Last year, the day after the harp ensemble concert, I was so physically undone from the stress of performing that I doubted I would continue in the ensemble. I could not imagine choosing to endure another night of nausea, sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, chest tightness, and all the other symptoms of involuntary adrenaline overdose.
This morning I thought, “Hmm, our concert last night was fun. I could do that again.”
I don’t know that I played that much better in last night’s performance. There were long passages of air harp as I searched for a measure that everyone else was playing. When I played my solo, there was enough adrenaline coursing through my body to cause the last five measures of the first section to disappear from my brain, leaving not a trace of their prior existence on my cerebral cortex.
But no panic ensued. I managed to find my way back on board and end tunes at the same time as everybody else. In my solo, I kept the mangled arpeggio going all the way up the harp, ended on a note that would soon be heard in a chord at my “rescue spot,” breathed, and started the next section. Only my teacher and the people who’ve heard me practice Grandjany’s Barcarole recognized my moments of “spontaneous composing.” (Thanks go to Joanna Mell for the wonderful re-naming of improvising one’s way out of a musical crash-and-burn!)
The last eight weeks of grounding myself in gratitude for being able to play the harp, for having a harp to play, for being blessed with an incredible teacher and a community of friends to play with filled up all the places in me that last year were occupied by doubt, dread, and fear. It’s not that I didn’t have performance nerves – my chest was tight all afternoon in anticipation, and my hands were definitely shaking as I wondered where in the world that strange, unplanned arpeggio might end up. It’s that the performance nerves just didn’t matter. Gratitude posted a no vacancy sign and told fear and doubt that there was no room for them in my thoughts or in my heart. Gratitude informed the Inner Critic that no one was interested in his commentary. Gratitude reminded me to enjoy every note I was able to play, and to appreciate the love of the music and the harp that we shared with our audience and each other. And Gratitude whispered of the improbable miracle that a frame of wood, a bunch of string, and human hearts and hands can join together to create beauty, and said, “Rejoice!”