My harp ensemble recital is next Monday. I’m madly practicing ensemble tunes as well as Grandjany’s Reverie, the piece that I am to play as a solo. I’ve been trying to adopt “just noticing” for my practicing this piece, but so far that has not spared me any of my pre-performance anxieties and craziness. We had a run through of all solos at last Monday’s ensemble class. Instead of being able to “just notice” a sudden tangle of fingers and missed notes and move on, I was transported back in time to the place where making mistakes was not tolerated and was actively punished. (Just when I think that I’ve thoroughly mucked out my psychic stables, it turns out that there is still a pony in there somewhere.) But after being coached to breathe, I started playing Reverie somewhere on the second page and made it to the end of the piece. And when we went through our solos a second time, I was pleased with how I played.
These last three days, I have been searching for anything that will give me some tiny bit of equilibrium about the whole issue of performing. I’m playing my piece for friends, practicing moving on from mistakes, choreographing raises and inhalations that will help me relax and keep the tempo at a reasonable pace once adrenalin kicks in, and doing what I call drive-by play-throughs where I sit down at the harp on my way to do something else, like empty the dishwasher, and play my piece cold.
Last night I found something I’d written when I was preparing for a Scottish harp competition, that helped both my equilibrium about performing and my playing today. For an all-too-brief time last April, I understood that performing is about energy and intention as much as it is about the music and my skill at playing it. If I am having fun and enjoying playing the music, the audience will enjoy listening to me play. And if I’m not having fun and sharing joy and delight, there’s really not much point in playing.
Beneath the energy and story and meaning that’s a part of each piece of music, there is this layer of energy and intention about the performance as a whole to be aware of. And when I consciously choose my energy and intention for a performance, I invite the audience to have a delightful time as they listen to my piece.
The most important thing for me to remember is that playing music is about joy – the joy of sharing the experience of making music, the joy of sharing such a beautiful piece with an audience, the joy of being able to express all human emotions, themselves so ephemeral, with this ephemeral creation we’ve named music.
And so today, I remember that music is not only about playing the right notes – that’s one of the means to this end. Nor is music about being good enough or skilled enough or worthy enough to play. Music is about celebrating and sharing, across miles and centuries, all that makes us human.