Community And Connection Vanquishes Performance Anxiety

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
And BEING the noise.
Rumi, The Big Red Book, trans. Coleman Barks

 

The end of the semester at the community college means almost daily concerts and recitals. The opera company kicks off a week-long festival of music, art and literature with three performances of music by Gershwin and Bernstein. Students who study voice, composition, piano and guitar give recitals. There are three days of jazz concerts, and a lovely evening of Baroque music performed by the college’s Baroque Ensemble.  This year, music alumni performed at the annual concert honoring the founder of the Music Department. I played in the Early Music Consort concert in mid-April, in the middle of the Arts festival week. And the Recorder Ensemble finished out the semester’s performances with our concert last Tuesday.

The students giving recitals, the classes and ensembles giving concerts, and the students and instructors in the many audiences all seemed to come together to love and honor Music in her many forms, all seemed to gather Music up to share with audiences and with each other. The music department felt like a community joined together to celebrate Music’s existence and presence in our lives.

Being in the midst of this community of music-making somehow soothed my adrenal glands’ hair-trigger responses to performing. I felt a part of this giant celebration of Music. I didn’t frighten and distract myself with worries about whether I would play well, whether I’d make it through a tricky passage, whether I would totally mess up a piece. Missing a note would not separate me from this wave of creative energy, from this union of hearts and minds, spirits and bodies coming together to make Music, to create connection and share joy.

Both the Early Music Consort and the Recorder Ensemble concerts went pretty well. I missed some entrances and cutoffs, and played a confident one note solo when I started a piece a measure before everyone else. I embellished some of the melodies with new, creative dissonances. None of my mistakes proved fatal to me or to any of the pieces we played. Nor did I hear any groans from long-dead composers turning in their graves.

For the first time, I enjoyed the process of playing in a concert. Instead of feeling on trial and judged, I felt a part of the community that was creating and celebrating Music. I felt a part of giving the gift of these tunes and our playing to the audience and to each other. For the first time, the shaking felt like excitement, not fear, and the playing felt like joy.

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Intentions Meet SoulCollage in 2012

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions of the “loose 10 pounds” and “call your mother on Sunday” variety many years ago. But the start of a new year still inspires me to think about what is working in my life, and what attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, if changed, would help me enjoy the next trip around the sun even more. Last year, rather than writing New Year’s resolutions, I wrote intentions for how I wanted to live in 2011. It turned out to be such a useful experience I decided to do it again for 2012.

Some of my intentions, like “release what I no longer needs and what no longer serves me” are continued from last year. I got a good start on that one, but there’s more to do. My “be kind” and “see” intentions are two of my “Three Commandments.” (Ten are entirely too many.) My other 2012 intentions emerged while journaling about what was the best and worst of 2011 for me.

MY 2012 INTENTIONS

  • Create new adventures.
  • Approach life and everything in it as an adventure.
  • Be alive to and say yes to possibilities.
  • Be kind.
  • Cultivate joy.
  • Release what I no longer need and what no longer serves me.
  • Cherish this body.
  • Remember that time is a teacher.
  • Expect positive outcomes.
  • Develop ease and comfort with performing.
  • Laugh at myself and at life’s strangenesses.
  • Recognize love in all the ways it comes to me.
  • See.

A major challenge in living out my intentions is remembering them each and every day. Then I “just” have to find the courage and strength to do the work and make the daily decisions that will support my commitments to my body, mind, heart and spirit.

My SoulCollage Prayer Flag

My SoulCollage cards have helped me find hidden courage and gain clarity about so many situations. Who better than my Committee members and Council guides to help me remember and live according to my intentions? My SoulCollage box held at least one card that resonated with each of my 2012 intentions. Using ribbon, sticky wall hooks, and bulldog clips, I created a prayer flag of SoulCollage cards in my bedroom. They now greet me when I wake up in the morning, and they are the last things I see when I turn out my light at night.

Joyful Woman

Here’s the bigger version of two of my prayer flag cards that will be accompanying me this year as I live my intentions.

The woman in my “Joyful Woman” card finds joy and contentment in who she is, in what she has, and in what she does. She will remind me that joy is always available, and that I can find joy anywhere I choose to look for it.

Musician

 

 

 

My musician card is the perfect ally to help me develop ease and comfort with performing. She exudes the confidence I want to feel when I play my harp or my recorders for any audience, large or small.

Each of my intentions requires specific actions on my part in order to come to life in the coming year. To develop ease and comfort with performing, I know I have to set aside time and create situations where I can practice performing. I need to test out some pre-performance activities and rituals to find out what will desensitize the hair-trigger on my adrenal glands. I have to practice focusing on the sound of my music as I am playing, instead of listening to my distracting internal chatter. Every morning and evening, my musician card will remind me of the actions I need to take, as well as the ease, comfort and confidence that awaits me.

How do you note and honor the start of another year? Have you created resolutions, or goals, or intentions for 2012? I’d love to read them – and I hope you’ll share them or leave a link to them in a comment on this post.

It’s Harp Ensemble Time

I’m back from my first harp ensemble class of the semester. It’s that time of the year when I voluntarily torment myself with eight weeks of sight-reading impossible music, learning entirely new, way-too-advanced repertoire, and performing in a concert, complete with solo, at the last class.

This semester’s music will require an investment in a new roll of “white-out”tape so that I can remove from my scores all those notes I won’t be playing – they will be rushing by me much too fast to be anything but a blur. Downbeats are my new goal – if I can catch the downbeat at least every other measure I’ll call it successful.

One of the new people asked me why I keep doing this, why I keep signing up for a class that is so far out of my comfort zone, I need a separate zip code to be reached there. I gave her a lot of reasons: Being in the harp ensemble is like getting an extra 90 minute lesson each week. There’s more time to discuss theory and to practice techniques. There’s the opportunity for making myself practice sight-reading. There’s new repertoire to learn. There’s the camaraderie with the other harpers who’ve been a part of the ensemble all these years.

But as I rattled off these reasons for coming back every fall, I knew that none of them were why I keep returning. The truth is that even if I’ve whited out 7/8ths of the notes in the score, even if I’m playing only one note per measure, contained in each autumn’s harp ensemble is the bountiful joy of making music with others. And that makes it all worthwhile.

Joy and downbeats. More than enough to keep me coming back.

Joining a Chorus, and the Utter Joy of Singing

I grew up singing. My small school could not afford instruments or instrumental teachers, so school music was singing. We sang in our classrooms every day, and in a group music class with a piano accompanist once a week. My first written music was Gregorian chant, sung by us second graders when at least half of us were still struggling with “See Spot run,” let alone Latin. We sang the mass at least once per week. We had Christmas and Easter music programs every year, and multi-school choral contests each spring.

I was duly taught the “nouns and verbs” of musical language: the names of the lines and spaces of the treble clef, the different kinds of notes and rests and their relationships, the meaning of time signatures, how to count rhythms, how to follow music on the page through repeat signs, etc. All of which meant that I did not totally flounder when I began harp lessons, and that, at last, I had a reason to be thankful for my childhood nemeses, the nuns.

But no one ever taught us how to sing, or how to use our voices. Singing was something you just knew how to do, or else you learned to mouth words silently so Sister’s pointer would not crack the back of your head when you were sharp or flat. I had a good ear and picked up tunes easily, so I was one of the kids who really sang.

I sang in Girl Scouts, at troop meetings and at every meal and every evening campfire at summer camp. I sang with friends as we played guitars and ukeleles during the ’60’s folk revival. I sang in the church choir and in the high school chorus. Singing was where I found community, belonging, and joy.

When I went to college it all stopped. Too intimidated by what I perceived as a lack of “real” musical training, I steered clear of the music department and whatever singing opportunities might be there. Classes and working multiple jobs left no time to sing for fun, anyway. After graduation I didn’t look for places to sing – by then I was totally out of practice. And my voice, unused and ignored, left me. I knew nothing about how to get it back. Just singing “Happy Birthday” could be embarrassing. There was no longer any predicting what sound would emerge from what had been a decent-enough alto voice, or whether it would be in tune. The back of my head would have been blackened and bruised, if the nuns were still near enough to hear me.

But for many years I had harbored a secret desire to take voice lessons, so that I could sing again. Time, circumstances, and fear kept me from pursuing either. I’d not even added voice lessons to my “what I’ll do when I retire” list. Then last October my harp teacher introduced me to a voice teacher who welcomes to her studio people like me, people who would like to sing and would like to get better at it. I scheduled an initial lesson /assessment, and had so much fun, I’m doing monthly lessons.

My teacher only had two requirements: one, that I practice, and two, that I find somewhere to sing. Practicing, I could handle, but finding a group to sing with was a challenge. I won’t join a church just to sing in a choir. My favorite community singing group meets the same night as my recorder class. My solution was to register for the chorus class at the community college.

Today was the second day of class. There’s about 60 traditional college-age students, one man who looks to be my age (i.e. grown) and me. Who has not sight-sung an alto part in 42 years. But at least half the class claims that they don’t read music AT ALL, so I’m hoping that the accompanist will play enough repetitions of the alto lines for me to resurrect being able to connect the note I see to the pitch I sing.

And today, with only one rudimentary run-through of a piece, our 60 or so voices joined in song, and I was transported.  To be surrounded by the music of so many voices, to be one of those voices creating that music, to feel my own voice resonant and strong, to ride the waves of sound and the emotions of the lyrics – it was pure, all-encompassing, total joy, created both from our singing today, and from memories of singing with all those other voices, so many years ago.