was always thinking about the music.
That last statement troubles me, and I think it’s the reason I have taken so long to get to my current project. Of course it should be about the music. What on earth is the point of what I do if it’s not about the music? I should be the conduit for the music, and the interpretations I’ve prepared should just flow through me, and I shouldn’t have to think about myself. That is what feels awkward about this. I’ve resisted making the issue be me, because I always assumed that if my interpretations matured just a little more, or if I chose my reed more carefully, or if I pushed through that crescendo more meaningfully, things would just work out. If I took care of the music it would take care of me.
But the problem, and the reason that I am not making the beautiful music in a much bigger arena, seems to be that I am getting in the way. My self-talk and distractibility over the course of a multi-day audition process HAS prevented the smooth, perfect flow of the music, and in order to correct that I have to focus on myself. So as to take the focus back off myself. Paradoxical, yes, and difficult, but clearly the answer.
My success so far has been mixed – sometimes I feel right but then I make mistakes (so am I not as focused as I think? Or is the focus not the only answer?) and sometimes I just can’t get there at all. Meanwhile, though, in context – in rehearsals and concerts – I find that I can fairly easily get to where I want to be by broadening my visual field and looking at more than one note or line of music at a time. If I can turn on the right feeling and attitude in the orchestra but not alone at my music stand, what is the answer?
I’m open to suggestions. Meanwhile, I keep working. Working harder is probably the answer.