I was at a concert in Philharmonie last night, sitting in the audience. After many concerts where I have been on the stage, it was a strange sensation. Once again I felt out of place sitting among the listeners, even if I could never have been playing with such a brilliant team of musicians; but on a personal level I felt near to them. I saw them exchanging glances before an especially hard passage, syncing tempo and movements, laughing sincerely when they enjoyed the music they were creating, finishing a piece and immediately rearranging the instruments for the next one. I think it’s because I’ve been on the stage and in the backstage for so long that I can pierce through the wall of what the musicians offer the public as a final product, and get a glance on how they build it.
This made me think about a further point. I keep saying that I prefer to see rehearsals than concerts or shows. What I mean is that, having been playing music myself, I give high value on the way a piece is slowly assembled rather than on the single execution at the concert. It’s obviously a necessary goal, but it has almost no value for me if it’s the only part of the way I can access, because one can see a tiny fraction of the heap of small steps that were required to get there.
Last week I played as a guest percussionist in a symphonic wind orchestra, and my concert experience was overall good. On the positive side, I managed to play almost all my notes and I didn’t have issues with tubular bells, which I practiced only at the day of the concert. Here is a first-person view of the percussion section, right before the sound check:
It was a somewhat difficult concert, because I knew some pieces too little, and I had to pay a lot of attention just to follow what others were playing. Only the first piece was clear to me enough that I could really enjoy it. I think that the required level of attention is what makes the concert feel energizing, easy or exhausting. If I have to keep my attention on high alert for the whole ten minutes of the piece (or worse the whole concert), and moreover I make mistakes, my energy levels plummet down. I think it’s a quite common experience among musicians, and that my limited amount of rehearsals played a big role. However, for my next concerts I want to be more aware of how ready I am, aim at reasonable goals and not at perfection, and manage my energy so that I have enough left for the day of the concert (sometimes I put 130% in the last rehearsal and go to the concert with almost no energy). The thing is also that I need to communicate my current energy/skills availability in a positive way, not in a way that make me appear lazy. Most of the times when I say that a piece is too hard or that I can’t do something, I end up being pushed even more. I’m working on it, and will update you about my progress, maybe my experience will help others too 🙂
It’s a few days I plan to post on my blog and can’t find the quiet half an hour to write a good post. The reason is that I’m preparing a concert with a new orchestra, as guest percussionist. I had two weeks to get acquainted with the pieces we will play, and I spent the whole weekend with the orchestra in a musical retreat in Brandenburg – catching up was definitely not easy, moreover I had to learn to properly play tubular bells and xylophone, and these pieces are the most difficult I had played yet (or at least it feels like it!). As I joined the rehearsals so late, I’m listening to recordings of the pieces while reading my parts, and I’m adding a LOT of annotations:
What I usually add are colors for the different instruments I have to play (it’s quicker than reading the tiny names on the score!) and annotations about the instruments that play right before me – that saves me from counting the empty bars, and prepares me better to the moment when I have to jump in. These annotations are especially necessary, as I have not been playing with the full orchestra often enough, and it happens very often that I don’t know who is supposed to play, and at which point of the piece we are. I’ll be watching the conductor closely, but I’ll definitely not getting cues all the time; for sure I’ll keep an ear for my fellow percussionists, as we studied our parts together and know them well. Let’s hope for the best 🙂
Last Friday I started learning the trombone! My teacher is a musician from my orchestra, with whom I talked about learning a brass instrument at the beginning of last year; as my Montessori diploma course is now over, I have all my Fridays free again and I have again time and energy to dedicate to something new and challenging.
Why the trombone? Well, around ten years ago I started learning the baritone horn, but had to set it aside after a few months to focus on my high school studies. It was a cumbersome and quite heavy instrument, but with a mellow tone, and with the satisfying quality of making my own breath loud and musical. With the other instruments I play, the connection with the breathing is only indirect, so this is the first reason I have started to practice a wind instrument. Another important reason for me is that the position of the notes is not on a line, like on the piano – you go left, they become lower, you go right, they become higher, and each note is only in one place – but they are grouped differently, they repeat themselves along the instrument:
Recalling a bit of the technique I learned with the euphonium, I was able to play most notes right away. The challenges ahead include developing lip muscles, produce a consistent airflow for at least a full piece, develop speed and precision in finding the notes on the slide. I like how all these goals sound achievable. I’m aware that I won’t become a professional trombonist overnight, but I know I can trace my progress and I can ask my teacher if I feel I am getting stuck.
And besides, the trombone is especially good at being funny:
At the last concert I attended as audience member, I happened to think about my love for observing. I loved to be for once in the audience instead of on the stage; to have the privilege to be still, to receive music without the need to interact with the musicians, except by clapping and cheering after each piece. The moment I loved most was after the concert when I stood near the stage, looking at the drummers packing up their gear: concentrated, efficient, relaxed after the show. I didn’t feel the need to interact with them, it would have been an interruption, even if I approached the stage with the wish to greet one of them. After a while he noticed me and walked over for a quick greeting, then had to come back to his instruments. I felt like a birdwatcher, briefly approached by a curious bird. I then wondered how I could ask (or even pretend) attention and recognition, when I feel so blessed as I get little or none of it. Maybe it’s because this is how I make sure to get sincere attention, instead of artificially-induced positive feedback.
I thought that attending a concert is one of the many setups where I am not the centre of attention, and not even an active participant in a communication. I felt the same positive sensations when I was observing wildlife during my university studies, and I realise that it was the strongest reason for me to enter the wildlife management field: this ability to disappear from the eyes of the animals, while working behind the scenes for their well-being. Well, sometimes they did notice me, like “Gina”, a female red deer rescue, who loved human attention, especially when it came in form of food 🙂
I felt a similar heartfelt call when I met Maria Montessori’s concept of observation and her way of enabling children to learn by themselves, by stimulating their curiosity rather than actively keeping their attention on activities designed by myself. Even my friends sometimes make me the wonderful present of their spontaneous life, free from interactions with me. With my closest friends I notice that we have communication phases and observation phases, and we found our way to stay near each other with the possibility, but without the obligation, to interact. I feel it is a true mark of respectful closeness.
I have even experimented this mindset by standing near an intersection for several traffic light cycles. For ten minutes, the traffic lights lost for me the usual meaning of “Wait! Walk!” and my attention moved to the approaching cars, bikes and pedestrians. I watched how impatient each of them was, how some people scanned the surroundings while waiting and others kept their attention on the traffic lights; how some children on bikes negotiated the intersection with careful attention; how few people noticed me while others didn’t. At the orchestra’s rehearsals, it happens that I have significant gaps in my notes, or I plainly have nothing to play for a whole piece: wonderful! Time to disappear and observe! Time to watch other musicians and better understand which parts are hard for each instrument; time to better hear each one of them in the sum of sounds; time to enjoy their concentrated faces.
I sometimes think there is something odd in my fascination for this kind of disappearance. At the same time I find very healthy to practice invisibility and experience the world without being the centre of it, at least for a little while.
Any of you made similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
I read this morning this post from Simone Perotti [IT], focused on the similarities between his experiences as writer and as seaman in the Mediterranean Sea. He finds that the sea is setting the rules, and the seaman has to submit to them if he wants to make safe progress on his route. The author is in a similar condition, in the vast sea of language. Fighting the rules of the sea would put the seaman in peril of his life; fighting the rules of language would make the author not understandable.
I liked that post. I felt no inferiority in his words, at least not an unhappy one. Obeying to the sea gives him clear goals and a reduced set of possible actions. This limited freedom has the positive, surprising aspect that it frees the mind from computing too many future scenarios. Isn’t it the case of many sports too? Or jobs? In most cases there is no complete freedom of choice. Still, lots of people are ready to accept the rules of a given activity and have a really great time practicing it. It makes me think of Jost Nickel‘s lesson on Drumeo, where he explains how he builds a new groove. He elaborated three rules, and sticks to them. He defines that “being creative through limitations”. Of course, he adds that you are always free to drop the rules when you realise that you explored all possibilities and you feel bored.
My final consideration is that freedom mentioned by Simone and Jost is not in the single actions themselves, but on a higher level: either the setting of the rules (for the drums), or even higher, the decision to do that activity instead of any other (for the seaman and the author, and the drummer too). When I think about my perception of freedom, I realised I focused on the obeying part and surely appeared more submissive than I would have liked to. I’m glad I read Simone’s post and realised the bigger picture.
It was my first concert after my year away, and it felt great. The two last rehearsals had been for me a bit borderline for concentration – there were both things that ran very well, and practicing more was boring, but also things that didn’t work well, and there was clearly no time to fix them. So overall I was in a right balance of relaxed and focused when I walked on the stage for the concert. It was also interesting to see how the calm of the musicians calmed down Mariano, the conductor.
I enjoyed playing with my fellow musicians so much! We are such a closely-knit group that we support each other, know who has difficult parts, and cheer the soloists as much as the audience, if not more. I didn’t feel like performing yesterday, the fun of being together was stronger than the stage fright. I took this picture at the soundcheck (sorry for the bad quality) – I love how some are concentrated, some relaxed while waiting for their cue, and in the middle Thorsten smiles. This picture sums us up so well 🙂