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February 9, 2015
Apollo's Fire: a group of musicians making the stuff of dreams together

It wasn't my nightmare, but it could have been. Would it be yours? And how would you respond?

Imagine this:

You've been REALLY busy for weeks, and you know your work isn't going to let up until the day you travel to your next gig.

Normally, you would spend the week before practicing the music for the concert, but – just this ONCE – you decline the band's offer to send you practice parts, knowing you won't have any time to practice.

You're not worried, though.  After all, you know the music – you've played each of the pieces on the program many times – and you're confident that you won't have any difficulty playing well once you get there.

As the weekend approaches, you feel a few butterflies when the realization hits you that this is an unusual gig because you will only have one rehearsal (plus a short touch-up / sound-check right before the concert).  It also seems like it's a meaningful concert for the audience: it's for the 150th anniversary of the construction of the church sanctuary in which the group will be performing, and the band has been hired to celebrate this event.

But you easily set aside any nervousness by reminding yourself again that you KNOW this music and one rehearsal will be plenty.  Past experience tells you so.

You arrive at the rehearsal full of energy, ready to dive in. You're happy to see old friends, and everything sounds just as you expected. Once the group has finished rehearsing the music you're supposed to play, you check to make sure that those of you who aren't involved in the remaining pieces on the program may leave. Here's where the potential nightmare begins…

The conductor gives you a quizzical look… and says, “But you're playing in the rest of the pieces, too. We need you here. Didn't you get my email??  Oh, and the group plays this set from memory. You don't have to, but the rest of us will.”

Uh-oh….

You realize there has been a grave misunderstanding, and somehow you never got the email that would have clarified it.

The group is performing a short set of Celtic tunes, specific music you've never heard before, in a style you're not familiar with (folk music is NOT your specialty)… and …………… the group will be playing it from memory, as they have performed this music a number of times over the last couple of years – but always when you haven't been there!  You didn't know the whole group had learned this set; folk music was usually played at their summer concerts with only a few musicians present, and you had assumed that this addition to the program would also be played by just a few of the group members. A very understandable mistake, but…OOPS!!

How do you think you might respond to such a situation? What if…

– you haven't practiced specifically for the concert, due to understandable life-circumstances
– there's only one rehearsal before the concert
– at the end of the rehearsal you are informed that you're expected to play music that you've never heard before (very fast and with odd rhythms and bowings you're not used to, too, by the way), with a group that has it all memorized?

Would you panic and have an agonizing weekend, or would you be able to rise to the occasion and enjoy yourself even more?

THIS is where the Alexander Technique and The Art of Freedom
can come in VERY HANDY!!!

This story actually just happened to me last weekend, and I performed in the concert yesterday. You can see the video of the group and the music I fit myself into here: Apollo's Fire performing “Glory in the Meeting House”.

Here are some of the keys that helped me the most last weekend, with the end result that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and played the folk set just as well as the rest of the music on the program. Maybe even better, because I was extra-aware due to the unusual circumstances!

  • In that unexpected moment of conversation with the conductor in front of the rest of the group, in which the misunderstanding was revealed, I stayed flexible and open to the moment, present to my own experience.
  • I did not panic.  I prevented myself from thinking self-sabotaging thoughts.
  • I trusted myself to be able to rise to the occasion.
  • I opened up to the possibility that I might actually really enjoy this experience.
  • I opened up my mind-body-self with curiosity, willing to learn this music ASAP, applying ALL TOOLS that I have at my disposal from a lifetime of being a musician and more than a decade of working with the Alexander Technique.
  • I reassured the conductor (who reassured me in turn – she wasn't worried, either) at the break that I was not worried – that I was looking forward to this (which I really was!), and that it would be no problem at all.
  • I stayed balanced and centered, and hyper-aware, so that I could allow the music to happen.
  • I practiced what I needed to practice in the time between the first rehearsal and the first concert, but I only practiced what I knew was necessary – not more.
  • The rest of the time, I lived my life as usual, and I enjoyed myself as I was able, especially in conversation with my lovely hosts for the weekend.
  • I was careful about what I ate (and I did not have caffeine), made sure I slept, and generally took good care of myself.
  • I especially made sure that I had plenty of time to do what needed to be done before leaving for the concert, so that I could arrive to the rehearsal without rushing, and with all organizational things (such as having the right clothing, etc.), all taken care of with plenty of time.
  • I did not hurry myself at all over the weekend, knowing that feeling rushed could trigger a sense of nervousness within me, and I wished to prevent any bit of possible performance anxiety.

I'm not telling you this story to brag about my success, but I'm telling you this story because this is the kind of situation that musicians can get thrown into, and we need to be prepared for them. We need to expect the unexpected!!

Happily, this time, everything I did in response to the circumstances worked. But it didn't work by accident; it all came together because of skills that I have learned and practiced over many years.

You can learn these skills, too!

It is possible to learn how to meet the unexpected challenge with confidence and strength of mind-body-self.  These skills are learn-able and teach-able. They are what I teach musicians all the time, in my classes and 1-Day Intensives, etc.

Have you lived through “a musician's nightmare”, yourself? How did you respond? Let us know – we'd love to hear YOUR story!

p.s. This is my next task: memorize this music, because I'll be performing it with the group again in July at Tanglewood. Come hear us if you're in the area – Apollo's Fire is a fantastic group of musicians!! 🙂

  ***

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Tags

Alexander Technique, Awareness, musicians, performance anxiety, positive thinking, practice, self-control


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  1. Jennifer,
    Dear Jennifer,

    This is SO fabulous–I am sharing this with my senior student who is going into performance, and NEEDS this–THANK YOU for your perfect insight and sharing!!!!!!!

    Truly,

    Gayle

  2. Wow, Jennifer, what a story! So often, our primitive brains take over our bodies and we get caught in “flight” mode. Thank goodness for mind-body awareness that can help us to adapt without compromising our well-being.

    Thank you for sharing the video clip – I enjoyed their unorthodox instrumentation, it created such lovely colors and textures.

    Much love,

    Daniella

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