Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cleveland and the hazards of safe playing

Our second rehearsal alongside the Cleveland Orchestra was this morning, playing Schumann's 4th Symphony under assistant conductor Andrew Grams. Both the past two days we've rehearsed in the Lincoln Theater, where the New World Symphony regularly performs. Playing with a huge combined orchestra, Andrew Grams had to ask us repeatedly to back off - sort of like driving a Hummer on a golf course, the size of the sound was threatening to overwhelm the space. Next week we'll read Beethoven 7 and Debussy's Iberia in the Carnival Center, which should be an interesting acoustic comparison. It's a much larger room, and also potentially much, much louder.

It was slightly strange playing alongside the Cleveland Orchestra, just a week after unsuccessfully auditioning for them in Cleveland. While I wouldn't have given up the opportunity for anything, I was quietly dreading having to make excuses for my inept audition. Thankfully, all the committee members I talked to were very kind and even complimentary, and there was no awkwardness at all. Some of them even made excuses to me, explaining that the level of the playing that day was so high, they had to finish by 5 pm, so the first round had to be especially picky. I don't totally buy that - I know when I bombed an audition, and I pretty much bombed this one. Still, it was nice to hear some encouraging words.

The overriding comment was that I just didn't really go for it: too careful, too safe, not enough risks. It's a comment I've heard before, and even given to other players. I think this carefulness is something we latch onto when we feel a loss of control, since I didn't feel particularly safe when I was on stage. Terrified and panic-stricken would have been my description of my mood. That fear didn't translate into energetic or expressive playing though, it just caused me to play it safe.

This is a favorite subject of Don Greene, the performance coach who works regularly with New World Symphony members. He teaches a system to channel nervous energy and use it to bring out one's best. As much as I've learned from Don Greene though, I forgot most of it under the stress of preparing a challenging list, and I left myself unprepared for that spike of nervous adrenaline.

Lately I've been reading Don Greene's book Fight Your Fear and Win, on a recommendation from another former New World Symphony member. She told me she carries it with her to every audition she goes to, and can open it to any page and find great ideas and inspiration. So far I agree with her, it's gotten me thinking more about long term goals and strategies. I'm not a great fan of self-help books, but when you find one that works and makes sense to you, that's nothing to be ashamed about. Right?

You can learn more about Don Greene (and maybe about yourself) at his website,

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